Glamorama

zoolander

Glamorama is a novel by American writer Bret Easton Ellis, published in 1998. Unlike Ellis’ previous novels, Glamorama is set in and satirizes the 1990s, specifically celebrity culture and consumerism. Ellis wanted to write a Stephen King-style ghost story novel (which would eventually become ‘Lunar Park’); finding it difficult at the time, he began work on the other novel which he had in mind, a Robert Ludlum-style thriller, with the intention of using one of his own vapid characters who lack insight as the narrator. The novel is a satire of modern celebrity culture, featuring models-turned-terrorists.

A character remarks, ‘basically, everyone was a sociopath…and all the girls’ hair was chignoned.’ (A chignon is an arrangement of long hair in a roll or knot at the back of the head). The novel plays upon the conspiracy thriller conceit of someone ‘behind all the awful events,’ to dramatize the revelation of a world of random horror. The lack of resolution contributes to Ellis’ artistic effect. The obsession with beauty is reflected in consistent namedropping; this satirizes Victor’s obsession with looks, and perhaps is indicative of the author’s own attraction to glamor.

Victor Ward is the novel’s lead character, who had previously appeared as Victor Johnson in ‘The Rules of Attraction’ (1987). In Glamorama, now an ‘A-list model, would-be-actor and current ‘It boy,” ‘an uberstereotype of the male model,’ Victor lives by his catchphrase mantra ‘the better you look, the more you see.’ As the ‘Harvard Crimson’ observes, ‘His lifestyle is the extreme of everything the current culture worships: he can’t avoid thinking in brand names and image and speaks with lines from pop songs.’ Uncharacteristic for an Ellis protagonist, Victor is ‘terrified by’ the ‘coldbloodedness’ he encounters when he becomes embroiled in international terrorism.

As an unintelligent narrator, Victor (through his inability to comprehend his situation), underlines how ‘the world of celebrity in Glamorama is inescapable.’ Compared to other Ellis protagonists, Victor is less ‘sensitive and insightful’ than ‘Less Than Zero’s’ Clay, neither the ‘preening psychopath’ that is ‘American Psycho’s’ Patrick Bateman,’ he is nevertheless an ‘[un]sympathetic protagonist (in his own way, he’s as morally bankrupt as … Patrick Bateman).’ As narrator, ‘Victor’s perceptions’ sum up ‘[the glamor world’s] disconnection from what the rest of us consider ‘real life’… [where] Everything he sees is a brand name.’ Some commentators speculate that when Victor begins speaking to the novel’s ‘film crew,’ that this could mean that the character is schizophrenic. Victor comes across ‘oddly homophobic for a member of the pansexual New York fashion scene’; when his gay assistant accuses ‘I know for a fact you’ve had sex with guys in the past,’ he retorts that he did “the whole hip bi thing for about three hours back in college.’

Ellis drops names in Glamorama so often that, ‘Nary a sentence… escapes without a cameo from someone famous, quasi-famous, or formerly famous. In fact, in some sentences, Ellis cuts out those pesky nouns and verbs and simply lists celebrities.’ Namedropping and commoditization have a depersonalizing effect (a world reduced to ‘sheen and brands’); as the reviewer for ‘The Harvard Crimson’ observes, ‘When Victor undergoes a transformation to a law student, we know he is different because he now wears a Brooks Brothers suit and drinks Diet Coke. London and Paris become nothing more than a different collection of recognizable proper nouns (Notting Hill and Irvine Welsh in the first case; Chez Georges and Yves Saint Laurent in the second).’ A writer for the ‘New York Times’ observes ‘much of his prose consists of (intentionally) numbingly long lists of his characters’ clothes and accouterments… out of which his loft-dwellers somewhat hopefully attempt to assemble something like an identity.’ In speech, his writing demonstrates the ways in which his characters, too, have internalized the language of consumerist advertising and marketing. Glamorama is something of a Through the Looking-Glass allegory and a cautionary tale navigating the perils of dissolving identity.

In parody of how people now think in modern terms, Ellis ‘annoying[ly]’ lists ‘the songs that are playing in the background, or even quoting them, as he does with Oasis’ ‘Champagne Supernova’; in effect, the novel is provided with a movie soundtrack. As such, the book feels at times like a movie, and sometimes more specifically, a snuff film. New technology such as photo manipulation software (e.g. ‘PhotoSoap for Windows 95’) are featured in the novel. This creates an ironic situation in which Victor, the character obsessed by appearances, is haunted by fake images that appear real which implicate him in a murder; it becomes hard to tell what is real in the ‘modern’ world. As such, ‘meaningful identity is obliterated’; this furthers the recurring joke from ‘American Psycho’ wherein ‘characters are always getting confused by their friends with other people, with no noticeable consequences.’

The book prominently contains the conceit wherein Victor’s life is being filmed by a camera crew ‘introduced a third of the way into the book.’ As well as a postmodern device to examine the questionable ‘reality’ of the situation, it also functions as a ‘tidy commentary’ on the advent of mass surveillance in the 1990s.

Fans have noted similarities to the Ben Stiller comedy ‘Zoolander.’ Ellis stated that he is aware of the similarities, and went on to say that he considered and attempted to take legal action. Ellis was asked about the similarities in a BBC interview. In the response to the question, he said that he is unable to discuss the similarities due to an out-of-court settlement.

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.