(From a French perspective) WHITE BY BRET EASTON ELLIS: A PLEA FOR OTHERNESS
Reading the latest book by Bret Easton Ellis, White, does the world of good in these times dominated by an “epidemic of moral superiority” from an intellectual elite (more financial than anything else) which grants patents to the rest of the population for “good taste” and “thinking things through”.
Without ever taking himself too seriously and making reference to several private episodes in his life, Bret Easton Ellis observes the hysteria of the last few years marked in the United States, and indeed all around the Western world, by a stranglehold of identity and victimary ideology over art and society in general.
In his essay, Bret Easton Ellis explains, for example, that homosexuals, black people, and women have become “baby pandas” whose work or cultural output cannot be criticised without attracting lightning bolts from ideology holders. This is even more true, and indeed more serious, when it comes from a “privileged white male” who is clearly a homophobe, racist, and sexist in the making.
Yet, it is this identity and victimary ideology that carries within it the very poison that it condemns: “Along with millions of other white men, I was constantly being called to order by a certain faction: we should define ourselves by our white identity because that in itself was the real problem. In reality, this faction was demanding we did so, without bothering to acknowledge that identity politics is perhaps the worst idea to be suggested in today’s culture, and is most certainly the one that encourages the growth of separatist and supremacist organisations. In general, identity politics approves the idea that peoples are essentially tribes, and that our differences are irreconcilable, which naturally makes diversity and inclusion impossible. That’s the toxic impasse of identity politics.”
Even though he comes from the “same church pew” as this faction, in a nutshell from the American progressive left, and even though he himself is homosexual and a defender of individual freedoms, Bret Easton Ellis has suffered the ravages of this ideology, notably by using his Twitter account to simply express… his opinion.
Expressing one’s opinion by considering that the Oscar-winning film director, producer, and screenwriter Kathryn Bigelow is perhaps overrated because she is a woman in a traditionally masculine environment is not tolerated by ideology.
Explaining the reservations that one has about the incredibly victimary film Moonlight, especially when one is not black, is not an opinion tolerated by ideology.
Lamenting that the film about David Foster Wallace overlooks the less glorious aspects of the writer’s life is also not an opinion tolerated by ideology…
It is with great humour that Bret Easton Ellis explains these hysterical episodes where simple tweets in which he was expressing an opinion on films preposterously led to scandals on newspaper front pages, and to his exclusion from the annual GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) dinner, again for tweets that were perceived not to comply with the ideology advocated by the association fighting against LGBT discrimination.
He also reveals a division of members within the PEN America literary association with regard to paying tribute following the Charlie Hebdo massacre; certain members deemed that the satirical weekly magazine was whipping up anti-Islamic and anti-Arab sentiment, whereas for Bret Easton Ellis (and a narrow majority of members) it is normal to honour a principle and not specific content.
This discrepancy between the opinions tweeted by Bret Easton Ellis and ideology could, according to the author, possibly be linked to a generational difference: “Belonging to Generation X, rejecting, and probably ignoring, the status quo was something that came effortlessly to me.” Bret Easton Ellis has never been affectionate towards his own generation, or towards the Baby Boomer generation that went before, and even though Generation X’s taste for irony, and indeed cynicism, is questionable, there was at least the opportunity to debate or to simply express one’s opinion without necessarily being ostracised by the dominant ideology: “People used to listen to each other, and I remember a time when you could have very strong views and openly call things into question without being considered a “troll” or an enemy that should be banished from the “civilised” world if your conclusions happened to be different.”
On the contrary, the next generation, known as Generation Y or Millennials, which Bret Easton Ellis refers to as “wimps” or “wusses”, reflects good intentions by not accepting that we turn away from this positive attitude. Faced with the challenges of their idealised world, this somewhat mollycoddled generation acts like a child when it doesn’t get what it wants and it stamps its feet or feels sorry for itself.
Faced with this ideological domination, certain Baby Boomers or members of Generation X give up and “appear to rebel against their spirit of rebellion”, but this is most certainly not the case with Bret Easton Ellis who, with a great deal of comedy, alludes to the height of American society’s childish hysteria following Trump’s election to power in 2016. Although he is not at all a supporter of the new US President, Bret Easton Ellis believes that we must remain calm about the situation and not fall into this collective madness: tales of dinners with often very rich, privileged friends who refuse this presidency and demonstrate childish fits of anger that quickly reach Godwin point, and calls for resistance, revolt, or even revocation of the democratic rights of those who… think and vote wrongly.
Towards the end of the book, he even defends the openly pro-Trump rapper Kanye West, who has not changed his stance, nor shown any desire to conform to the dominant ideology, as is his right. He does so in his own way, which is, admittedly, a little too tawdry, but does he really deserve comments from “progressives” who speak of “a worthless Black” or state that “Kanye is what happens when Blacks don’t read books”…?
Whiteby Bret Easton Ellis is, therefore, a sincere plea for the freedom of opinion; it does not lecture, but is full of irony, humour, and, above all, otherness: “To not be able, or to not want, to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, so as to see the world in a completely different way to your own, is the first step in the direction of a lack of empathy, and it is the very reason why so many progressive movements are becoming as strict and as authoritarian as the institutions that they are fighting against.”
During his visit to Paris, Bret Easton Ellis explained that a journalist told him that, if a French author had written White, they would have been “lambasted” by the critics…but the aura of Bret Easton Ellis in France, and his well-known sincerity, mean that even the press, who are openly subject to identity and victimary ideology, defend the book. Let’s take advantage of it!
Published in “L’Obs”, french weekly magazine (May 14, 2019)