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 world that commodified prowes as recreation designed to move us slaves of fashion and attitudes, to work hard to buy the right cars, year the right people, guzzle non-nutritive soft drinks, zone out in front of the Tv. Only a bright young person can look at the modern world and encounter where it’s going, unhinged from the static of the past. One political construe is to say the book purposes as a censure of the immoralities of media. Los Angeles is a factory of illusion. It produces misconceptions, and establishes an apparition around that inducing. Hollywood, which looks like shimmering magic from afar, is a complex system of egomaniacal executives is accountable for feeding the masses narrative media, those box office stumbles we celebrate as the sayings 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 victim. Life-insurance companies began screening for HIV. The CD-Rom was introduced. Ronald Reagan, a former performer deeply entrenched in corrupt Hollywood politics, was US president. The financial collapse of the middle class was romanticised in Hollywood for great gain, selling the trappings of suffering back to the people living the real deal with no depart strategy but their own seeings and ears specified to their screens and radios. And to think, these were more innocent experiences! 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 death. Meanwhile, the fraction between art and entertainment becomes wonderfully clear. Entertainment is fodder for the masses, something to keep them busy and browsing while all countries of the world dies. Hollywood capitalises on destitution by canning culture and feeding it to us spoonful by spoonful. Art, by comparison, is critical of the system of brainwashing, dehumanising, consumerism and greed. The difference between sincerity and satire is in the eye of the onlooker. Someone with critical believing can detect parody. Someone who is used to swallowing blindly whatever is served will never understand subtlety. I think this is why Less Than Zero was so contentious. The objective of the book is the product of so much indifference. There is a dead kid in an alley who Clay’s friends reach into a spectacle, a 12 -year-old sex slave dosed and tied to a berthed. Clay, initially leading on the fumes of his habituated high-school decorations, begins to see his way out of the fog by the end of the romance. It’s the stun of the dead boy 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 value outgoingness, aplomb, direct attacks and observances. We favour straight arrows over innuendo. This is a weakness. Satire is the most difficult mode in literature because it operates with a fragile, invisible mantle of self-awareness- which readers often shortfall. An insensitive reader of Less Than Zero might contemplate,” Well, that was disturbing ,” and point to the moments of evocative exploitation as “inappropriate” and “wrong”. Such a learning does not appreciate the incredible timing, imprisonment, and synchronicity in the writing , nor the facts of the case that these “inappropriate” vistums are actually a direct thoughtfulnes of world. We often refuse to acknowledge the ugliness in ourselves and in our world, out of shame or vanity.
The generative suffer of reading this volume is that of “ve been staring at” a likenes 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 fogging- a blank situate unmarred by romanticism and sentimentalism, the hard truth. It is invisible because it is true. One must separate from the banal activities of life to see this blankness, this freedom. This is the beauty of Less Than Zero . The quiet transparency of existential fright is precisely what blew my brain. I am not shocked by a 12 -year-old girl medication and tied to a berthed while going gang-raped. I’m terrified by the silence around it. If this notebook is an existential satire, its proposition is that the world is hell disguised as paradise.
* Less Than Zero issued by Picador Classics( PS8. 99 ). To guild a facsimile go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over PS15, online guilds merely. Phone orderings min p& p of PS1. 99.