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Air date: July 3, 2019
[1:03] Hello everybody. Hey. How’s it going? Welcome to the Otherppl podcast. I’m Brad Listi, I’m here in Los Angeles. It’s good to be with you. I hope you’re doing well. Quick reminder here at the top of the proceedings. This show has an official website. It’s otherppl.com. And if you want to follow the program on Twitter, the handle over there is @otherppl.
[1:26] So, my guest today is Bret Easton Ellis. You might have heard of him, he’s an author. He has several books out including the novels Less Than Zero, published when he was just 21, The Rules of Attraction, American Psycho, for which he was famously—or infamously—dropped by his publisher, I believe it was Simon & Schuster, and then of course, you know, the book got picked up by another publisher, I think it was Knopf, and the rest is history. Other books include Glamorama and Lunar Park.
[1:56] That’s not all. There’s more. He’s a screenwriter and he’s the host of The Bret Easton Ellis Podcast—he has his own podcast—so, he does a lot of things. And he has now published his first book-length work of nonfiction, it’s a collection of essays called White, available from Knopf. It is a provocative book, it has been generating a big response, at least on my Twitter feed, and I reached out to him.
[2:26] I asked Bret if he would come over and talk to me. He said he would, and he did, and we had a wide-ranging conversation where we talked about the book, we talked about the response to the book, we talked about my feelings about the book, his feelings about the book, we talked about Trump, we talked about his childhood, we talked about his early career. We got into it. And he was game for all of it. So, I’m very pleased to get a chance to share this conversation with you. Here he is ladies and gentlemen, this is Bret Easton Ellis and his new essay collection, once again, is called White.
* * *
[3:06] BEE: That’s a word that I’ve heard a lot since I’ve published this book. “Your first foray into nonfiction.” What is a “foray”?
BL: [laughs] I don’t…But you’re in one right now.
BEE: I guess I am, I don’t know. It is my first foray into published nonfiction, yes.
BL: But you’ve written profiles, you’ve written like the odd essay here and there over the years.
BEE: Yes, I have.
BL: What…the experience…I mean, there’s been a big reaction to this book which I’m sure you’re aware of.
BEE: I am aware of it, yes.
BL: Did you expect it?
[3:32] BEE: No. I did not expect it. I expected this to please my publisher and my agent who’d been after me for years to put together a collection of my nonfiction and I wasn’t that interested and one of the reasons why I wasn’t that interested is that when I looked out over all the nonfiction that I’d published since ‘85, I didn’t like any of it. I didn’t think any of it was good.
BEE: Well I think the stuff that I wrote like in the ‘80s when I was in college seemed really good at the time. I wrote a really long piece for Rolling Stone in 1985—10,000 words they ran—about what it’s like to be a college student at the height of the Reagan ‘80s. And I thought then that the piece was really good, but going back last year and reading that piece was excruciating. Absolutely excruciating.
BL: Yeah. And you don’t feel the same way about the fiction you wrote in that era?
[4:25] BEE: Uh, to a degree, yeah I do. I do. But the fiction is out there, it’s doing its business, I can’t do anything about that. I would love to reedit Less Than Zero. I would love to do some stuff to American Psycho, and it’s hard for me to read those books without wanting to get a pen.
BL: I think that’s normal.
BEE: So, I didn’t want to make the same mistake with the nonfiction and so I told my agent, who told my publishers, that Bret really isn’t interested in this. And then my agent said, “You know, what about those monologues that you open your podcasts with?” I have a podcast called The Bret Easton Ellis Podcast on Patreon and I usually open each episode with a somewhat-written monologue about whatever. It usually was about movies and television and then it drifted off into some cultural stuff, once or twice dipped my toe into politics—a mistake because you’re already turning off half your audience, it doesn’t really matter what—even if you’re nonpartisan, it’s a problem. It’s just not fun to get the good reactions or the bad reactions so I kind of stayed away from that, but I did do it a couple times. And my agent said, “Well why don’t you put those together? Why don’t you use all these…the past four years—why don’t you take the best of those monologues and put them into a book?” I didn’t want to do that either. So I was out to dinner with a friend, Matthew Spector…
[5:49] BL: He’s been on this show.
BEE: Yeah, who is a friend of mine way back from the ‘90s when he was, I guess he was an executive at Jersey Film working for De Niro down in Tribeca and he called me in just on a random meeting to see if I had anything I wanted to do, a movie or was there a script I wanted to write? And so I’ve known him ever since, and we periodically have dinner here in Los Angeles, and I was at one of those dinners with Matthew, just the two of us, sometime after the second martini or you know, between courses, and he said, “What are you working on?” I said, “Uh Binky…” [that’s my agent].
BL: Still your agent?
[6:22] BEE: Binky is still my agent, yes, after 35 years. You know, “Binky wants me to put together a collection of my podcast monologues,” and he said, “That’s a great idea, why don’t you do that?” I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “Well I think there are a lot of themes that you cover over and over in these podcasts, I can already think of five that I would want to anchor the book with.” And I said, “You’re kidding me.” And he said, “No, I’ll send you a file tonight and I’ll tell you the ones that I really like and maybe it’ll spark something in you.” And he did. And it did spark something in me and I realized that there were about eight or nine along with the other five pieces that I kind of could deal with and that they could be repurposed into this longform essay, which is really what White ultimately is—cut into eight sections. And Matthew was pretty helpful to the degree that I dedicated White to him, I don’t think I would have really come around to it if he hadn’t kind of been insistent. And also very creative, in terms of…there are certain stretches of that book that he helped, you know, outline to a degree. I would never have thought of starting off with my childhood and then I thought maybe going back to my childhood at a certain point but he saw it as a narrative and he saw it as something that began at a certain point for me and that I became this person and I began changing and then I was something completely different and somewhat confused in the summer of 2018 where the book ends. And in a way, we both saw it as a progression of Gen X. We saw it as kind of…All right well we were raised in all of this kind of freedom, in an adult world not made for kids, and then you progress through the ‘80s and into the ‘90s, you definitely had to move completely from the analogue era into the digital era and then you are ending up some place in a world that says, “Well, you can’t say this, and you can’t do this,” and, you know, not that it’s all…everything you want to say and do is racist or sexist or homophobic but you wanna act like an adult, and there does seem to be a massive strain of puritanism that’s going on in the culture right now and I think that is part of what I was writing about in White. I’m not a political person. I never saw this as a political book and I think one of the reasons why there’s so much controversy over it is that because people do read it as a political book, which it was not intended to be at all; I’m not political, I actually don’t vote. So, I’m in the massive majority of this country that does not vote. So it’s strange to have this book be the most controversial book I’ve published since American Psycho and I certainly didn’t expect it to be as controversial with millenials, which it really is.
[9:14] BL: You really didn’t? ‘Cause you take shots at them.
BEE: You know what, the thing is, that all of this is, most of this book is stuff that I’ve already said. And I’ve written about years ago. I wrote an article for Vanity Fair called “Generation Was Four Years Ago” and I didn’t think that adding that piece, folding it into this section, I think on liking, or whatever it was, was a big deal at all. And I saw the book as rather benign—my mistake, I admit—but it really…and I guess, you know, right now we’re in such a polarized, I think, over-reactive moment that I should have known better. But I expected this to just be something that fulfilled, that I happily did and I enjoyed it thoroughly, but it was something that in a way was a little bit repurposed, I mean there was stuff that I’d already written—most of it I’d already written—but there was a lot of rewriting involved, and a lot of ways…a lot of finding how to connect to everything and having it read as this whole. But even if you’re slamming, and again, “slamming” seems to be a harsh word, I don’t see that at all and I see this book as fairly remote, fairly neutral and fairly chill in its approach to talking about everything. I don’t see the millennial section of this book that has caused so much controversy and has angered so many millennials to be that bad, partly because I live with a millennial and I’ve lived with one for ten years and part of what I’m writing about stemmed from being in a relationship with him. And at the same time everyone seems to conveniently forget the final paragraph of that section which talks about how sympathetic I ultimately am to this generation. So again, it’s like, some of the first reviews were by rather hysterical millennials who took me to task and one of them, I think in Bookforum went on and on and on about how old I am, how white I am, how out of touch I am, how irrelevant I am, how old I am, how white I am, how…three thousand words with a giant picture of me, which seemed to me to be “Exhibit A” in exactly what I was talking about when I was writing White, this complete kind of, almost borderline hysteric overreaction. And also when you overreact you also misread—and you also, you lose your judgement and you start seeing things you wanna see rather than what the author has intended you to see. And that has been a big problem with the reaction from the mainstream media to White.
[11:49] BL: Well, I read a lot of the reviews like prepping for this interview and like it provoked a really heated reaction. I also, on the other side of the equation, read a review that took to task the reviewers who had been most strongly negative by saying that the reviews themselves had become takedowns rather than critiques. I mean, there’s been some variation in terms of the coverage. Like do you read the reviews of your books?
BEE: Mostly, I mostly do. I mostly have read all the reviews for White. There got to be a point where it became way too predictable. And that what the reviews were harping on were the sections about my friend’s reaction to the election of 2016 where it seemed that they rewrote me as this kind of, you know, MAGA-wearing Trump supporter, which I’m not, but because I did not come out and I retain a kind of neutral response to a degree to the election I was looked at as this kind of right wing/alt-right dude and that was what got a lot of critics going—certainly The New Yorker approached it in that way when I did that interview with them. But that’s just…But I also have to say, honestly, I have never been well reviewed. I’ve never been well reviewed. There were reviews for Lunar Park that were terrible. I think The Washington Post, the reviewer there called it “the worst novel ever written by an American.” And people tend to forget that Less Than Zero, was a huge divide about that book, there were people that really thought it was cool and new and there was a literary establishment that could not believe Simon & Schuster was publishing this junk. “The diary of a drug addict from LA? Are you serious? This is what it’s come down to in publishing?” And there was a lot of controversy over that book and the decision from Simon & Schuster to publish that.
[13:45] BL: So why did it take off? Like I don’t know the history of its trajectory. I know it didn’t come right out of the gates as a big seller, right?
BEE: No, not at all. It didn’t. I mean, in fact, as I said in the book, there was…you know, I think Simon & Schuster said they had done a first printing of 5000 copies, I think it was probably closer to 2500. I don’t know if they would have done 5000 copies. Even then I was excited. I was 21. I was very excited by that prospect of even having books in a bookstore. So I really didn’t care. And I was still in college and I always thought there were other books to write and this was just the first one. But what happened was that the media became very interested in the book, and they took it as a kind of…they read a kind of documentary reality into it even though I always saw it as a work of fiction, as a novel. But the media took it as something…a news bulletin from the front, “This is what kids are like today,” and that sparked more and more interest and then, in the local media here in Los Angeles, and then it kind of went national and people started to talk about the book and write about the book as if I was, you know, the voice of a generation, and I knew exactly what was going on with kids today. This was a long ago era when it took about 4-5 months for a book to get on The New York Times Bestseller List and it took sometimes months for a book to leave warehouses and get to bookstores in certain territories in the country. I know that sounds unthinkable now but that’s kind of how it worked. I mean there was a time where I think the book started moving westward, maybe westward into the middle of the country but there was like a month where no one had copies of that book. Unthinkable now.
[15:33] BL: What about, was there a moment or, you know, a specific like short window of time where you could feel it turning, where you were like, “This is becoming something,” and the attention started to intensify?
BEE: [Laughs] Well, there was. I was suddenly invited sometime during that summer to be on The Today Show and I think that was the moment where the book really began to sell, after I was on The Today Show, for rather a long time for a 21-year-old writer. I think Bryant Gumble, if anyone remembers The Today Show when he was on, interviewed me for like seven or eight minutes, and that was, I think, the moment where the book really took off, and then there was…yeah, that for me was the moment, even though I was completely hungover and had no idea what I was doing on that summer morning in 1985.
BL: I was gonna say, you have to get up at like 3 in the morning to be on The Today Show.
[16:28] BEE: Well actually no, you have to get up at 6, but we were out partying all night and we didn’t get back to the hotel until 5. So, I was 21, you could do it then. You could actually—I think if anyone can find that clip—I am rather…I had had no sleep and was pretty hungover. Well actually, still drunk.
BL: Were you visibly…?
BEE: No. I maintained some kind of semblance of sobriety.
BL: Well, I want to talk to you, since we’re here with Less Than Zero in the beginning of your career, which started really early.
BL:Most people don’t publish at 21.
BL: Most people can’t write anything that’s even close to worth publishing at 21.
BL: So, the word “prodigy” gets thrown around whenever anybody has artistic success at an age like that. Did you do an excessive amount of writing and reading, or, a particularly like high-level amount of writing and reading as a child that prepared you to be able to do that? Or do you think that it was a combination of talent and luck? Or all of the above?
[17:36] BEE: Well of course all…Well, you know, I think about luck a lot. But I think about it a lot less now when it pertains to Less Than Zero. I’d been reading since a very, very early age—and a lot of adult books. My parents were voracious readers, as were a lot of people in the ‘60s and ‘70s because no one had phones yet. There wasn’t a lot of entertainment offerings, there was—books were a big part of it—people read books all the time and they acted in a way like our phones. You got a lot of information from books, from novels, from novels, you got information about how other people lived through novels. Now you can just go on the internet and find something out. But novels were often a way that people found out about stuff. I was reading novels at a very early age and became obsessed with novels as a child and as an adolescent. And I was a voracious reader, I could read a book in a day, and sometimes two. That’s how I spent my time. And I started writing at a very early age because I loved books. So, I began writing picture books, children’s books, when I was six, seven, eight, into my early adolescence, where I began to design and write graphic novels. And so I was…and then I attempted my first novel when I was 14. And so that was always there. It was always there. And so when you get to Bennington College when I was working on Less Than Zero—and I had a teacher there who was instrumental in getting it published—I’d done many drafts of Less Than Zero, I started working on it when I was about 15 and a half or 16. It was called “A Less Than Zero Project” and it went through many variations, many iterations. The first iteration was very journalistic, I kind of just wrote about my life: going to the beach, parties, going to the mall, and kind of fantasize about them as well, made them seem darker, druggier…kind of more…I fictionalized them. And that was, I worked on this for about…And it changed a lot, until the summer of ‘84 when I finally finished what is what you read, what is the published version. And so I don’t know…I didn’t know anyone else who was doing that. It wasn’t as if I suddenly won the lottery. I had a book, my teacher loved it, he showed it to editors who loved it, I had agents fighting over…to, you know, represent me, so it didn’t…it wasn’t like I had nothing and I just walked in with some scraps of paper. I was prepared. And there was an interesting piece about Bennington in the early ‘80s in this month’s Esquire, it’s kind of an oral history of the people who went there, and it was kind of shocking because I had done these interviews a long time ago and what they extract and what they pull can be somewhat embarrassing without putting it in context with your overall interview, but it was a reminder of, you know, Donna Tartt was there and Jonathan Lethem was there briefly. I was there, Jill Eisenstadt, David Lipsky—there was an unusually high amount of, I guess, quote-unquote “gifted writers” in this tiny college. You have to understand that Bennington isn’t a university, it’s a 600-student college. And it was a reminder that yes, the best writers there were the ones that had written the most and had read the most. It was really as simple as that. And really the best writer at Bennington turned out to be Donna Tartt, who we all knew was the best writer because when she’d present stories in workshop it was so obviously apparent that she was so much more skilled than any of us were that it was not only a pleasure, but also intimidating.
[21:22] BL: Well yeah I mean, I guess that’s the question I was trying to ask and stumbled through a bit but I always wonder, you know, does Donna Tartt in her childhood, was she sitting there just reading book after book after book and drafting bad story after bad story on her way to getting good when she was that young? Or is it some sort of innate gift? I guess that the answer is all of the above.
BEE: I think the gift is innate, the sensibility is innate, but you do learn a tremendous amount from reading, from reading novels and reading books. And I’m not saying that in some sort of dry, academic way. I mean like just in the cadence of sentences and what works best for a certain kind of narrator, just…you start to develop an instinctual response to fiction. It can make the fiction actually more pleasurable to read, or it can also be a bit of a curse because it’s very difficult for me now to read most fiction. I get too caught up in what the writer’s trying to do, I realize all the tricks, and it’s very rare that I can give myself over to a book of fiction without becoming too self conscious about reading it. And that’s kind of a drag. I don’t finish about half of the books, the novels, that I start. And I wonder if I would if I didn’t have this history or all this knowledge about fiction writing; but I do believe that about Donna and I do believe that about most writers, that your love for writing stems from your love of novels and I know that’s exactly where mine came from.
[22:59] BL: Well, and you know, and you talk about not being able to read through novels because you can kind of see the gears turning and you’re deconstructing as you read but I also wonder, because I have some of that too. I think it’s very common.
BEE: Well it’s also style. If there’s not a style, then I’m not interested. You know, every story has been told, I think. Every character has been presented, to some degree. But it’s the style, if you have a style you can sell anything. And if you have a commanding style, I’m there, and I’m pretty much there for the duration of your book, regardless if it goes off the rails or it loses the beat. I’m a style guy.
BL: You know, what about technology though because, you know, I ask this because you’re an author who has a podcast, which isn’t common like generationally for somebody who’s at the early end of Generation X. There aren’t a ton of authors who have embraced podcasting there. You’re good at Twitter, you know, you get a big following, you get a lot of response. So you have some stickiness there as well. We’re all online all the time. Do you think that your like inability to finish most novels has anything to do with the fact that you’re engaging with this technology like we all are? Has that had an impact on your brain?
[24:14] BEE: Probably. Definitely. Attention. The attention that I could give a novel has been eradicated by—I wouldn’t say social media—well, yeah I guess by being on the internet, yeah it certainly has. But I still have that yearning. And it was bred into me. So, I have not been able to fully let that go. I spend each morning reading fiction and nonfiction and I lock that part of that day off—I put my phone away. The phone is the first thing I look at when I get up but I put that away and then I can spend about an hour reading fiction. If the book’s really good I might push it to an hour and a half. So that is a morning ritual seven days a week and I love it.
BL: How long have you been doing it?
BEE: Since college. Since college, I imagine. Though in college I read a lot more and in my thirties I read a lot more. And I think this particular ritual—I always read in the mornings, I always read when I got up—but I think I also could read in the afternoons, I could also read in the evenings. I just can’t do that anymore. Something messes with my mind after being on the internet all day and it’s very hard to get back to that, you know, just-awake state and where you’re very receptive to, I think, fiction in a way that you’re just not at by the end of the day. I know a lot of people like to go to bed reading fiction, and I got a stack of novels—I mean forty of them on my nightstand, I’ve got a rather large nightstand—and I have a kind of system in terms of what I want to read next or what I’m gonna read in the next month, and it’s true, if I pick up a book and stylistically it grabs me, I’m there easily. It’s just finding that is a little harder. And really developing that kind of style is, I think, key to a writer’s, you know, existence and keeping them going; a way of seeing the world that you’re relating to the reader that no one else can do. That’s why I think I get so, I don’t know, uh, what’s the word, so annoyed by a lot of genre fiction that just is telling a story. Like a lot of mysteries just don’t grab me because they’re told in such a barebones fashion and I’m not interested in the information, I’m not interested in the information at all, I’m interested in how the information is being given to me. And that has pretty much always been the way I’ve read to a certain degree. I think it was post-Hemingway and certainly post-Joan Didion, who I was a big fan of as a teenager, where I made that switch because I could read a lot of genre sci-fi and horror when I was younger but then there were a couple writers that just made such a huge impression that you realize, “I’m never going back.”
[27:14] BL: And do you have a…You know, you said your parents both are voracious readers. Are there any writers preceding you in your family, people who worked in the business or were journalists?
BEE: No. There was really no one. My grandmother on my mother’s side did however publish two or three children’s books in the ‘60s. In the 1960s. She didn’t do the illustrations for them but she just wrote the prose. But other than that, no, there really wasn’t. Though at the same time my father did write a couple of textbooks, real estate textbooks—because he was a real estate guy and he was pretty successful—and that were used for real estate classes at various colleges. But no, no, there were no other writers in the family.
BL: And do you have siblings?
BEE: I have two younger sisters, yes.
BL: You do, okay. So you were sort of like the oddball first-child artist.
BEE: I was. I was.
BL: Were your parents supportive of it?
BEE: My mother certainly was supportive of it, my father less so as I got older. And of course, you know, it’s difficult. I mean I was kind of “out there” in terms of my subject matter at 10 or 12.
BL: I wanna see these children’s books you wrote. When are you gonna write a picture book for kids?
[28:34] BEE: Oh, I don’t know. It’s somewhere in one of my mom’s closets I think, and I’m not sure. I mean but really, I mean themes of prostitution, drug abuse in these children’s books. There’s a Christmas story that I told about like this angel that falls off the top of a Christmas tree, and has gotta get back up and she just encounters a lot of evil ornaments on her way back up to the top of the tree…Anyway, and so I think when you know that your child is a bit of a weirdo it’s hard, I think especially for men of my father’s generation. I understand completely how he felt alienated from me to a certain degree; I was not the boy, the “all American boy,” that he wanted and that he was raised as and I understand now more clearly than ever at 55 how difficult it was for him to have a very artistic boy that he must have known was gay at a certain point—who was not interested in any of the things he was interested in but instead wanted to write a novel when he was 13 or 14. And my father read that novel and he was somewhat supportive but he had checked out. And it was…rough for me but it wasn’t dramatic in terms of you know, I didn’t like start acting out or melt down or anything. It was just, “Oh, so I don’t have a dad. Woe is me,” to a degree, still being pretty well taken care of but I do think that missing that paternal support..
[30:05] BL: Were your parents divorced?
BEE: They separated when I was 18…uh, 17…sometime late in high school. And I don’t know, I only have recently in the last ten years or so really began this path of forgiving him. Actually it started way beyond that, it started with completing Lunar Park which is kind of a novel about my father. But um…So in the end, my father really wasn’t that interested because he was I think afraid for me. “What is my kid gonna do, he’s gonna go out there and think he’s gonna make a living?” He really really badly wanted me to go to business school at USC and that was his plan. And he said, “Just do that, graduate, and then you can write all the novels you want.” But I was headstrong and that was just never gonna happen. It was never gonna happen and so I took another path.
BL: Well and then you, you know, I mean…all of a sudden you’re still in college, you’re still an undergrad, and you’re publishing a novel with a major house. Like how do you deliver that news and what is his response to that?
[31:09] BEE: Uh, excited. He thought it was cool. But it still wasn’t enough money to live on, you know, it was great, you know, you’re gonna publish a book, and…but still. I mean, luckily I was in school because it wasn’t enough money to live on.
BL: I thought it made you rich—did it not make you a ton of money in the ‘80s?
BEE: The advance…well, look, look, I have different, I think, notions about “rich” now. If I look back at that time, compared to my friends, of course, of course it did. But it just didn’t seem like…Look, it was enough money that I could support myself, wouldn’t have to get another job, and could work on my next book. To me that’s rich, and compared to what my other friends were doing. So, completely grateful. But he also, you know, he also thought that, “Okay, one time. That’s gonna happen again? Are you going to be able to do this the rest of your life and make a living from it?” And that was his main concern and he was very worried about that. And so in a sense, and then, you know, things had fallen apart by the time he died and we weren’t speaking—and he was overall a very difficult person to deal with, and I say that soberly. I’m not gonna get excited about it; he was a very difficult person to deal with, and…but yet at the same time, I have to be on one level grateful because without him I don’t know if I would have been a writer. I think a lot of what made me want to write and want to read is to hide, is to get away from him, to get away from his influence in the house and it was to express my pain and express my confusion at being alive as the kid of this kind of very angry, abusive alcoholic person. I do not think I would be writing that much or reading that much when I was a kid, I certainly would not have been writing books if I’d been probably the straight prom king or the quarterback that wouldn’t have…
BL: Yeah, that guy doesn’t usually write novels.
[33:22] BEE: Well, no they don’t, but they’re usually somewhat happier or more settled into the fabric of high school life than I was and their future seems as bright as possible even though of course we all know that conversely what can happen. But…No I think it’s definitely being an outsider, being an outsider, having to look at the world from an outsider perspective—which is, I’m an artist and I’m gay—really makes you see the world in a way that your peers don’t. You have to re-see the world, or you see it in a way that’s hyper-real and it’s not shrouded in, you know, this meaningless etiquette or these masks of propriety that we wear. When you step away from that and you see how everybody engages with each other and you are not a part of it, it’s interesting.
BL: Did you…Were you “out” in high school?
BEE: Um, no. No I wasn’t, though I did have flings with other guys at the high school I went to. You have to understand, this was LA in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, and it was pretty sophisticated. And a lot of these kids were movie kids, their parents were in the movie business, they were pretty, again, pretty sophisticated. So, that happening, looking back wasn’t so surprising, even happening then it wasn’t so surprising that you would hook up with another guy. It was all of course on the down-low, as they say. And it wasn’t something…Look, you couldn’t walk around holding hands and there was no, you know, special gay classroom for gay students, which I think probably every high school across the country has now no matter where that is.
BL: Wait, do they?
BEE: I think so.
BL: They have classrooms for gay kids?
BEE: Classrooms meaning support groups. Stuff like that. Right, not the gays have to go over there. [Laughs].
BL: Gay math? [Laughs].
BEE: Right. [laughs] Gay science. Well, there is gay math. But anyway, I live in West Hollywood so I can say that. But…no, so I wasn’t “out” but it didn’t really bother me. I wasn’t that kind of adolescent. I really didn’t care about my gayness. It didn’t really mean anything to me. I was more interested in writing I wasn’t so interested in, like, guys.
[35:37] BL: Well, you’re apolitical.
BEE: I’m apolitical as well, yeah.
BL: You say that today, you don’t give a shit about politics. And I think for a lot of young gay people who, in their coming out experience, or, you know, sometimes they go off to college, and they do get politically activated. They do become interested in social justice and causes, and that never interested you.
BEE: No, but you also could say that’s because of my narrative and where I was. Really being in the heart of Los Angeles and the movie industry in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, my girlfriend, I had a girlfriend, and her father was a big movie producer…
BL: Who was that?
BEE: A guy named John Foreman, who produced Butch Cassidy, he was Paul Newman’s producing partner, and he was gay actually. He died of AIDS. That’s their world. A lot of creative men in that world had married women and were gay, whether it was Vanessa Redgrave, whether it was…whoever, it was a thing. Dominick Dunne. And so, it didn’t really matter in our circles. There was no “gay-bashing.” I mean there was no, you know…And also this was a moment in the culture when a certain kind of pansexuality or bisexuality was kind of everywhere I noticed, whether it was David Bowie, whether it was Prince. And I talk about the movie American Gigolo, GQ Magazine, certain photographers. There was a gayness in the air, in the cultural air before AIDS. And it was…and I saw this when I first got to Bennington as well; “straight” guys were not afraid to move over to another side for a while and experiment. That seemed to close…those doors seemed to close with AIDS. But…no, so, coming out was never part of my narrative. After high school I go to the deep woods of Vermont to a super liberal college, like everyone was gay more or less, even the straight guys were gay, even the straight guys were gay, which is what made it so fun.
[37:41] BL: I’m from Milwaukee and Indiana. Indiana especially was conservative where I grew up and so your books were always like, exotic. Especially your depictions of Los Angeles, this childhood that you describe in Los Angeles, and it’s rendered, you know, it’s not a one-for-one, it’s stylized, I’m imagining, it wasn’t exactly like that but it’s impressionistic take on it, it seemed like so unbelievable to me. That was kind of my imagination of Los Angeles, a lot of it was formed by those books. I think it’s a common experience for kids in the middle of the country who have, you know, who grew up reading you, you know, to sort of form their conception of this place based on your take of it.
BEE: Well, yeah. I mean, I hear it all the time, “Oh yeah I moved to LA because I read Less Than Zero,” which is just crazy to me. But I guess there is, you know, look, the book strikes a certain balance between a kind of glamour and a kind of haunted noir-ish quality that’s very dark. But I still think that’s attractive to people and there is something about that darkness that’s sexy. And there’s just…even though I wrote the book in a response, I guess in a response against LA, I really wanted to get out. I really didn’t like where people were ending up. I did feel to a degree that things were getting a little edgy in my crowd and I just didn’t wanna be in LA anymore and I think the book reflects that and it reflects a kind of darkness. But also, the stuff about the town that I was always attracted to. I liked the fact that I was a free teenager in a way and that I had that mobility and that mobility aids in your freedom. The car, the sprawl of the city, all of the places you would go from the beach to the mountains in forty minutes, downtown to dark and scary Venice, I don’t know, there was just something about that that I liked. And I liked…There was a haunted quality to the city that I responded to a lot. I have a very different relationship with LA now than I did at 18 and 19. I mean, I rather love it now and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. When I was writing Less Than Zero I could only imagine New York. And I wanted to live back east, I wanted to go to college back east and go and live in New York.
[40:05] BL: You wanted to get away.
BEE: Wanted to get away from pretty much everything. Now, you have to understand, I did somewhat participate. I did have a girlfriend. I went to parties. We all went to the beach. I helped decorate the float. [laughs] You know, so I was part of the crew.
BL: So okay yeah, ‘cause like what would people who knew you then say Bret Easton Ellis was like in high school?
BEE: Uh, quiet. Introspective. Probably secretive. Aloof. But funny. I mean I think that was it. And maybe…I mean, there came a time when I realized that I did have certain affectations and there were mannerisms that I began to really tamp down in terms of being indicators of my gayness. And that’s something…I think a lot of gay men deal with that at a certain point. And so I don’t know if I came off necessarily as, you know, and I can say this, “a flaming drama queen,” you know, prancing…certainly not at all like that. But…but also…And I also have to reiterate this, that I was relatively okay—wasn’t depressed, wasn’t desperately unhappy, I was okay, I was interested in things. I was interested in the world and I never saw writing as a lonely exercise. I saw it as a solitary one but one that I embraced. I really liked being alone with my writing and it was never a pain. It never has been a pain. It’s always something that’s thoroughly interesting and that I’m engaged with. I don’t understand that notion of the panic the writer feels when he looks at the blank page or the blank computer screen. What does that mean? I mean, jump into it. It’s fun. It should be fun.
BEE: I can’t imagine writing something under duress. I can’t imagine it.
[42:03] BL: Are you generative? Have you always been…I mean, can you get like thousands and thousands of words in a shot? Is that normal?
BEE: No. That’s a problem. And that’s a problem. And I really regret the fact that I wasn’t a faster writer for a couple of reasons. I mean I did spend, well I mean three years on American Psycho, that doesn’t seem…that’s a big book and there was a lot of research and it, technically it was a difficult book to put together—especially doing three drafts on a typewriter, didn’t have a computer then. So that seems reasonable but I did spend about eight years on Glamorama which was a book that I was obsessed with, and which I was positive was going to make this giant impact into the world. And then it didn’t at all. Which is fine. I still loved writing that book but it just shows you that writers are notoriously wrong about what they think their best books are. But I wish I had taken a little less time with that book—seven years fiddling around with Lunar Park, not being able to…false start after false start, and that’s too bad. I wish that had been more compressed. Also, I wish that it had been more compressed because I wanted to make films, and I wanted to get into movies, and instead I worked on novels for about, uh, thirty years.
BL: What about drugs? I mean your books obviously deal a lot in drugs and you’re pretty open about having done a lot of drugs in your day but I think people might have a like popular idea of you as constantly drug-addled, especially back in the day. Like was that a part of your life? Like did you have a problem with drugs and like did it affect your ability to get work done?
[43:41] BEE: Well I guess not because I never went to rehab; I never saw myself as an addict. Drug taking for me was pretty controlled because I had other things I wanted to do. Yeah, you know, doing coke was fun. But writing was more fun. And more lasting in a way. And so, you know…Look, I’ve been around coke since high school, maybe not to the degree that I found in Manhattan in the late ‘80s [laughs] and throughout the ‘90s, but it was always something that I kind of knew how to use. “Oh okay, well this is going to keep me up this long or maybe for these many days, but I do have to get this done and I do want to write this chapter.” So that’s really how it worked. I mean if I had weekends where I partied, I made sure that everything shut down at midnight on Sunday or whatever and then we would begin to go through the outline on Monday and then I’d hopefully have many pages written by the end of the week. That’s just how I operated. And then after a little while, you know, drugs aren’t interesting anymore and you kind of age out of it. I never thought I’d stop using drugs but there really comes a point where it’s like, “I don’t like this anymore.” And so I just…I kind of drifted away from drugs and really the only drugs that I was interested in was coke. Cocaine was something that I thought was a social drug, though I did find myself using it alone a lot and enjoying that. Those evenings made me a little bit nervous because the social aspect of cocaine was, you know, it was communal, it was a communal thing. You’d have people over, you’d have a big bar set out, you’d be talking all night. And you’d be listening to music.
BL: Were you doing it in the bathroom or were you doing it out like…? ‘Cause I always didn’t like when people would go hide and do cocaine. I always liked it when someone was just like out in the open, I was like, “Okay this is more honest.”
BEE: Rarely did I like to do coke in bathrooms in public places. And rarely did I like to do coke in public places. Usually it was at someone’s house—usually my place in New York—which was just like one kind of like somewhat large room, it was like a studio. And people would just come over there and kind of roam around freely. [laughs] And there would be…You know, people would have brought their own drugs, or there would be drugs there, and it was a relatively…I never really knew anybody who got so fucked up on them that, you know….There were other ways to get fucked up and there were other things going on that might derail you but I don’t know the coke thing looking back was pretty kind of standard, kind of innocent. You know, white wine and some cocaine on a Saturday night and then boom…people have jobs and people have things they’ve gotta get back to. And then when people started having families, everyone began to drift off. And it was actually time by that time to come back to Los Angeles.
[46:38] BL: So what prompted it? You just had enough of New York?
BEE: Well, what really prompted it was my partner of seven years—suddenly, out of the blue, died—of an aortic aneurysm. He was on his way to a studio. And it was, you know, it was kind of traumatic to have that happen. You know, so, we’d been together about seven years and I found myself in LA when I first heard about it because it was over the holidays. And I just locked myself in a room, again, I don’t want to be too dramatic about this, and I just kind of didn’t come out or deal with anybody. And then I was here in LA. And then I spent that year really finishing up Lunar Park and really motivated by Mike’s death because it’s a book about death and it’s a book about losing a son and it’s a book about losing a partner, losing your father, and it really became this incrediblly emotional exercise that I didn’t expect. I thought it was gonna be much more…I thought I had dealt with the emotional part of the book when I had completed the outline and for me that is a very emotional thing, and then kind of the cool, neutral artist comes in and starts to deal with that outline and starts to, you know, write it out.
BL: And you outline all your books?
BEE: Outline every book, yeah. And so I was in LA and I realized that when I went back to New York, there were just a lot of ghosts, a lot of ghosts that I didn’t even expect. I mean, crazy like movie shit, like walking down the street and you see the bookstore that you used to buy…whatever…and it just was like, it turned into this like very dreary, you know, drama about a widow, you know, a widower some place and I just had to get out. And it was time to…And LA had been calling out to me again and I really had fallen in love with the city in a way that I never had expected to—and I had fallen out of love with New York.
[48:36] BL: Yeah, well I mean it did make some sense, you know, you’re 18, 19, you wanna get away, go form your own identity, have some adventures, you do that for, you know, what, twenty…how long were you in New York?
BEE: I was there from about ‘86…twenty years. Yeah, twenty years.
BL: Yeah. And then you come back and, you know, LA is a different city by then.
BEE: It is a very different city by then. But as I’ve heard, well, from plenty of friends, maybe it’s not LA maybe it’s California. I mean I’ve had friends flee Los Angeles. Well you know I had a lot of friends who fled Los Angeles because they didn’t want to raise their children here. Went to Ojai, I don’t know why Ojai is any different but I guess it is. And I have friends who can’t afford to raise their children here—that was really surprising. Portland. Nashville. You know, I don’t have kids so I don’t know how expensive it is.
BL: It adds a layer.
BEE: I can imagine! But I have friends who I thought were okay and were okay but cannot afford to raise kids here. How did we get off onto that?
BL: I don’t know but I’m interested in your friends because you talk about these parties in New York and, you know, just your time there and I think like reading profiles and interviews over the years and reading your work, I think a lot of us are just imagining you with other writers at like fancy literary parties. Like who are your friends? Who are your friends in New York. Are you hanging with other artists or are you hanging with people who are like real estate agents?
BEE: Uh, no, hanging out with people in the publishing world because the publishing world was central to Manhattan at that time. Book publishing was a very glamorous industry, novels were still glamorous, writers were still glamorous, and a lot of money was spent, not only on books but on parties, on promotion. And so really the years centered around that, and most of my friends were writers or editors or worked at magazines, and…or maybe worked in advertising. That was really what most of my friends did, with a couple friends also working out here in TV and who actually lived in New York. But that was it, it was a full-on publishing circle. And yeah there were…and looking back now, I don’t know how much I was aware then, that this was a quote-unquote “glamorous world” but I think to a degree you did. When you were living in New York in the ‘80s you realized you were like on a movie set, that this was crazy, probably not gonna happen again. And it is…I remember 1987 more distinctly than any other year. And I’m kind of talking pre-crash, but the crash really didn’t affect Manhattan, it seemed to kind of ramp up the decadence. And ‘87, ‘88, ‘89 were the years that American Psycho actually took place, and that I was writing it, was a stage and it was…everyone seemed to be performing. Everyone seemed to be dressed up in these ridiculous suits—I write about this in the book—I don’t know any men who didn’t wear suits at all. In the day, during the day…
[51:54] BL: Even in publishing? Even writers?
BEE: Oh, everybody wore suits. All the writers I knew wore suits. But we were all going out at night, so going out at night meant, I mean, you know, that you wore a suit. Whether you went to a club, a night club, wherever. And it was…So it…and it seemed kind of like, everything seemed kind of manufactured and kind of stagey, and you were kind of hyper-aware that this was an era that was, I think, defined as the jazz era, or as the swinging sixties of London. I mean it was…it really had a particular feel and I don’t know, something that was unlike any other period that I’ve lived through since. And I’m not sure that’s just my age.
BL: Well, yeah I mean it’s like, I mean, part of it is youth sometimes, you know you’re most impressionable then, you’re out a lot, you’re kind of, you’re “in it.” At this stage of my life, like I go out much more infrequently, and at the same time, you know, the economic boom of the ‘80s was a real thing. That much money flowing through the system and on an island, with that many people on it, it had to have been nuts.
[53:12] BEE: Well, so was ‘97 and ‘98. I mean, that was really nuts. I mean, that was American Psycho on steroids. I mean, with the tech thing happening that was crazy, even though it was not real, I mean, but it was still…people pretended it was and I remember the decadence being ramped up even more during that era.
BL: In New York?
BEE: In New York, yeah. And, but I also think, and you know I…look as we talked about earlier about aging out of stuff, you’re about 11 years younger than me, I was just at the age that you are that I began noticing that I wasn’t going to cocktail parties, and that I wasn’t going to parties, that I was begging off on screenings and that I would rather stay in at night with my partner and, I don’t know, watch a movie, watch a TV show, a good TV show, open a bottle of wine [laughs] and that hits the spot. Now of course I have friends that I like seeing and socializing with and we usually go out to dinner, but it usually has to be one-on-one or two-on-two or whatever. But I, you know, for someone who was so social for so many years and certainly I was incredibly social in New York, and I think I threw very elaborate big parties in that loft…
BL: How many square feet is this loft?
BEE: You know what, it’s 1000 square feet, with incredibly high ceilings. And what makes it…I still own it, I rent it out, the only smart investment I’ve ever made…is that it has a 400 square foot balcony that juts off from the loft, from the studio itself, so the studio it sounds…it looks, if you can imagine this, it looks much bigger than it actually is.
BL: Right, those high ceilings.
[55:02] BEE: High ceilings and everything’s in it, the kitchen, it’s all open space. It was all open space. But I thought…I mean I tried doing that here when I moved to LA—throwing the same kind of party when I first moved here, throwing a big Fourth of July party, having a Christmas cocktail party or whatever—it just felt different. I was older. I was not as social. I liked fewer people, it happens.
BL: [laughs] You gotta winnow down your list a little bit. So I wanna talk to you about, you know, the new book again. I feel like people are projecting the word “nihilism” onto you. Like that’s been a word that I’ve read in a lot of the reviews. Like, “He’s a nihilist, he doesn’t care. You’re apolitical, you’re bringing up these like hot-button issues, you don’t care about Donald Trump in the ways that you should. You’re not offended by a lot of the things that he’s done.” I think if, you know, in my own read of it, I feel like, some of the things you were saying about the authoritarian or fascistic impulses of the left are very worthy of conversation. I don’t hear enough about that and I think it’s foolish to assume that it can only happen on the right. I think that people who care about freedom of expression, and who care about freedom in general should be wary of like those kinds of impulses wherever they lie. But where I parted ways is like, I’m one of these people, I see Trump as an existential threat and I was like “Bret!”—but, and you know, but for somebody who really doesn’t engage with politics much, I can imagine how you wouldn’t have as strong of a reaction. I think if you dig into it, you’d probably recoil in horror. Is that fair?
BEE: I live with a Trump-hating millennial communist.
BEE: You don’t think I hear about how awful Trump is 24/7? I heard about an hour this morning.
BL: Is it convincing to you?
BEE: Uh no, not particularly. It isn’t convincing. I’m an absurdist. I am basically an absurdist. I created Patrick Bateman. I see the world in a certain way. I see societies, corporations, companies, as basically absurd. This absurd place we just have to get through and we try to make the best of it until we lay our head down and make our peace with the world and we’re gone. I don’t take a lot of it seriously, as an ironist and as a satirist, that’s always been the way that I’ve viewed the world and I don’t know if it’s because I learned about looking at the world this way by being gay and realizing I was an outsider, I was separate from it all. And also just realizing, I mean you realize as a child that you’re gay, it’s absurd. It’s sort of absurd, it’s like, “Oh my god, so I’m attracted to Alex and Randy, oh my god this is another thing I have to deal with, this is all absurd.” And you do…And so it’s hard for me to take the things so seriously that everyone takes so seriously. I’ve never been political. I might’ve you know…Even American Psycho is really not a critique of the Reagan ‘80s it’s more a critique of yuppie shallowness, the materialism. That’s always gonna be there, it’s just dressed up in new costumes. But for some reason…And the other thing is that, I think, “Okay, the trauma of Trump occurred. Okay, the plan is now to get rid of him. And that’s what you’re gonna do.” But he did, and we don’t want to get into political debate about this, I don’t want to get into it, as I told my distraught boyfriend, after about a year of having TDS, I told him to ignore Trump because he’s making you very unhappy. Go out and volunteer, work for the homeless, do something, but do not watch MSNBC 24/7 and have a meltdown every night and burst into my office screaming about the awful shit Trump did today. I understand but it’s been a year; I don’t care.
[59:13] BL: Is there anything that would activate you? Have you ever thought about that? Like, is there a line, you know, that he could cross where you would be like, “Okay, that’s it, I’m getting in the ring and I’m gonna actually engage with this stuff.”
BEE: Um, he was elected. He somehow won.
BL: But yeah, dude, he cheated. He had help from Russia in the Mueller Report. It’s fact. [laughs]
BEE: [laughs] But he’s still there.
BL: Yeah, he’s there.
BEE: He’s still there. And I think the plan is to, I think, vote him out, is to vote him out in 2020 and to get someone to replace him. And that’s how it works here, more or less.
BL: Assuming it’s a free and fair election. Assuming he doesn’t cheat again.
BEE: That’s true. I don’t know.
BL: ‘Cause like there’s just been so many gross offences, you know, I could point…and you’ve heard all the song and dance from…you know, everything I would say you’ve heard before.
[1:00:06] BEE: Oh yes and with much more vitriol and much more passion.
BL: Yeah, well, I’m trying to tamp it down. But just like, kids at the border is one example, and I’ll just leave…I’ll use that, only example. Like that doesn’t raise your ire? You’re not like, “Fuck that guy I gotta do something about this.” They just ripped a four-month-old kid out of his parents’ arms at the airport? Like as a human being I’m like trying to process this like I’ve gotta have a response. I feel like a sense of moral obligation to at least [laughs] tweet about it; I mean, it’s hard to know what to do but I feel something. Do you not feel anything? Does it not upset you?
BEE: A lot of things upset me. The world is upsetting. If you start to break it down and really look at it, how unfair it is, how terribly unfair it is, I think about that a lot. I think about whatever, the privilege that I’ve enjoyed, how do I process that, or do I process that? That’s just the way of the world. I mean I often think of how we like to pretend that we’re all equal but we’re not really, the world doesn’t allow for that. I’m talking about everything from wealth to beauty to intelligence to innate goodness, innate badness. So I don’t know, I see the world that way and I see the world as full of pain and full of terrors and, I don’t know, and to a degree to pick and choose which ones are more outrageous to me on some level, or will help me lose my day, I’m not that kind of person and I don’t think you’re gonna get that reaction out of me. And I know you’re using very specific things like the border issue, but it’s, I don’t know, the question becomes—and I’m not going to ask it—because I don’t want to get into a debate. Is it really that worse than Obama’s?
BL: The border stuff?
BEE: The border stuff.
BL: Yes it is.
BEE: Okay. And I will take that, take you as you’re word. And I will be fine with that. I will believe you. I believe you. I believe you. I think the problem happens, and I can feel it kind of, it always starts rising in a way. There’s nowhere to go after Trump. There’s nowhere to go. Once it’s introduced at a dinner table, once it’s introduced to two friends who are talking about a movie outside of a theater, once it’s introduced into an interview, it’s very hard to dispel it. It’s very hard to move on. I mean, I’m okay with moving on but I have a feeling that there is a little bit of ire here and you are kind of like looking at me, maybe thinking, “I really like this guy, but I don’t understand him at all.”
[1:03:02] BL: Well, no, I mean I do, and I think though, this is where, I think, maybe I am different than a lot of people who believe Trump is an existential threat and really want him gone ASAP is that I can tolerate somebody who has different viewpoints without getting super charged or angry. Like I actually like having conversations with people who don’t see things the same way that I do. I enjoyed your book. It challenged me. There were a lot of moments where I was like nodding my head; there were a lot of moments where I was like, “What?” And I enjoy that experience. I don’t want necessarily one or the other. I don’t want a book where I’m always nodding my head and I don’t want a book where I’m always shaking my head. So, I appreciate it. I do think that having some sort of dialogue around it, and you created one by writing the book, is very necessary especially for people who, I don’t know, who might be tuned out, to maybe catch wind of it or, I don’t know, wherever you get it, to have some engagement with this, I think, is important.
BEE: Well what about my friends, and again I’m talking about this from over here, what about my friends and my acquaintances who love him? And want him back. And will do anything to keep him in the White House in 2020. I know a lot of those people. I know a lot of people who loathe him.
[1:04:28] BL: What’s their rationale?
BEE: I don’t know what their rationale is. I don’t know. But I do know a lot of people in my family, everyone from my trainer, the guy who cuts my hair, three of my best friends from high school, my mom, my stepdad, I mean there’s a lot of people I know and a lot more came out that I had no idea about when this book was published—people, acquaintances from ten years ago, five years ago. The question is, because your question is completely valid, what do you do with these people? And I think there are a lot more of them than the other side can imagine. And it’s very interesting what’s going on in the news now, we’re repeating a narrative that happened in 2016 about 10 points ahead of Trump, 15 points ahead of Trump, we’ll never win, we’ll never…Texas is gonna flip—and I think we’re at a dangerous place of overreacting to Trump instead of figuring out a way how to find the best candidate to get rid of him. I don’t know where…I know this Russia stuff drove a lot of people crazy, it drove my boyfriend fucking nuts.
BL: It drove me crazy. I want to hang out with your boyfriend.
BEE: But I don’t know where it landed. I don’t know where it landed. What did it resolve? Or what did it clarify in terms of getting him out of here somehow? So I don’t know, all I’m saying here is, that I am…again I know you don’t like hearing that I don’t care the way…I’ve got no skin in the game for Trump, I’m not gonna vote for him. And I hope my boyfriend gets happier so…
BL: Do you want him to lose?
[1:05:54] BEE: [Extended pause] I guess it depends on who he’s up against. Do I want him to lose to Gillibrand? I don’t think so. I mean I don’t want her anywhere near the White House but…
BEE: I just…Look, there is despite…I always say that taking Trump literally is the worst thing you can do. Your head’s going to explode if you take him literally and you call out every lie and you circle every tweet and say it’s not true, because first of all he doesn’t care, and that’s not how he operates, that’s not the style, the style is bluster, the style is bluffing, the style is hyperbole and if you don’t get that…and humor. A lot of humor is in Trump. I think Trump’s actually very funny. I think he’s a very kind of remarkable standup comedian. And even if you hate him, I think you would have to find that there are…but maybe not because if he’s an existential threat then he’s not funny at all.
BL: I think he’s…What I would agree with is that I think he is like an excellent performance artist/con man. He’s a remarkable con man.
BEE: Fair enough, yeah, fair enough.
BL: I don’t know if Trump is capable of humor. Like I don’t see him laughing. Like he can’t handle, like he can’t hangout with a dog. He doesn’t like children. I mean, not that you have to like all these things but like there’s just kind of like this void to me when it comes to humor. Maybe he’s got some sort of like…maybe he’s laughing on the inside but have you ever seen him laugh?
[1:07:17] BEE: [Laughs] Good point.
BL: Yeah. I mean it’s a weird kind of vacuum and I think that he’s been doing his performance of this super successful billionaire and powerful guy for so many years now that it’s second nature and he definitely knows how to fuck with the media. Like he is a master of manipulating the media cycle.
BEE: A terrible problem that the media allowed. And the media still allows. I think it’s really interesting that we live in California and I just read a poll from last week in the LA Times that among California voters, among California voters, the Congress is less popular than Trump. The legislature is less popular than Trump and the media is less popular than Trump. That’s California voters. What does that say? Where are we then? What is the alternative if this is where we’re polling in fucking California? It’s all a mess.
[1:08:20] BL: It’s a mess. I think we need a government that’s more responsive to ordinary people. And if the people feel like the politicians aren’t listening, I think that’s part of what caused Trump’s rise is the fact that we had this great recession and all these people were in pain and their pain and their needs were not properly addressed, or you know, thoroughly enough addressed by leadership, that he became a kind of conduit for their rage. And he tapped into it. And they said, “Well, burn it down. Fuck it.” You know? I think there was a lot of that. I don’t think that explains all of it but I think there was a lot of that. I think there was a lot of racial animus that he enabled. I think there were a lot of people out there who had previously felt they had to sort of keep it under their hat, and he, you know, made them feel justified in vocalizing it and vocalized some of it himself. I mean, he knows how to manipulate people and not always in the best ways, to say the least. So, I’ll be interested to see what happens. I think he needs to be removed ASAP but the way things are going I gotta say I’m not holding my breath. Like they need to get on it. [Extended pause] No comment [laughs].
[1:09:32] BEE: I was interested in how Trump was being covered and my friend’s reactions to Trump more than anything that I had going for Trump or that I was connected with Trump. I feel, and I write about this in the book, I feel that I kind of got over my Trump problems when I wrote American Psycho and when I met all of these guys who worked on Wall Street in ‘86 and ‘87 who looked up to Trump. Who thought he was what they should aspire to be. And I thought that was odd then. I read The Art of the Deal and I looked into his relationship with Roy Cohn and I looked into Fred’s racial animus in terms of dealing with the apartment buildings and all that stuff and I thought, “What a strange person for these guys to look up to.” And that’s why I incorporated Donald Trump, I think about 45 times he’s mentioned in American Psycho as this “lost father” to Patrick Bateman, this kind of man that Patrick Bateman aspires to be to the point where Patrick Bateman finds himself drawn to the Trump Tower near the end of the book, just staring up at it as it glows in the darkening afternoon sky [laughs]. And I…for some reason, maybe that process, and really reading a lot about Trump, because I always wanted to make jokes in the book about…Trump says this about pizza, and Patrick Bateman then parrots it to his friends, “If Trump likes it then it’s good!” And I kind of like…I don’t know, maybe I OD’ed on finding him somewhat buffoonish. And then I also, well, I mean I don’t know how anybody really thought that day in June of 2015 when he was coming down the escalator, was really going to amount to what it ultimately did amount to. I’m not even sure if Trump did and you know there is this theory that that was all, well it’s not a theory, the extras there were paid for, the Trump organization did pay for that. And you know, I think people think that it was, Trump was doing this as a publicity stunt to get more money from NBC because Gwen Stefani was now the highest paid reality performer on NBC and Trump was doing all this stuff and I guess they had rented out three arenas—Michael Moore talks about this a lot. Not that you should totally trust everything Michael Moore says but he delineates this in his last movie, Farenheit 11/9, and talks about how after that appearance on TV, that day in June of 2015 where he said, you know, “Mexicans are rapists,” and so forth, that these three areas that they had rented out and thought they’d only use a section of, and then put a tent over the rest and have Trump deliver these speeches…They all sold out.
[1:12:13] BL: Yeah. He tapped into that anger.
BEE: They all sold out. And it was kind of a realization of, “That’s where we are.” That’s where we are right now. Are we still there? Are we still there?
BL: You know, I’ve been wrong before. I thought, like you know…remember when Obama talked about how like the Republican fever was gonna break after the 2012 election? It didn’t break. It went up.
BEE: Yeah, I know.
BL: And so it’s like…like I’m at the point where I’m like: where’s the bottom? I don’t know if there’s a bottom. Like when are people going to come back to some semblance of sanity? Like I feel like there’s a nihilism in the GOP right now that is not being properly countered by the Democrats. That would be my read. You know, I think it’s just off the rails and I feel like it’s not about governing it’s about ruling. It’s anything for power, the fact that he’s the president, they’ve sort of fallen into line. There’s really nothing he can do or say where they won’t go along with it. For the most part, almost entirely, except for what, Justin Amash, or whoever this guy is from the Freedom Caucus who defected but…
[1:13:21] BEE: Who are you interested in? Who would you like to see run against him?
BL: Elizabeth Warren.
BEE: And a possibility in beating him?
BL: Yeah. I think if she wins the nomination, I think she’ll beat him. I think she knows how to fight and I guess like what moves me about her candidacy, and it’s really still early, is the fact that she came out with so many substantive plans and has been unabashed in sharing them. And has been clear on the impeachment issue, which is important to me because I think if it’s not merited for him, then they should just get rid of impeachment.
BL: But I feel like…I guess my sense of her is that she’s willing to lose, which is appealing to me in any politician.
BEE: Of course, yes.
BL: Like she’s like, “This is what I believe in, I’m going to show you in detail exactly what I would do, how I would pay for it, this is what I stand for and this is how I’m going to run my campaign.” And it says to me that she really thought about why she would want to be the most powerful person in the world, it’s kind of an absurd thing to do and conceive of yourself as.
[1:14:23] BEE: Yes. Sociopathic, even.
BL: It’s crazy. You know, it’s like, what’s the old adage? It’s like, you know, we should…the only person who should be president is somebody who has no interest in it at all. [laughs] Like anybody who wants to be president is almost like automatically disqualified. But she strikes me, in the grand scheme, as pretty decent and I don’t know I just sense a fundamental seriousness in her and toughness and I think that she wouldn’t triangulate and say these things and then get into office and shrink back or negotiate with herself. I think she would fight for what she believes in. And I’m ready for it. And there’s never been, in our lifetime, with the exception maybe of Jimmy Carter, a truly progressive president. We’ve had centrist-left, we’ve had, you know, Reagan with the conservative revolution, then we had like a New England centrist-Republican in George H.W., we’ve had the Christian-conservative with George, you know, W. Bush, then we had Obama who’s a little bit more progressive but still centrist-left. Now we have Trump who is like…Who knows what he even is? I don’t think he even knows, you know?
BEE: [laughs] I don’t either.
BL: But he’s whatever he needs to be to consolidate power on the Republican side, so he’s pretty right wing. And then what I want to see is let’s try a progressive, let’s see how it goes. Like maybe it won’t work but then at least we’ll know. I just haven’t seen it yet.
BEE: Who should she run with?
BL: Uh, Kamala. Or vice-versa.
[1:15:48] BL: I think all the energy in the party, especially in like the primary electorate is with women and with people of color. And I would be very surprised to see a race where Biden like runs away with it. I think that’s the way things are polling now but I think that’s mostly based on name recognition. So, we’ll see, but like I’m also living in LA, I’m bubbled here. I grew up in the midwest so I know, like I grew up in Red State America. So it’s not like I have to context for it. And my parents grew are from the South so I’m related to all sorts of people who are on the Trump wagon, though I’ve never had any explicit conversations about it with them, probably wisely. So, it’s complicated, you know and people, when it comes to politics, it’s complicated, but I feel like we’re at a, yeah I think we’re at a dangerous point and we need to sort of pull ourselves back and hopefully we will. But, you know, I don’t have any sense of certainty or guarantee about it. You know. So I think maybe one of like the broad critiques that I found in reading about your book and like the reaction to it is that a lot of people, I think big picture-wise, took umbrage at the fact that you seemed more offended by like the woke left and social justice warriors and victim culture, and whatever you want to call it, you seem more offended by that than you do by the overreaches and authoritarian impulses of Trump. Is that true? Do you sense that in yourself? Does that animate you more or do you think that’s a misrepresentation of how you feel?
[1:17:35] BEE: I think overreaction among the people that I knew and felt that I was pretty much a part of my whole life was a shocking thing. A truly shocking thing. Maybe more shocking to me than the rise of Trump. And I really do believe that there is Trump derangement syndrome and I do believe that a lot of people have lost their judgement.
BL: Do I have it? Do you think I have it?
BEE: [sighs] There was a look in your eye about five minutes ago that kind of like…
BL: [laughs] Very familiar!
BEE: I started doing my kegels. But I think that…And In the moment that the book was being put together, and much of that had been written in 2017 and I talked about on my podcast, it was deeply disturbing because it was so close to me I guess and I knew it had happened to a lot of very smart people whose intelligence, I guess, I didn’t think was going to be that affected by the narrative of things, the narrative of Trump. Also it seemed shocking to me because, I guess, I don’t live in the Los Angeles bubble and I do know a fair amount of people who like Trump—quietly, small business owners, a couple gay guys, I know a lot of gay guys who like Trump—and it’s interesting why, you know. It was sort of interesting, well why them and why did these people…Is one right? Is one wrong? You talk about Trump’s authoritarian impulses and all that, and then I know people who just don’t feel that way. Now, if I was writing this book during the birther movement and the start of the Tea Party, it would be a very different book. It would be about that. Any kind of hysteria, mass hysteria, that’s going on…And any, and also, the other thing that interested me and that connected this moment back to my other work was the indignities that the entitled feel is happening to them and that goes back to Less Than Zero, it goes back to American Psycho, it goes back to all the rich young kids in Glamorama, that there’s somehow this put upon force, in terms of their freedom, their wealth, that, I don’t know, strikes me as somewhat hypocritical, somewhat…—not hypocritical maybe that’s the wrong word—but again an overreaction toward the news. This is the news and this is what happened and you can be sad about it for a while or you can regroup and then do something about it. I was profiled by The New York Times—interesting young journalist who came to my place for the profile and we talked for a long time—and we talked about this exactly. And she was saying, “Well of course I voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and it was a shock that night, it was a big shock,” but she said, “After a couple weeks, I had a life and I had things to do and I didn’t let it get so colored by this notion of what I find reprehensible is in the White House.” And everything that you said I believe that you believe and I know my boyfriend believes in it as well. You’re right…do I…you know sometimes I wonder: do I wish I cared more? I’m much, much happier than my boyfriend. A lot happier. This drives him nuts, makes him miserable, it causes stress and tension throughout the day. He can’t see his face on a monitor. He can’t see it on a TV screen. Only within the context…Even if it’s in the context of MSNBC I’ll still hear him mutter from the living room, “Piece of shit. Shut the fuck up, you fucking liar.” So that’s where I live and I’ve been living with this and I’m going to continue living with this. So of course I hope someone else gets into the White House, we don’t have four more years, but that might be, that might sound like a very simplistic, decadent reason in a way.
[1:21:39] BL: You should cover the 2020 campaign. You should get into it.
BEE: I’d be so not good at it, I don’t think. I’m so bad at policy. I’m so bad at like following that stuff and my boyfriend lays out everything for me so when I go, “What is that about?” Then he’ll sit down and he’ll go and I’ll have to say, “Okay I got it, enough.” Maybe we could do it as a team. Maybe the millennial and I could do it as a team. A series of reports on the election. I have to say, I don’t know, I mean, I am so turned off to politics, I am so not there. I really don’t like anybody in the Democrats, that are running for the Democrats…maybe Andrew Yang?
BL: Maybe you’re conservative.
[1:22:20] BEE: Well, that would be interesting if I was because I certainly didn’t come up that way and I certainly didn’t feel that way in my twenties and my thirties and into my forties. I think there’s something about the Trump narrative that trips everybody up. That someone has got…Everyone seemingly has to take a side. We’ve been engulfed by this person and I’m shocked to see that happening. I’m shocked to see this book being as controversial as anything, as I said before, written about American Psycho. But I’m also shocked to a degree that it has been number one in Essays and number one in Popular Culture and number one in Politics on and off for almost two months now on Amazon on certain charts. And I thought: really? On Politics? And Essays? And I see the reviews on it. There are a lot of five star reviews. There is another country that’s different from yours and my boyfriend and perhaps mine. And I, you know, I think this is so funny, I kind of put this book together as something to—at first to appease my agent and my publisher—and then it did become something that I was committed to, and it was a literary thing and it got me interested in wanting to write fiction again. But it was…there is…what disturbs me about the left is that they don’t believe that there’s another world out there, and I see that with my boyfriend. He’s constantly shocked, constantly shocked that there’s another opinion that is not his and I find it also somewhat upsetting that, you know, they do these polls where it says something like 88% of all Republicans would reach out to someone on the other side and have them over for dinner, where it’s like 12% of Liberals or Democrats would do the same to Republicans. There is this divide and there is this kind of like total overwhelming rejection that is of other people’s values and stuff that I have found, I don’t know, a little bothersome. I mean, I sound so sentimental when I talk about this, “If everyone could just come together.” And actually, you know, friends of mine, I have a couple millennial friends, I know they’re rare, who are Trump supporters and they’re pro-Israel and they’re Jewish and Todd met one of them. And Todd is Jewish, super left, he’s a Bernie guy. And we were at a dinner that someone invited us to, so six of us, we knew one guy and he brought two other guys, and Todd and this guy looked exactly alike. We’d never met him before. And he was the complete—32—the complete opposite of Todd. And they start to get into it. You know, Todd has a lot of issues with Israel; this guy’s radically pro-Benny. The whole thing, and Todd loathes Trump; this guy was a full on Trump dude. And somehow by the end of the dinner, they had found common ground and we now often go out with him and his girlfriend, the four of us go to the ArcLight, we’ll go to a movie, we’ll catch dinner or something, and as long as maybe that doesn’t come up, everything’s okay, and if it does come up between them they’re able to have a semblance of a conversation. Todd likes him more than that. And my friend likes Todd more than that. And I wish there was a lot more of that. That I’m completely going to find the humanity of someone in just that part of them, but I think that’s easier for one side than another.
[1:25:59] BL: It might be. I think there’s a lot of validity in the criticism and you can apply it either way. I haven’t seen the polls so I don’t know who’s more likely to have a dinner guest but I’ll take you, you know, at your word on it. But in assessing the left, like, you know there are virulent racist Trump supporters like who are in the KKK and who are filled with hate, like, to me they’re lost. Like I’m not gonna try to engage that person. But I know familially with my relatives in the South whom I love dearly, you know, that it’s worth a conversation. And I think that if you want to win somebody to your side in any kind of debate, especially a political debate, you know, there has to be care and attention taken to how you language things. And just browbeating somebody, and trust me I have that impulse, it’s so…
BEE: Of course, everyone does.
BL: When you believe something so strongly and you’re so deeply offended by somebody and you wanna like grab somebody and say, “Listen, no,” but, you know, there’s gotta be a process where you try to win them to your side and I wish I were an expert at that. I don’t know exactly how to do it and I know a lot of people on the left who are just like, “I give up, I can’t talk to these people anymore.” I think what you’re saying, there’s a lot of that out there where people have just stopped talking and, I think, where it’s possible to find, you know, some common ground and a bridge and hopefully bring people back from the brink of Trump insanity. [laughs] Or, bring people back from the brink of like a left wing authoritarian impulse where it’s like you’re either with me 100% or you’re my enemy. You know, which I think you gotta be honest about that there is some of that, you see it on social media, you see it in the way, you know, that people sort of tribalize and take people down. I think a lot of people have that experience of going on social media and feeling scared, like, “Oh god, I better…if I say one wrong thing, you know, I could ruin my life.” And there are certain things that merit somebody having really, you know, I’m not saying you can say anything but we live in an environment now where people don’t give a quarter and if, you know, you have a slip up or you’re misunderstood it can get ugly really quickly and people, you know, get taken down and sometimes I say, “Well, you know, they sort of made their bed and they have to sleep in it,” other times I say, well wait, I start to see things more grey and I go, “Well wait, there’s gotta be some nuance here.” Like, you know, the person fucked up or they didn’t mean to be as blunt or offensive as they came off. You know, I find myself wanting to understand and figure out a way to reconcile, you know, and I don’t think there’s necessarily enough of that sometimes on the left.
[1:28:57] BEE: What do you think about Harvard rescinding that acceptance to that Parkland shooting survivor?
BL: I think it’s all right. I think that sometimes you…I mean, the things that he said…I think the university has a right to say, “You know what, our incoming freshmen can’t be doing that kind of stuff. Like you’re out, go somewhere else.” He’ll have to learn that lesson. I’m okay with it, but I also don’t think, as long as he in good faith wants to make amends and be, you know, learn from it and move on and be better, I don’t think he should be villainized for the rest of his life for something he said when he was 16 years old. I look back at some of the dumb shit that I did and said in my youth, not just as a teenager but just as a young man, like I was raised Catholic so I feel guilty about everything and I can look back, I can still blush and feel bad about dumb things I said or did in my youth and I think if we’re all being honest, we all probably, to greater and lesser extents, have things like that and we need to be forgiving of ourselves, and one another, provided lessons are learned and people are awknowledging of their mistakes and want to move on and learn from them and not repeat them. That seems sane to me. But you know, there is also…Like you talk about kids being coddled too much, or you know, everybody gets a participation trophy, not accepting that the world is a tough place and shit happens. Well, you know, this is a lesson for him. You can’t use the N-word and fuck up and be using it in a private forum and then once it’s exposed apologize, you know, it’s a tough lesson but I think it’s meritted. Like I can’t look at it and say it shouldn’t have happened. Like how do you feel about it?
[1:30:52] BEE: [sighs] I don’t know. Sixteen. I look at it the same you do in terms of…I think the problem is is that this cancellation occurred, someone else got cancelled, the kid got cancelled in a way, and we’re just not having the conversation that we should be having instead of just cancelling the kid and making this…I think one of the most teachable moments that we could have had as a nation, I’m going to say as a nation, was when Roseanne Barr got her show taken away from her because of that tweet. And that there was a moment where ABC, who cancelled the show or the corporation that owns ABC cancelled the show, said, “Okay lookit, we’re gonna talk about this, we’re gonna do like a live hour-long show, prime time, Roseanne Barr, Valerie Jarrett wants to come on, cast of the Connor’s, and we’ll have people about race, we’ll have a conversation about how this all occurred and all this happened.” Now that might be its own looney utopia but something along those lines. I think, I don’t think…I think cancel culture is something both the left and the right despise. I don’t think it’s, I think it’s…it’s not a partisan thing, I think everybody basically hates political correctness and where it’s ended up. I think basically both sides hate cancel culture. I think basically both sides are tired of the weaponization of certain movements and I think that it’s not left or right anymore. What I’m confused about is, well then how is it being kept in play? Is it the media? Does the media really have that much power when you see how it’s so mistrusted? I mean, I don’t know. I mean it’s…
[1:32:37] BL: Social media has a lot to do with cancel culture. It’s like, you know, mob. And people…And I, like I’ve confessed to this before: like, I virtue signal sometimes on Twitter. Or I sometimes I will just stop and be like, “Why am I retweeting this? And not this? And like why am I fav-ing this?” And like, you know…Sometimes there’s genuine virtue in amplifying a voice or a message or a story but it does incite that and sometimes I don’t want to retweet something because I’m afraid the humor will be misapprehended. And I’ll be viewed…
[1:33:11] BEE: What a terrible way to live.
BL: I know!
BEE: This is a terrible way to live. The fact that we can’t be…I mean, the differences between Twitter in 2009 and now are shocking. Shocking! It was a really fun place and now it’s this completely toxic environment that is I guess is a reflection of who we are? What we want? What we want. Our desires?
BL: I mean it’s like everybody’s little like first-dash private thoughts have been externalized and I read something somewhere where it was like: you know, once you see all this, the way people think and you’ve gotten their impulsive reactions to things, all that stuff used to be subsurface, and now we’ve seen it from one another and so I think once you’ve seen that it destabilizes things to a certain degree. And, you know, like it’s complicated for me as I try to think through it because I do think that it’s a tough way to live, where I’m, you’re constantly like self-censoring and like worried and virtue signalling and checking Twitter and like getting that dopamine hit from the likes, it’s like, it can’t be healthy. But I also believe, just to use as an example, comedy—where I feel most permissive, if I feel like maximally permissive of subversive thought and expression, it’s especially in comedy where we need people to sort of cross that line. We need people to poke. And when I see people like bashing comedians I’m almost always like most sympathetic with a comedian ‘cause I’m like, “We need people to test these lines, like that’s the court jester.” But, you know, you can’t tell certain kinds of jokes. Like in 1985, you couldn’t tell the same kinds of…you know things had evolved so you couldn’t do certain things on stage that you could in 1965. And in 2005 things had changed too. Things change and evolve for good reason sometimes and comedians and artists change with the times and the way that we express ourselves changes in accordance with social change—and it’s not all bad. So, I guess I’m just saying that it’s kind of a blend and it’s a mix and you have to sort of navigate it and it feels complicated to me sometimes. It’s not just like everything’s permitted and it’s certainly not like everything needs to be policed.
[1:35:29] BEE: I can’t live that way. I can’t live by the rules you just decided. So I’m going to…and I’ve been cancelled many times, I got epicly cancelled with American Psycho, but I cannot reign in my artistic impulses and change the brushes and the paints that I want to work with. I can’t do it. I cannot, I will not self-censor myself; I mean I’m not gonna go out and kill anybody but I do assume that people are adults. Often what’s funny about jokes is that they do demean people, they do marginalize people, that’s why they’re funny. And I do think that…I have an epic problem, not only with comedians being, you know, cancelled and being told they can’t say that, or their jokes, or watching Judd Apatow virtue signal in a quote about, or in an interview about how we all have to watch ourselves now and we all…and it’s a good thing that we’re doing that. I don’t think it’s a good thing. I think that is an example of the coddle-ification, the coddling of the culture, and I don’t think it’s about racist jokes or sexist jokes or jokes about gays, which honestly, if you watch a roast, most people think are fucking hilarious. You see these roasts where they say the most inappropriate stuff, the most racist, homophobic jokes and you have a huge audience of young people, white and black people, laughing hysterically because the shit’s just funny, and there is something liberating about going there. There is nothing liberating about timidly tipping around, “Oh, I can’t say this because it’s going to offend a marginalized group or a race or a person of a certain gender or ethnicity.” It’s just, it is an impossible way to be a real person, to be a person engaged with the world. And it’s no way to be an…it’s a terrible way to be an artist. An absolutely terrible way to be a writer or an artist—to have a list of 100 things that you cannot explore or talk about because of this, this and this. And let’s not…I mean, if you wanna start with cultural appropriation and what horrible door that opens up, we’re down a, not only a slippery slope, we’re down a fucking waterslide of a morass of like fucking art up and fucking free speech up and fucking what we can and cannot say. The policing of art right now is at a height that I’ve never seen in my lifetime. And it’s a reaction against, I don’t know what it’s a reaction against, but it is truly dangerous. I mean if people start thinking that Trump and ICE is all resembling Weimar, Germany, I mean, what in the hell is cancel culture about in terms of like what movies you can show comrade, what paintings we can put on walls? You know it’s, you know…you culturally appropriated someone, you’ve got to pull that book out of that slate. I see it everyday and I find it terrifying as an artist and I find it terrifying that we seemingly go along with it to a degree. You know, I don’t know what’s next, I don’t know if Huckleberry Finn is going to be banned because it uses the N-word or if Blazing Saddles is ever gonna be shown on TV anymore, or let alone a John Hughes movie that has kind of a racially questionable character in it or the use of the word “fag”—you know, that is another big thing. We are going to erase…You start erasing that, you’re going to begin to erase a lot of other stuff too.
[1:39:01] BL: Well the question is where is the line and who gets to decide?
BEE: There isn’t one! What is the line? And who does get to decide? I guess, the culture, the society somehow decides where the line is? Or do they? Are they told to? Who says? I mean it’s kind of like, and I guess in some weird way I’m a little bit more passionate about this because it happened to me on an epic scale with American Psycho. And so I do get a little bit…I think if it does happen to you, you’re a little bit more sensitive about it. I know Jay McInerney has said about White and the book that, “I think Bret feels this way, he’s actually one of us.” Jay has told, I think, The New York Times. “He’s actually one of these coastal elites, he basically is a coastal elite, but he has this added thing mixed in of what happened to him in 1990 and ‘91 and it’s caused this kind of warping of looking at everything through this other lens.”
BL: Maybe you were traumatized by it.
[1:39:59] BEE: You know what I don’t know if I really was or not. I mean I felt that the book was what it was and that it was not how other people described it or were talking about it in those terms and I knew it would somehow survive. And it did survive. I mean, actually a better publisher published it, and got it, and knew what it was rather than what it, the noise surrounding its pre-publication. But, I don’t know…it’s a very…I can go along with people not liking Trump, I can go along with that and I get it; I live with it, I understand it. But when we start talking about arts, and this is big in publishing right now, in young adult publishing self-censoring is rampant, as I’m sure you follow some of these stories, of people taking their books off because five tweets come out calling them cultural appropriators or you’re not Muslim enough to write about this character. I don’t know. It’s really scary and I don’t know what we’re raising in terms of this next generation, this wave moving forward, of people thinking this is all okay, that there is a culturally approved art that follows these rules or if it doesn’t, then it’s anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-black, whether it is or not. Looking at art through this ideological lens, which is something that I talk a lot about in White, is I cannot even begin to get on that side of the aisle. That really drives me crazy. And I’m not saying that you are on that side at all.
[1:41:31] BL: I was just gonna say, ‘cause just to be clear, like when it comes to artistic expression I’m wide open. I think more when it comes to like changing with the times a little bit. I’ll give like a personal example. On this program when I would introduce a female author, like in the monologue, I would say like, “Now here she is, the lovely and talented…” And I think I was aping Dave Letterman ‘cause I grew up watching him and he used to always say that, so it sort of embedded itself and I just thought it was like a polite and like…
BEE: Which it is.
BL: Which I hope…But like I got an email, I got multiple emails where it was like, “You know what, don’t call your female guests ‘lovely’.” Like don’t…and there was an argument made that I read and I was like you know what, okay. Like maybe I need to listen. Like maybe this is quietly bothering a lot of women and maybe I need to respond to that. And so do you think that I overdid it by responding?
[1:42:21] BEE: Oh, yeah, oh I do. I do. And I think you should call…If a woman is lovely, she’s lovely. I mean if you’re doing it to every woman then…or are you only citing out certain, more attractive women?
BL: No, I think I did it with all of them. I think I did it with all of them.
BEE: Well, I don’t know. I mean that seems to me to be like a gnat bite, that seems to be like not a big deal at all. I mean, I don’t know, I mean I’ve…Look, we start talking about equality and we also end up with the princess in a parapet still demanding equality with…If a woman or someone can’t deal with the fact that you’re calling someone lovely, who I imagine you do, are you just lying? [aughs]. Are you just trying to like make them like you?
BL: No! I’m just trying to be kind, I guess. I think my instincts were fine, I just, I think sometimes people receive certain things…
BEE: Do you really think that these people cared one way or the other?
BL: I don’t know.
[1:43:22] BEE: Do you think they really cared? Or they just wanted to make a noise?
BL: I think maybe I have that thing where I want people to like me more and I care about that a lot, which I think can be a good thing but maybe sometimes too much.
BEE: So, the difference is if I have an attractive young actor on my podcast and I say to the actor, “You look rather handsome today. You look quite hot in fact.” Okay, so that’s fine and we’re gonna be okay with that. I’m not gonna get any letters, no notes coming in from anybody telling me to change my podcast and yet you say that this writer here is the lovely and talented so and so…Who doesn’t want to be called lovely? When has “lovely” become this overarching patriarchal [laughs] attack on a woman? I’m sorry. I grew up with women who like that. I grew up in a very matriarchal world. My dad had checked out, and my grandfather had checked out, so it was all women. It was my aunt, my mother, my sisters, my nieces, my grandmothers, it was just…that was the core group. And I guess that they never ever…and we’re not talking about…none of these women are wealthy anymore, some of them are dead, not wealthy, and I never heard anything negative about men or about the patriarchy or certainly not any of them being a victim, and in control of their own destiny with men. And I think that the strong female sense that I got growing up has made me very impatient with things like that. Like I don’t think that any of these women that I knew, the dozen or so that…made all the decisions about trips and parties and holidays and stuff…I don’t know, I don’t think any of them would mind, would care one way or another about that. And I don’t know, I feel the same way about some of my favorite writers from Joan Didion to Pauline Kael who were tough, tough, and did not see themselves as victims of the patriarchy. They saw themselves above it in fact, and much stronger—”whether it existed or not”—as Joan Didion famously wrote in The White Album. You know I…”She didn’t buy the package,” she writes, and I grew up in a household where no one bought that package and they certainly don’t buy it now. And gotta tell you the eye rolls about MeToo and about the weaponization of MeToo in my household with these women is across the boards.
[1:45:57] BL: Really?
BEE: Yeah, across the boards. They cannot believe that someone would complain about this or that, an actress would get a $10 million settlement from CBS because she felt two actors said something that…in an improv were abusive and harassment. Crickets…you’re not gonna hear any of them going, “Right on, sister! That’s right.” And it’s just…When movements become weaponized like that, well they do, they ultimately, they always do, they become as warped as I think sometimes what they’re attacking—and even people starting with the best intentions. But you know, I think it really cracked open for many many men I know when The New York Times did that profile on Ryan Adams where they tried to MeToo him somehow. And they said that, “Oh, he would promise young female musicians work if they flirted with him.” Really? Mandy Moore said she couldn’t make a record for six years because Ryan was too controlling. Whose fault is that, babe? I mean really. When we start moving it over because someone’s a douche rather than someone involved in criminal behavior and actually trying to fuck with someone, I don’t know, we…That article really, I cannot tell you when I talked about this on my podcast, how many people, men, responded to that and said, “This has gotten completely out of hand.” You know, blacklisting an actor, sexually assaulting an actress is one thing, but if you’re saying that your boyfriend grabbed you by the wrist…I’m thinking of the Chris Hardwick thing. Your boyfriend grabbed you by the wrist and you had rough sex a couple of times three years ago and you start bringing this up as you are the victim and Chris Hardwick should be MeToo’d…and fortunately Chris Hardwick was vindicated in the end but that was one of those moments. And I know Todd today, who is as millennial, aspirational, believes in these movements as you can get, was muttering about some other thing that was in the news today that was a MeToo thing. Well there were like a lot of them. There’s like three or four now every day and it’s kind of diluted the power of the initial movement. But it was just another person, it was in The New York Times, and even he was like going, “I can’t…believe…” Oh it was, it was, oh I’ll think of it in a minute. It was some entertainment person. Someone involved in the entertainment business.
[1:48:31] BL: Well, you know, I think there’s a lot of…I try to make sense of like the rise of the movement—Trump’s election, the fact that Hillary got screwed over, at least in the eyes of many, that the election was stolen from her—women were pissed.
BEE: Yeah, it’s completely connected to Trump being elected, the MeToo Movement.
BL: And he’s a serial sexual assaulter. I mean, he really genuinely sexually assaulted many women. I believe them. Do you…That doesn’t bother you?
BEE: I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s completely true. He sexually assaulted them, yeah?
BL: I think he had sex with a child. The Jeffrey Epstein connection. I think we’re gonna find out about that. But now we’re getting, I mean…Are we getting into territory that you’ve heard before from Todd?
[1:49:12] BEE: Oh yeah, I’ve heard all that stuff. But Todd doesn’t believe that Trump had sex with a child. And Todd also doesn’t believe the sexual nature of any of that matters at all. He says peoples’ sex lives and whatever women and men do and whatever man does or whatever, he’s just not…that is so far down the road of what he’s concerned about and he doesn’t like it when sex comes into…I mean, look, the Gillibrand thing, Todd went absolutely nuts when Al Franken was kicked out and that was the beginning of, you know, the circular firing squad that Obama warned us about after all that Biden stuff came out about his hair-sniffing and shoulder-touching and that there seemed to be…the media seemed to be, for two or three days, going toward a MeToo movement with Joe Biden. Luckily, Obama came out, made that speech, talked about we gotta be careful, we can’t start shooting everybody because of one little thing compared to, you know, the vast things. But that…And also, I mean, Todd got super angry at the media going after Joe Biden and that of course that followed days after the Mueller report drops so Todd was in a very silent place for those four days, but even he can’t quite—the “grab them by the pussy thing”—which believe me did not move the needle at all for women…It didn’t move the needles for Liberals or Republicans…
BL: Hey, listen, Trump won what like 48% or 52% of women?
BEE: Well he did. And he also won a fair…he won the majority of white millennials. Look, we’re not here to discuss Trump any longer [laughs]. We’ve had enough Trump. And I really do think that the air sometimes goes out of the room after Trump is brought up. It’s like people just can’t—they’re too excited.
BL: There’s a lot to process and you’re a good sport for indulging me and talking about it because I know you’ve been doing a ton of media. Last question I’ll ask you: are you working on another book? Do you have plans to do a movie? Like what’s on your slate creatively?
[1:51:15] BEE: I wanna finally make a movie. I have a script and you know, as everyone says in LA, like everyone says in LA: I have a script, I’m dealing with financiers, and my producing partner and we’re hopefully going to get that and make this movie. Or another movie, a couple scripts. Which one is gonna land more, which one is actually going to get the money? And I really wanna do that; I do want to direct. I am working on a novel, a novella, I guess you’d call it. Somehow White got me excited about writing prose that wasn’t simply for screenplays or pilots. And there was something about being able…a freedom to use the language in a way that I guess I’ve kind of been denying myself for ten years, to, you know, to inhabit a literary world, and I think White was that for me. Or, if not fully, it sparked something, and so I’m working on that. And that’s probably what I’ll do for most of the summer is work on that fiction and then try to find money for the movie. And that’s really—that actually is a lot.
BL: I was gonna say.
BEE: And also, you know what, I record, produce and write a podcast every two weeks with about 40 minutes of it written. So I do still do those long format essays every other week and that takes up a long time, very fun. Certainly, I don’t have kids and I don’t have a day job so I am able to juggle this in a way that would seem completely probably daunting for someone who had to deal with both of those things like you do.
BL: Yeah. It definitely takes up a lot of the time. But I wish you well on everything. I appreciate you making time to come over here, it’s great to meet you.
BEE: It’s great to meet you too and this was, um, really nice.
* * *
[1:52:04] BL: All right everybody there you go, that is Bret Easton Ellis. His new book is called White, it’s an essay collection available from Knopf. You can find him online at breteastonellis.com, you can follow him on Twitter, his handle over there is @breteastonellis. You can check out The Bret Easton Ellis Podcast while you’re at it—you can listen to that via Patreon. I think he’s also got a Instagram: @bretellis. Once again, his essay collection is called White, out there now from Knopf, go get your copy.
[1:53:43] Thanks to Kill Rock Stars and the band Stereo Total, for the theme song music as always. Thank you to Tiger in My Tank for the interstitial music. If you want to respond to the program, if you want to write to me, my email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com. If you want to support the show, you can do that at patreon.com/otherpplpod. Throw a few bucks in the hat.
[1:54:09] This podcast has its own official app, it’s the Otherppl with Brad Listi app, it’s free, go get it wherever you get your apps, it’s free. It’s a great way to listen and keep up with the show. New episodes of the Otherppl podcast go live every Wednesday and it’s all free. The show’s website is otherppl.com. The Twitter handle is @otherppl.
[1:54:41] So next week on the program, who’s coming up? Erin Hosier, author of the memoir Don’t Let Me Down, also my literary agent. Finally getting her on the show. I guess she’s been on the show before with Patty Schemel. They co-wrote a memoir together but this is Erin, on her own, in conversation with me about her lovely memoir. So stay tuned for that coming up next week. Got some other good ones in the hopper.
[1:56:16] But I’ll keep those under the lid for now. Got out of town last week. That was nice. It was weird, it was kind of a work trip. But we went up the coast, stayed near the ocean. I got to see some wild birds. Go for long walks on the beach. I went for a hike in the fog, in the morning, like the morning marine layer. [goat bah sound, bird sound]