Jami Gertz as Blair, Andrew McCarthy as Clay in the film adaptation of Less Than Zero. Photograph: 20 th Century Fox/ Kobal/ Rex/ Shutterstock
I can only imagine the alienation this literary geniu felt in a nature that commodified prowes as entertainment be taken in order to establish us slaves of pattern and attitudes, to work hard to buy the right cars, appointment the right people, imbibe non-nutritive soft drinks, zone out in front of the TV. Exclusively a bright young person can look at the contemporary world and visualize where it’s going, unhinged from the static of the past. One political speak is to say the book serves as a denunciation of the evils of media. Los Angeles is a factory of misconception. It produces misconceptions, and makes an illusion around that stirring. Hollywood, which looks like shimmering magic from afar, is a complex system of egomaniacal administrations is accountable for feeding the masses narrative media, those box office reaches we celebrate as the express of our cultural identity. Having grown up in Sherman Oaks, in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, Ellis would perhaps have known this culture first-hand.
Less Than Zero was published in 1985, the same year TWA Flight 847 was hijacked by Hezbollah, the US version of the Nintendo Entertainment System came out and the Unabomber killed his first prey. Life-insurance companies began screening for HIV. The CD-Rom was introduced. Ronald Reagan, a former performer profoundly entrenched in corrupt Hollywood politics, was US president. The financial downfall of the middle class was romanticised in Hollywood for enormous earning, selling the trappings of tolerating back to the people living the real deal with no departure programme but their own seeings and ears fastened to their screens and radios. And to think, these were more innocent occasions! Decades later, with Trump in agency, it seems that when there is an entertainer in the White House, our culture descends into indecency- we lose track of what we mean by “humanity”.
The concept comes up only in the context of pain and demise. Meanwhile, the discord between art and entertainment becomes wonderfully clear. Entertainment is fodder for the masses, something to keep them busy and browsing although the world dies. Hollywood capitalises on despair by canning culture and feeding it to us spoonful by spoonful. Art, by distinguish, is critical of the system of indoctrinating, dehumanising, consumerism and greed. The difference between sincerity and satire is in the eye of the bystander. Someone with critical conceiving can see satire. Someone who is used to swallowing blindly whatever is served will never understand intricacy. I think this is why Less Than Zero was so contentious. The demise of the book is the product of so much indifference. There is a dead kid in an alley who Clay’s friends represent into a spectacle, a 12 -year-old sex slave narcotic and tied to a berthed. Clay, initially flowing on the fumes of his habituated high-school blueprints, begins to see his way out of the haze by the end of the novel. It’s the collapse of the dead teenager or the 12 -year-old, or it’s his self-disgust as a participant in passivity. The ambiguity is precise.
Subtlety is necessary to satire, but is not prized in the US. We appraise outgoingness, aplomb, direct onrushes and revelries. We favour straight arrows over implication. This is a weakness. Satire is the most difficult mode in literature because it capacities with a fragile, invisible bed of self-awareness- which readers often shortfall. An insensitive reader of Less Than Zero might suppose,” Well, that was disturbing ,” and point to the moments of vivid exploitation as “inappropriate” and “wrong”. Such a decipher does not appreciate the incredible timing, self-restraint, and synchronicity in the penning , nor the facts of the case that these “inappropriate” incidents are actually a direct thinking of actuality. We often refuse to acknowledge the ugliness in ourselves and in countries around the world, out of shame or vanity.
The generative know of read this book is that of staring at a portrait of the human world- LA is its costume- for long enough to see through the facade. The underbelly is always dark, but that darkness isn’t what’s so interesting. It’s what the darkness is overshadowing- a space region unmarred by romanticism and sentimentalism, the hard truth. It is invisible because it is true. One must separate from the everyday activities of life to see this blankness, this freedom. This is the beauty of Less Than Zero . The quiet transparency of existential horror is precisely what blew my psyche. I am not horrified by a 12 -year-old girl drugged and tied to a bunked while get gang-raped. I’m frightened by the silence around it. If this volume is an existential satire, its premise is that the world is hell disguised as paradise.
* Less Than Zero issued by Picador Classics( PS8. 99 ). To tell a imitation go to guardianbookshop.com or see 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over PS15, online tells exclusively. Phone tells min p& p of PS1. 99.