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Modern Use :: Crime, Scandal, Spectacle

Modern Use

This mechanism of using a character with dual personalities to criticize society remains in use today.  The specific constructs of society which are being criticized may change, but the method and goal do not.  Two such modern examples are American Pyscho by Bret Easton Ellis and Fight Club by Chuck Pahlaniuk.


American Pyscho follows the story of Patrick Bateman a young, wealthy investment banker in the 1980’s.  He is entirely obsessed with outward appearances, such as brands of suits, labels of luggage bags, the styling of his hair, his hair gel, and the specific shade of off-white for his business cards.  He is also completely insane.  Bateman escalates from going to clubs and critiquing the other guests to murdering one of his colleagues with a knife.  From there, his insanity continues to deepen as he picks up prostitutes and, after sleeping with them, kills them.  A growing supply of corpses begins to pile up in his apartment so he begins to use his murdered friend’s apartment – which he is concerned may be nicer than his own – and goes on to murder yet  more people.  At one point, he believes the ATM machine wants him to feed it a stray cat.  During this period of time, he continues to go about his normal daily business routine, until night arrives and he resumes his killing spree.

After a massive killing rampage, the guilt begins to catch up to him and he has a break down; he calls his lawyer and confesses his crimes.  The next day, at a bar, he sees his lawyer and asks if he got the message; his lawyer laughs, thinking it is a joke.  Bateman pushes further, saying, ‘no, really, I did all that,’ to which his lawyer responds ‘no, that is impossible’ since he just had lunch with the man Bateman claims to have murdered.  Bateman then returns to his friends at the bar as though nothing happened.  He did not actually commit all the murders, but he is completely insane.

Bateman was a mechanism for criticizing the consumerism and obsession with outward appearance of modern society.  The same sort of method was used by Robert Louis Stevenson in Dr.  Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, even though the specific societal constructs being criticized were different.

Chuck Pahlaniuk’s Fight Club describes the story of a rather weak, spineless, unmotivated, and unnamed narrator who one day meets Tyler Durden on a beach.  Durden is an extremely charismatic individual:  he gets together with the girl for whom the narrator had fallen; he blows apart the narrator’s home along with all of its IKEA furniture; he establishes fight club’s across the nation, which subsequently transform into a massive terrorist organization with the goal of destroying debt and the economy to bring about a revolution where there is no consumerism or materialism, i.e., no economy at all.  After Durden has destroyed the narrator’s home, he says of the IKEA furniture- filled place, “You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you’re satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you’ve got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you” (Pahlaniuk 24).  The narrator is continuously tired; eventually Durden reveals that he and the narrator are one and the same and when the narrator sleeps, Durden takes over.  Much like Hyde, Durden is the unrestrained masculine incarnation of the narrator who is normally rather weak-willed and effeminate.  The narrator’s double personality serves as a means to criticize both the consumerism of society and the weakness of the modern man, too many of whom are not particularly masculine.   Ironically, Pahlaniuk later revealed he was a homosexual.

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