F. Scott Fitzgerald supposedly said the “rich are nothing like us.” I remember hearing that a million times in my youth and it was always attributed to Fitzgerald. I have no idea if he said it and I’m too lazy to look it up. The fact is the rich do live different lives than everyone else. For most people, money is the thing you never have enough of and so you are forever fussing over it. It is always at the heart of your decisions. Rich people have excess and so they don’t spend as much time fussing about money in their daily lives. Money discussions are done quarterly with their accountants and brokers. That leads to lives that are strangely different than the rest of us.
In February I gave an interview to Vice UK to help promote a film I had written and financed called The Canyons—I did the press because there was still the idea, the hope, that if myself or the director Paul Schrader talked about the film it would somehow find an audience interested in it and understand what it was: an experimental, guerilla DIY affair that cost $150,000 dollars to shoot ($90,000 out of our own pockets) and that we filmed over twenty days in L.A. during the summer of 2012 starring controversial Millennials Lindsay Lohan and porn star James Deen. The young journalist from Vice UK asked me about the usual things I was preoccupied with in that moment: my admiration of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street—the best film I saw in 2013 (not great Scorsese, but better than any other American film that year) and we talked about the movie I’m writing for Kanye West, my love of Terrence Malick (though not To The Wonder), a miniseries I was developing about the Manson murders for FOX (but because of another Manson series going into production at NBC the miniseries has now been cancelled), the Bret Easton Ellis Podcast (link), the possibility of a new novel I had begun in January of 2013 and that I lost interest in but hoped to get back to; we talked about my problems with David Foster Wallace, my love of Joan Didion, as well as Empire versus post-Empire (link) and we talked about, of course, The Canyons. But the first question the young journalist asked me wasn’t about the movie—it was about why I was always referring to Millennials as Generation Wuss on my Twitter feed. And I answered her honestly, unprepared for the level of noise my comments caused once the Vice UK piece was posted.
Bret Easton Ellis is not a billionaire, but he lives a life of leisure. His books and the movies from those books have made him millions. His fame means rich people looking for cultural trinkets are willing to pay him to hang around them. That’s why his opening paragraph resembles something you would expect from a patient at the local psych ward. The name dropping and impulsive self-reference is strange enough, but the volume of it is not like anything you find in normalville.
I have been living with someone from the Millennial generation for the last four years (he’s now 27) and sometimes I’m charmed and sometimes I’m exasperated by how him and his friends—as well as the Millennials I’ve met and interacted with both in person and in social media—deal with the world, and I’ve tweeted about my amusement and frustration under the banner “Generation Wuss” for a few years now. My huge generalities touch on their over-sensitivity, their insistence that they are right despite the overwhelming proof that suggests they are not, their lack of placing things within context, the overreacting, the passive-aggressive positivity, and, of course, all of this exacerbated by the meds they’ve been fed since childhood by over-protective “helicopter” parents mapping their every move. These are late-end Baby Boomers and Generation X parents who were now rebelling against their own rebelliousness because of the love they felt that they never got from their selfish narcissistic Boomer parents and who end up smothering their kids, inducing a kind of inadequate preparation in how to deal with the hardships of life and the real way the world works: people won’t like you, that person may not love you back, kids are really cruel, work sucks, it’s hard to be good at something, life is made up of failure and disappointment, you’re not talented, people suffer, people grow old, people die. And Generation Wuss responds by collapsing into sentimentality and creating victim narratives rather than acknowledging the realities of the world and grappling with them and processing them and then moving on, better prepared to navigate an often hostile or indifferent world that doesn’t care if you exist.
People who make their name in response to popular trends always come to bad ends. Comics rarely have careers into their fifties for this reason. Once you hit your 40’s you begin to lose touch with pop culture. By your mid-50’s you have no idea who most of these people are even if you try. The aging comic’s references become sad and dated. The aging satirist starts to sound like a retired athlete. Ellis appears to be heading down that road where he compares everything to his generation.
That said, what a strange man.