Q: What’s worse than listening to someone ranting hysterically about Donald Trump? A: Listening to Bret Easton Ellis ranting hysterically about people ranting about Trump.
I gave him a fair hearing, I really did. Some of what Ellis has to say in White, his first work of non-fiction, is not stupid. It’s true that teeth-gnashing over Trump’s presidency can seem alarmingly out of touch with the realities of modern America. I share his concern that aesthetics are increasingly, regrettably, being sidelined in favour of ideology. His film criticism is unfailingly lucid and intelligent. I wish there had been more of it.
Ellis is used to being pilloried for his tweets, podcasts and journalism. He is surely expecting his provocatively titled book to have an incendiary effect on many readers; millennials, for a start, whom he has famously labelled ‘Generation Wuss’ because of their ‘over-sensitivity, their sense of entitlement, their insistence that they were always right, despite sometimes overwhelming proof to the contrary’. In what is habitually incoherent reasoning, he assures us that he ‘never pretended to be an expert on millennials’; all that he has to say (lots) is based ‘solely on personal observation’. His trump card is that his boyfriend is a millennial 22 years his junior. Which in the context of this book is a bit like saying ‘some of my best friends are black’.
So did my wussy millennial self crumble in the face of this gnarly Gen-Xer’s straight-talking? Well, no — because like most millennials, Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers, I don’t identify all that strongly with my generation. It seems horribly crude to impose a handful of shared characteristics on 25 per cent of the population. And why should we trust Ellis’s powers of ‘personal observation’ when he keeps saying things such as ‘men will be men, boys will be boys, dudes will be dudes, and nothing’s ever going to change that’?
Again, trying hard to give him a fair hearing, I think I know what he’s talking about.