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American Psycho Film Analysis

Mary Harron’s American Psycho is widely received as a “cult classic,” with a genre blending of horror, psychological thriller, and a dash of dark comedy. Since my taste in film thrives mainly in the psychological thriller sub-genre, this movie reached my particular level of interest. My first viewing of American Psycho perplexed me by all means. Throughout the movie I was thinking to myself, “How is he (the main character) getting away with all this? Didn’t anyone see him do that?” The ending was also unclear to me and didn’t satisfy the clichéd Hollywood ending I was so used to. Only by watching the movie a second time did I understand that it was deliberate in its ambiguity. Recurring elements such as mistaken identity, delusional behavior, sheer indifference, and display of the 1980s “yuppie” culture stand as some of the different interpretations of the film, as determined by the viewers. And that was the prime reason I chose this movie. It engages the audience, presenting a unique twist and leaving the conclusion of the film to your interpretation.

American Psycho (2000) is an adaptation of Brent Easton Ellis’s graphic novel, first published in 1991. The film follows the life of Patrick Bateman, a wealthy Wall Street businessman living in Manhattan. Bateman embodies the qualities of a proper, well to do, and educated individual, who highly embraces New York City’s “yuppie” era of the 80s. However, all this mundane, day-to-day routine is merely a façade, his “mask of sanity” worn in order to fit in and conceal his true nature, which is a sadistic, sociopathic serial killer. The sane side of Patrick Bateman goes to work, engages with his associates/colleagues, and attends lavish parties and swanky restaurants with his snooty fiancé, while the other side preys on hookers, brutally murdering and mutilating their bodies. His mask starts to crumble, however, as his lust to kill takes over and escalates into something uncontrollable. Towards the end, he even confesses his crimes to his lawyer and other associates, including the murder of his so-called missing co-worker, but they either perceive it as a joke or express total apathy. The movie closes with an unclear sense of whether the murders actually took place, or if it was all in his head, ultimately leaving it for the audience to decide.

My take on American Psycho was that it shows an unprecedented view on the dark side effects to reaching the American Dream. Patrick Bateman is a man who lives the American Dream. He has success, wealth, and a lavish lifestyle attained by very few. However, Bateman feels trapped in this pompous and superficial culture, so much that he has to kill as his form of escapism. The psychotic nature of Bateman’s character also strikes a resemblance to the notorious Norman Bates, the antagonist of Alfred’s Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Whether the names Bateman and Bates are merely a coincidence or an intentional play on words to bond the two characters, they share a common demeanor in trying to display a “mask of sanity” to hide their true, sinister natures. As mentioned before, the ambiguity of the film is what makes it unique to other psycho-thriller movies. One interpretation of the movie is that Bateman committed the murders, but no one cared enough to believe him or took it as an odd joke. This idea, thereby, symbolizes members of the “yuppie culture” as a shallow and indifferent group, which remain more concerned about the material world than their own. Another interpretation is mistaken identity, which was common throughout the film. People often mistook Bateman for someone else and failed to notice the mix-up. Also, it’s plausible that Bateman is delusional and that the killings were all in his mind.     These explanations shape the overall storyline and therefore give the film a more mysterious angle.

American Psycho outlines the path of a sinister serial killer who feels trapped within his own American Dream. The culture he embraces is a front, merely to express his solidarity with the people of his stature. His true nature is that of a man who feels nothing but a deep blood lust. The ensuing uncertainty at the end of the film is what makes it unique. The facts are never clear-cut. It makes the viewers think and decide which explanation fits best. The overall ambiguity of the movie and the dark, satirical stance on the “yuppie culture” earns the movie the right to be classified as a true psychological thriller.

Challenging LGBT Censorship

The children’s book, And Tango Makes Three, by authors Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, is a heartwarming tale about two penguins in New York City’s Central Park Zoo. The book is based on a true story, which follows the lives of Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins who are recognized as a couple and are given an egg to hatch by their zookeepers. Together, Roy and Silo hatch and raise a female chick, named Tango, who ultimately becomes the third member of their family (Goodman).

Despite the book’s praise by the American Library Association, public backlash has run rampant throughout public schools and libraries across counties. A range of audience outcries, from parents to teachers, about the book’s alleged “gay agenda” has caused uproar to ban the book, or restrict access in elementary school libraries. Inevitably, audiences’ response to the book has uncovered the question of whether or not it should be permissible for today’s youth to have access to literature addressing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) themes in public schools and libraries. Many advocate groups and supporters believe that such restrictions are a form of censorship and silence the voice of the LGBT community. The pro-active use of LGBT texts and services are in fact beneficial to maintain a tolerant learning environment for students and should be incorporated into school libraries and teaching curriculums for public schools nationwide.

To delve further into the controversy of such mass censorship, it is important to note the mishandling of the situation for And Tango Makes Three among opposing parents and school counties. Since the book’s publication in 2005, some audience’s reception to the book’s content had been clearly negative. The major objection that was raised was the insinuated sexual relationship between the two male penguins, therefore promoting homosexuality among young readers. Therefore, the general response from numerous parents, teachers, and administrators was that the book is inappropriate for children, and the retort to ban the book had reached various school counties. For example, in 2008, a mother’s complaint in Sterling, Virginia caused Dr. Edgar B. Hatrick, the superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools to order that the book be removed from all elementary school libraries. Similar cases were brought up in Calvert County, Maryland and in various states across the country including Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, North Carolina, and California (Chandler). The excessive amount of public complaints caused And Tango Makes Three to become the most challenged and controversial book for three consecutive years, from 2006 to 2008 (Morales). In response to audience’s concern of a “gay agenda,” co-author, Justin Richardson stated, “We wrote the book to help parents teach children about same-sex parent families. It’s no more an argument in favor of human gay relationships than it is a call for children to swallow their fish whole or sleep on rocks” (Miller). The American Civil Liberties Union also followed up by stating that the book’s access is protected by freedom of speech under the First Amendment (Morales). Since then, the book had been returned to school shelves in certain counties; however some still exercise measures of constraint by flagging or placing it under adult-themed books.

The case of And Tango Makes Three is merely one out of a plethora of cases, which places reproach on the LGBT community. Other titles, which address similar themes such as The Kite Runner, The Color Purple, and Perks of Being a Wallflower have also been challenged in the past and even denied to teach in the classroom due to their “controversial” nature (Curwood et al.). The restriction of LGBT themed readings in public schools is therefore problematic for students and adversely affects the LGBT community. Setting constraint on LGBT inclusive texts and materials not only is a mass form of censorship but also condones a sense of homophobia in schools. Judith Krug, the director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association acknowledges, “If you are putting something behind a desk, you are saying something is wrong with it. It’s a degree of censorship, because they are making access to information extremely difficult” (Chandler). Lack of awareness on pertinent issues such as gender identity, expression, and homosexuality invites a closed-minded approach to teaching and gives homosexual students the impression of being invisible and misrepresented in the classroom (Curwood et al.). This in turn creates the potential for shaping a sense of insecurity, and self esteem or gender identity issues among students.

Incurring such a closed-minded curriculum can also foster negative feelings of hostility and discrimination against homosexual students. A recent survey by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) concluded that about 86% of LGBT students were subject to verbal discrimination at school based on sexual orientation, while another 44% encountered physical harassment (Curwood et al.). Another problem relates to teachers and librarians who feel limited to include texts and materials that address these issues. This is because they are either misinformed on school district policies for choosing curriculum materials or are afraid to face the repercussions of educating students on a controversial subject matter. For instance, a Massachusetts school librarian read And Tango Makes Three to a group of second grade students. Shortly after, the school principal sent her a message stating to “refrain from disseminating information that supports alternative styles of living,” and “further infractions may result in discipline up to and including suspension and/or termination of employment” (“And Tango”). If this were the case throughout other school districts as well, there is no telling how many voices that wish to speak up are silenced, due to fear of losing their jobs.

This form of discrimination indicates the struggle for the civil rights for the LGBT community in the United States. According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and GLSEN, only ten states, and Washington D.C., have non-discrimination laws which protect students based on sexual orientation and gender identity, while three states have laws to protect students based on sexual orientation alone (“States”). California, Iowa, and Illinois are among those ten states, which protect students; however public school counties in those states were previously mentioned for having complaints against the unrestricted access for And Tango Makes Three. With the remaining 36 states, which currently hold no laws protecting the rights of LGBT students, the issue of some schools censoring their curriculums of LGBT readings and materials is of great concern to all students. As a result, the spread intolerance and regression of social reform regrettably continues within the United States.

The scope of the problem of restricting LGBT texts encourages the continuation of a residual intolerance and discrimination towards the LGBT population. Therefore, the incorporation of LGBT readings and services in the classroom serves as beneficial to students and generates a more open and accepting learning environment for all. More programs that are implemented to discuss themes of sexual orientation and expression can account for the spread of more awareness. This results in a better understanding and a greater tolerance towards LGBT individuals both in and out of the classroom. Also, the inclusion of novels and readings will give voice to LGBT students and allow them to openly explore and discuss issues that are salient to them (Curwood et al.). Educating students in the schools will also better prepare them for the real-life experiences they may encounter in the future. The pro-active incorporation of such readings and services is a large step towards social change and plays a vital role to celebrating diversity and unity among students.

The United States has come a long way in reforming the rights of the LGBT community, with the permission of same-sex marriage in certain states, the introduction of the Student Non-Discrimination Act in 2010, and the recent repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. However, a new approach must be attempted in which the problem is targeted early on. In order to bring awareness to this longstanding social issue of civil rights, reforms and policy changes must first be enacted in public institutions. Education in schools is essential to shaping students’ views and perceptions. The earlier students start learning about LGBT issues, the more likely they are to show acceptance and better understanding in the future towards issues such as homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and gender expression. Public schools and libraries should thereby encourage the inclusion of LGBT themed literature and materials into the classroom, preferably in the English and literature classes. Since teachers hold the majority of influence over children’s education outside of the home, they should be rightly educated on the policies of their respective school districts when choosing teaching materials (Curwood et al.). That way, they are able to make more informed decisions and defend their choices on what to include in the curriculum. In addition, having a support network of colleagues and administrators can better facilitate a call to action to tackle censorship issues. Librarians also play a key role to include LBGT literature into public libraries by building community advocacy on protecting the intellectual freedom of the LGBT youth (Schrader). For example, going back to the case of And Tango Makes Three, during the time it was being challenged in Calvert County, Maryland, the Board of Library Trustees reviewed the book and came to the unanimous decision to keep it on the children’s shelves in public libraries (Goodman). Since public libraries open their doors for all who wish to learn, they should continue to serve as an indispensable safe-haven for knowledge and diversity.

Additionally, the main website for GLSEN includes methods to incorporate LGBT education in classrooms through grades K-12. One of those methods is to teach a LGBT history lesson to increase awareness of important LGBT figures in past and current society. More importantly, granting access to LGBT texts, materials, and literature that are accurate and age-appropriate for students is the prime way for children to start listening and discussing themes such as gender identity and expression (“K-12 Curricula”). For instance, And Tango Makes Three is used in elementary schools to teach students about tolerance and alternate families. These curriculums do however conflict with parents who believe that such issues should be discussed at home rather than at school. One parent pitched religion as an argument by stating, “The school district is violating a First Amendment right for those who have a religion that doesn’t support homosexuality” (Landan). Conversely, these curriculums are not put in place to alter one’s religious beliefs, but to teach tolerance and advocate against anti-gay harassment to protect the rights of LGBT students. Also, some teachers in opposition may believe that such a curriculum would give special preferences to LGBT students, however these reforms are crucial to prevent future cases of homophobia and ensure the safety of all students, gay or straight. Moreover, observing events to protest the harassment and bullying of LGBT students, such as the Day of Silence and No-Name Calling Week, can assist in pointing students in a more positive direction towards acceptance (“Back-To-School Guide”). Despite the evident controversy of such methods, these small steps that are taken in the classroom will ultimately act as the catalyst for social change and open-mindedness among succeeding generations.

The theme of the aforementioned social issue is part of a larger, more political debate for the rights of the LGBT community, a debate that has been lingering for years, especially among conservative and liberal demographic groups. A nation such as the United States was formed under the principles of equality and proudly displays its ethnic diversity each day. Why then is there still a residual intolerance towards those who wish to freely express themselves, even if it may be in a “non-traditional” way? The LGBT community continues to expand today, which makes it vital to educate the youth and upcoming generations about issues they may likely come across in the future. The proactive use of LGBT literature, materials, and services in public schools and libraries will help inspire social reform for individuals’ rights and nurture a more tolerant and enriching environment for all.

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