On Good Taste | Less Than Zero
Before I really started reading fiction I'd always assumed, based on the hushed tones that Ellis was spoken about in fashion circles, that his novels were amazing works of art. People I knew boasted about reading all of his books and understanding the subtext, as if that made them all seeing gods. I took this on face value, assuming that one day I'd read Bret Easton Ellis and get it, not just read the books like some plebeian idiot. But after reading 2 and a quarter of Bret Easton Ellis' books, my opinion changed dramatically. Well, I say changed, I actually mean I formed one in the first.
I'd heard a lot about Less Than Zero before I actually read it. The word nihilistic popped up a lot. But when I read it, what I got from it was Dawson's Creek with added 'shock'. Leaving aside any stylistic bug bears (bad prose, heavy handed storytelling), it was just a bore.
Reviews and reactions to the book often noted how shocked they were by certain scenes in the book. The snuff film scene, gang rape and copious drug taking were of particular note. And this was often extrapolated onto society as a whole, ignoring that this was a subsect of society as alien to most as actual aliens. It was this, more so than the book itself, that bothered me the most about Less Than Zero. Also, though not a book, Less Than Zero has a thematic equivalent that no one brings up in Menace to Society. While different in setting, both deal with the overarching themes of coming of age and conforming to your surroundings.
For instance, take the snuff scene in Less Than Zero, which is shown once and fleetingly and compare it to the video of O-Dog shooting the grocery store owner, which he takes around and shows to everyone. The reactions in both of these are the same - indifference and a peer group desensitised to violence. And yet, it's only Less Than Zero that's allowed to be showcased as a symptoms for the youth's malaise, while Menace is merely sold as 'an urban nightmare'.
And the differing reactions to these two works is a taste issue. In the cultural pyramid books are at the top, with film below and TV below that. While I agree with this pyramid, it can be limiting. The second is that Less Than Zero is seen as dealing with extrapolating ideas in a way that Menace to Society isn't. Less than Zero is our story. Menace to Society is their story.
So, my big question here is why are one subsect's problems bigger than anthers? And that's all the people in Less Than Zero are, a subsect. No more so or less so than the people in Menace to Society. Is the answer race or class? I'd say 1/3 race and 2/3 class. I feel it's easy to say it's purely race but that'd just be a symptom of the segregation that's still existent in America. Class is, and always has been, the silent dividing line between people and it's apparent in the reception of Less Than Zero. The tale here? Talk about rich people and you're talking about the world's problems. Talk about poor people and you're talking about a slither of society. And who cares about a slither?