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 estrangement this literary prodigy felt in a world-wide that commodified prowes as entertainment be taken in order to move us slaves of way and attitudes, to work hard to buy the right cars, time the right people, absorb non-nutritive soft drinks, zone out in front of the Tv. Only a shining young person can look at the modern world and meet where it’s going, unhinged from the static of the past. One political say is to say the book parts as a disapproval of the evils of media. Los Angeles is a factory of illusion. It fabricates apparitions, and causes an misconception around that forming. Hollywood, which looks like shimmering magic from afar, is a complex system of egomaniacal executives responsible for feeding the masses narrative media, those box office smacks we commemorate as the faces of our cultural identity. Having grown up in Sherman Oaks, in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, Ellis would perhaps have knowledge 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 actor profoundly entrenched in corrupt Hollywood politics, was US president. The economic downfall of the middle class was romanticised in Hollywood for great profit, selling the trappings of abiding back to the people living the real deal with no exit strategy but their own sees and ears tied to their screens and radios. And to think, these were more innocent meters! Decades later, with Trump in office, 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 fatality. Meanwhile, the split 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 privation by canning culture and feeding it to us spoonful by spoonful. Art, by comparison, is critical of the system of brainwashing, dehumanising, consumerism and avarice. The difference between sincerity and satire is in the eye of the onlooker. Someone with critical fantasizing can detect irony. 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 terminate of the book is the product of so much indifference. There is a dead kid in an alley who Clay’s friends stir into a sight, a 12 -year-old sex slave narcotic and tied to a bunked. Clay, initially guiding on the vapours of his habituated high-school blueprints, begins to see his way out of the cloud by the end of the fiction. It’s the offend 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 appraise outgoingness, aplomb, direct onrushes and revels. We favour straight arrows over innuendo. This is a weakness. Satire is the most difficult mode in literature because it capacities with a delicate, invisible mantle of self-awareness- which readers often shortage. An insensitive reader of Less Than Zero might speculate,” Well, that was disturbing ,” and point to the moments of colors exploitation as “inappropriate” and “wrong”. Such a read does not appreciate the staggering timing, imprisonment, and synchronicity in the create , nor the facts of the case that these “inappropriate” situations are actually a direct reflection of reality. We often refuse to acknowledge the ugliness in ourselves and in our world, out of shame or vanity.
The generative suffer of say this work is that of staring at a description 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 obliterating- a blank region unmarred by romanticism and sentimentalism, the hard truth. It is invisible because it is true. One must separate from the prosaic activities of life to see this blankness, this freedom. This is the beauty of Less Than Zero . The quiet clarity of existential terror is just what blew my sentiment. I am not horrified by a 12 -year-old girl narcotic and tied to a bunked while getting gang-raped. I’m scared by the silence around it. If this journal is an existential irony, its premise is that the world is hell disguised as paradise.
* Less Than Zero is published by Picador Classics( PS8. 99 ). To prescribe a simulate go to guardianbookshop.com or entitle 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over PS15, online orders merely. Phone prescribes min p& p of PS1. 99.