How Trump Derangement Syndrome Made The ‘White’ Author A-List-Hollywood’s Most Important Defender of Free Speech
By Patrick Courrielche
Listen to the audio documentary version of this article. Some strong language.
When is it time to abandon the mentally ill? That was the question that crept into my mind as I recently drove into Hollywood, en route to the apartment of Bret Easton Ellis.
Bret was preparing for the launch of his first non-fiction book, White, and I’d been given an assignment by Breitbart News to write a profile on the legendary author. I didn’t have to think twice about my response … it was an enthusiastic yes.
Perhaps the best way to describe Bret is that he’s a writer’s writer … a guy who found success, fame, fortune, and notoriety at the ripe old age of twenty-one with the publication of Less Than Zero – his heralded 1985 novel that perfectly captures and dismantles the excesses of the children of Hollywood. Bret has had many bestsellers and successful projects over the three plus decades that followed – but his debut helped define a generation … and very few can make that claim.
Many think movie stars are at the top of Hollywood’s pecking order – and judging by film and TV promos, that conclusion makes sense. But amongst Tinseltown insiders, it’s the talented writers that are most coveted – largely because everything on the screen starts with their pen … and truly gifted writers are oddly scarce. Bret finds himself in this rarefied air. His body of work – Less Than Zero, The Rules of Attraction, American Psycho, Glamorama – continues to find its way onto the big and little screen … whether by approved adaptation or unauthorized poach. This makes Bret an A-Lister amongst the A-Listers.
But it also makes his new book all the more puzzling. It takes to task the very same exclusive group of which he is a card-carrying member. Seasoned Tinseltown critics will find this thrilling. Part memoir, part opinion piece, the pages of White are peppered with essays, short stories, and cutting commentary that tackles corporate censorship, political correctness, and the outright hysteria plaguing Hollywood in the era of Trump. For the citizens of Movie City though, simply put, this new book reads like apostasy. True believers in Tinseltown’s groupthink, and even his own boyfriend, have labeled Bret a “Trump apologist” for the thoughts he expresses throughout.
What struck me in my research of the book was how Bret has been able to remain sane around so many people that clearly are not. For roughly four years now, his entire hometown has been infected with quarantine-grade Trump Derangement Syndrome – or TDS. Aside from a few pockets in NYC (Hello Time Warner Center), Tinseltown probably has the worst recorded case of TDS in the nation – and yet Bret hasn’t been contaminated … in fact, quite the opposite. He’s become A-List Hollywood’s new voice of reason in a swarm of anti-Trump zombies.
For me, the decision to abandon the mentally ill of Hollywood came just ten months earlier after a six-year nightmare. I first chronicled the sorted ordeal in a piece for Breitbart News called Tinseltown Travelogue, and went into more gruesome detail in the debut episode of my storytelling show Red Pilled America – so I won’t get into it here … other than to say that my family confronted a creepy kid cuddler and were shocked when our exclusive Hollywood community backed Mr. Creepy over us after learning we were right-wingers. We decided to leave when Trump Derangement Syndrome incurably polluted our Tinseltown enclave.
I only mention this because while driving into the city to meet Bret for the first time, I began reliving this entire ordeal and it made me wonder how he’s been able to weather the outbreak of mental illness – and better yet, why he hasn’t left the infected area.
As I exited the elevator and turned towards his apartment, Bret was standing in the hallway, with no shoes on, deep in a phone conversation. He’s a tall man – bigger than I envisioned.
“I have to finish this call,” he mouthed as he guided me into his apartment and closed the door behind us. “Have a seat, I’ll be right back. That’s Todd,” he added, pointing to the thirty something year-old man seated nose-close to the TV playing some shoot ‘em up video game. I’d heard a lot about his boyfriend through Bret’s film podcast, and I was immediately uneasy.
Bret refers to Todd as his millennial, socialist boyfriend who’d briefly “relapsed into a mild opiate addiction” on the night Donald J. Trump won the election. The picture Bret paints of Todd is of a person that could lose it at the mere mention of Breitbart News. So I entered cautiously.
“Hey. How are you?” Todd greeted me, not looking away from the game.
“Good. Good,” I responded.
“Who are you here for?” he asked, eyes still glued to the screen.
I pretended not to understand the question. “I’m here to interview Bret for his new book,” I reply.
“No. I mean, what publication are you here for,” he asked again.
I hesitated. “Breitbart News,” came out somewhat shakily.
“Oh.” He finally took his eyes away from the tube to look me over. Then turned back to the game. “What are you playing?” I abruptly asked.
He told me, but I quickly forgot.
After a few seconds I could see Todd’s wheels spinning. “I’m tired of all these assholes,” was what he landed on, as he went on about how the media was full of shit and how he couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t hear every word. I was just relieved that I’d made it past the first hurdle without getting into a heated debate with someone in their living room.
“I know Breitbart,” was how he closed his monologue, still focused on the game.
“Well, we’re not all as far-right as the media would have you believe,” I offered. Dumb move. I opened the door.
“I mean the media is so fucking stupid. I mean we should be talking about climate change. What about climate change? Does Breitbart believe in climate change,” he asked, as if we all held one opinion.
“I don’t know,” I said quietly. Thinking on my feet, I offered, “yeah, it would be great if the media would focus on things really affecting Americans, like the opioid crisis.”
“Yeah, Trump hasn’t done shit about the opioid crisis. I mean he’s done literally nothing about it,” was his comeback.
Just six months earlier, Trump signed a landmark bill to tackle the drug epidemic sweeping the nation. I know this because I spoke to one of the President’s advisers on the legislation – a life-long Democrat and ex-opioid addict that worked in the Clinton White House. I saw no benefit in countering with that bit of information.
“Yeah, it’s nuts. Can I use your bathroom,” was all I could muster. He pointed me down the hall.
By the time I returned Bret was ready for me. Todd kindly asked if I needed water. I said yes, and that was the end of my interaction with the resident socialist. All in all, he was hospitable … even kind. Crisis averted. But TDS was airborne in the apartment.
Bret and I walked into his office, the same place he records his influential film podcast, and it was there that I learned how he became Hollywood’s new voice of reason. It’s a story that starts at a pivotal time in American history – one that forced his parents to make a decision they weren’t planning to make.
What many people may not know about Tinseltown is that it’s the land of transplants. Bret Easton Ellis is a rare breed in Movie City … he’s actually a native.
“Well, I was born in Los Angeles and I was raised in Sherman Oaks,” said Bret.
The area is known as The Valley – short for San Fernando Valley – and it’s the locale referenced in the famous Moon Zappa song Valley Girl. Today, the neighborhood has become a coveted enclave of Hollywood elites, but Bret’s early childhood was not the stuff of affluence. When he entered the world, The Valley was considered the boondocks. It was over the hill, far from the epicenter of the world’s entertainment capital.
Bret was the oldest of three – he has two younger sisters. He grew up in a very middle class home and attended Sherman Oaks Elementary – a public school. Many of his classmates were from one-parent households living in apartments on the town’s main thoroughfare – Van Nuys Boulevard. In other words, his mates were of humble means.
Bret probably would have continued along this modest path – but as he finished out the third grade, an unexpected national outcry landed him amongst the Hollywood elite.
“Busing was in the air in 1973, 1974,” said Bret. “And my parents did not want their children to be bused, was basically the thing. They were very much against it.”
A social engineering program had swept through much of the nation – mandatory school busing. With a stated purpose of promoting desegregation, programs began sprouting up all across the country to shuttle kids to schools outside of their neighborhoods, sometimes many miles from home. Parents opposed to the program were understandably furious that their children were being forced to attend a far off classroom when their local campus was within walking distance.
The issue crossed political lines – infuriating parents on the Right and the Left in working class, middle class, and even affluent neighborhoods. Bret’s mom and dad were a young hip couple, kind of moderate Goldwater Republicans, but socially progressive. As Bret remembers it though, politics didn’t matter at all in their house – but when this busing program reached Southern California in the early 1970s, his folks weren’t having it.
“I grew up in a very apolitical household. And so my parents, and I even knew it then, I agreed I didn’t want to run the risk of being bused an hour away from home.”
So what many did at the time to avoid the program was to either home school, move to remote suburban areas, or enroll their kids in local private schools. Bret’s parents chose the latter. And with that simple decision, his life trajectory would be forever altered.
There is a little known secret about Hollywood private elementary schools – they are gateways into the business. Today, these institutions are quite possibly the most exclusive social clubs in America. The seats are so scarce that just roughly six hundred new members are allowed in each year – and that’s in an area with a population of over ten million. Movie City’s private school circuit is such an integral part of the Tinseltown system that The Hollywood Reporter recently started an annual guide to help entertainment types navigate the enrollment labyrinth.
Many of Hollywood’s elites vie for these coveted spots to increase their chance at staying in the business – with the dual benefit of opening up the gilded gates to their privileged offspring. There is no better way to stay connected to Tinseltown decision makers than running into a studio head or powerful film producer every single day at student dropoff.
Bret’s parents were no doubt oblivious to this dynamic. They didn’t work in film. His father was in real estate. And at the time in 1974, this members-only club was just beginning to take shape – with the only filter in place being the cost of entry … which was hefty.
“So it was very easy then in those days to get into a private school in Los Angeles,” Bret recalls. “You just had to pay the tuition … you pay the tuition. You get in.”
But most couldn’t. So when Mr. and Mrs. Ellis enrolled Bret into a local private school called Buckley – their nine year-old boy was instantaneously given a leg up. You see, Bret’s career path was already in motion. By kindergarten, he’d begun putting pen to paper. He first started by writing children’s books that he’d illustrate himself. Then he moved on to a comic book format, then what we would refer to today as the graphic novel. Writing was in his bones, as was film.
“And so I was interested in writing from a very early age. I was interested in movies from a very early age.”
So entering this new clique made the path ahead for Bret crystal clear. The parents of all of his Buckley friends were in the film industry – they were executives, screenwriters, filmmakers, and producers. Not unlike the son of a coal miner following his father into the pit, everyone in this company town was expected to find their way onto a studio lot.
His writing chops made this Hollywood community a perfect fit for his future career, but his four years in public school didn’t come close to preparing Bret for the elite society he had just enter.
“When I got to Buckley there was a huge shift,” remembers Bret. “A huge shift in terms of … most if not all of the kids I knew came from affluent backgrounds.”
His new environment put into stark contrast his Sherman Oaks Elementary experience. The juxtaposition of the modest living of his public school friends against the extravagance of his new classmates was a shock to Bret’s system. The Buckley kids were the type that lived in the posh neighborhood of Bel Air, had ponies, and could watch pre-released movies in their lavish in-home screening rooms. Bret’s life was extremely modest in comparison. He was kind of trapped in the middle – between the world that he knew pre-Buckley, and the elite society he now found himself in. So he did what any child his age would have done … he banded together with the handful of other classmates that came from similar modest backgrounds.
As if being a child of limited means amongst the rich and famous wasn’t enough, Bret had another reason to feel like an outsider.
“I knew pretty young that I was gay,” says Bret. “And what that really makes you do is, it turns you into a little bit of a secret agent.”
Even back in the late 70s, being gay was not a theme openly permeating through the culture. It wasn’t depicted in the movies he was watching, or the pop songs he was hearing, or the novels he was reading. This forced him into the position of an observer.
“And so it takes you out of the world and it makes you a witness in a way,” Bret described. “And I think you see the world, this is very strange to say, but I think it makes you see the world more clearly, more realistically than anyone else does.”
So it was this unique combination – a middle-class kid surrounded by extraordinary affluence, being gay in a world that didn’t reflect that perspective – these chance parings that led Bret to continue exploring writing. Creating a fantasy world on paper was his way of making sense of the odd world around him, a way to deal with a growing divide with his father, a way to express himself when he wasn’t yet prepared to express his sexuality.
After some time, Bret began moving through this upper-class crowd with ease. He went to the same parties as everyone else. He wasn’t popular, but he wasn’t unpopular. He even tried a girlfriend on for size – it didn’t fit. But all along the way, he was in complete awe of the unbelievable privilege he witnessed. Bret may have been acclimating to the extreme wealth, and the consequence-free life that it offered his friends, but he was largely an outsider to it, and something about it didn’t sit right with him.
“I did not live in these environs that my friends lived in. So I always, again, felt like the outsider … I also felt very frustrated by it because that kind of privilege, I don’t know why, maybe I was jealous of it … it irritated me. And I did find something wrong about it on a moral level. It did seem kind of unfair.”
At that moment in the late seventies, early eighties, kids had a freedom that is unheard of today. Most parents didn’t know where their youngsters were throughout the day. Teenagers had the run of the streets. And if you grew up on the right side of the tracks where money wasn’t a limitation, you had access to a world that was beckoning for you to explore it.
Six months before you turned sixteen, you had a learners permit to drive. By sixteen you had a car. Living in the entertainment capital of the world – there was always some new movie to see, some club to sneak into, some Hollywood Hills house party to hit up.
This was the world that Bret traversed, and he thought it was thrilling. So at fifteen, he began chronicling the teenage mischief he experienced by making journal entries – fictionalizing the real life, embellishing on the debauchery he observed all around him. The sex. The lies. The drugs. The money. The excess. When it came time for college, he applied to a small liberal arts school just north of Manhattan called Bennington. Along with the application, he submitted these journal entries. And he got in.
His writings caught the eye of a teacher named Joe McGinniss. As luck would have it, McGinniss was a revered author who took a shining to Bret’s forming manuscript.
“[He] loved what I was doing,” Bret recalled. “[And] gave it to his agent, his editor, and boom … I was on my way.”
By 1984, at the age of twenty, Bret had his first deal with Simon & Schuster. He titled his book Less Than Zero. But he had a problem. The younger editors at the publishing house loved the book, but the elders in the company didn’t believe there was a market for a story about coke-loving, sex-crazed rich kids on the loose. So they paid him basically nothing for the publishing rights and were unwilling to put any money behind it. With no advertising, no promotion, and no publicity backing, Bret had to resort to some “weird” things to promote the book.
Somehow, conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. – no affiliation with his childhood alma mater – fell in love with Less Than Zero. And in hindsight it makes sense – the book skewered Hollywood’s elite.
Throughout its pages, Bret made reference to some new cable station called MTV. Buckley had never heard of the channel and quickly read up on it. Bret’s novel was intimately connected with the new zeitgeist – and it made an impression on Buckley. He was so taken by the book that he wanted to include Bret on his influential show Firing Line – centering the episode on young authors. It didn’t seem like a fit, but Bret was desperate for promotion. So he made his first ever TV appearance on the show.
Bret remembers the experience well.
“I’m terrible on this show. I barely say anything. I’m super nervous. I don’t know why I’m there. I talk at times with a British accent. I don’t know what that’s about. And I was kind of just bewildered that I was there.”
After the show, Buckley approached Bret, wanting him to sign his book, and asked where he stood politically. This was a young man that grew up in a household where politics was never discussed. He hadn’t really put much thought into his position on the subject, so he told Buckley he really didn’t stand anywhere.
Buckley’s response surprised him.
“He said, ‘I think, based on this book you must be a little bit of a conservative. There’s gotta be something in you that you’ll find later on as you get older.’”
Bret thought Buckley was off in his assessment.
Within a few months of his TV appearance, Less Than Zero found an audience. There was nothing like it before. It read like someone had infiltrated Hollywood’s upper crust and documented his own participation in the decadent depravity – largely because that’s exactly what the writer did. It became a major bestseller and Bret would come to be known as the voice of his generation – a literary phenom of the MTV age. He entered an even more exclusive circle than his private school days – he was now a young famous author … and he indulged in all the trappings that came along with it.
At the close of college, in June 1986, Bret briefly moved back home to Sherman Oaks with his mother and two sisters. His parents were in the process of a divorce, so his father was no longer there.
Bret was finishing up a novel entitled The Rules of Attraction, his follow-up to Less Than Zero, and over the course of the next eight months, he slowly started to come to the conclusion that New York was his next move. It was always part of his plan, and it was the center of the literary universe. So in 1987, he packed up and moved to the Big Apple.
That same year, Less Than Zero hit the big screen. The film adaptation ventured far from the book – a choice that infuriated Bret at the time. But in the end, the movie captured a snapshot of the children of Hollywood in the eighties, a moment when the excesses of youth collided with an exploding new media – MTV. It made stars out of Robert Downey Jr., James Spader and others. Brad Pitt even appeared as an extra. And the movie expanded Bret’s persona, because most assumed the story was semi-autobiographical.
His future books would continue along this theme … investigating the gluttony of the privileged. He published his second novel The Rules of Attraction in 1987 – a story that follows entitled, sexually active northeast college students caught in a love triangle. It paralleled his experience at Bennington. While living in New York City, Bret wrote American Psycho – a novel that painted a dark, satirical picture of the Wall Street yuppies of the late 80s. The main character, Patrick Bateman, is an investment banker by day and potential serial killer by night – whose idol is a certain New York real estate mogul and future star of The Apprentice.
The book was first acquired by Simon & Schuster, was scheduled for release, but at the eleventh hour it was cancelled by the publisher due to its graphic depiction of violence and sadistic killing of women. The rights to the book were quickly snatched up by another publisher, and the public outrage ensued. The National Organization of Women called for a boycott of the book and its publisher. The New York Times, in a move that would signal its future social justice warrior ways, printed an op-ed lobbying its readers not to buy the book. The push for censorship only increased its publicity – and the Streisand Effect was in play. The taboo air around the book only drew more to its pages … and it became a national bestseller.
Bret wrote two more books in the 90s, including Glamorama – a 1998 novel satirizing models and celebrity culture.
More of his work would be made into movies. American Psycho in 2000 starred Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Reese Witherspoon, and Chloë Sevigny, to name a few.
The Rules of Attraction in 2002 featured Dawson’s Creek star James Van Der Beek, Jessica Biel, and Shannyn Sossamon.
Over the years that followed, Hollywood continued to plumb Bret’s writing for possible film adaptation – including an unauthorized attempt. The makers of the 2001 comedy Zoolander reportedly had to pay an out-of-court settlement to Bret for lifting the plot of the movie from Bret’s Glamorama.
By 2003, Bret was finding himself more and more in Los Angeles – taking meetings, working on scripts, trying to get an adaptation of one of his books, The Informers, turned into a movie. Hollywood was beckoning him back from New York City – but a sudden tragic event would make the decision to move home more apparent. While traveling to Los Angeles, Bret learned that his boyfriend had suddenly died at the young age of thirty. The two had been together for seven years, and the shocking event changed his view of the city.
“Manhattan became different. And I started to see the ghost and was feeling sad and it was just not really going to work out for me anymore.”
So in 2006, he came home to L.A.
Bret had a strange reunion with his hometown. It had changed. He wanted the move to be a new start – a place where he could reinvent himself. “But I think what happens is when you get here the city doesn’t work that way,” says Bret. “The city reinvents you.”
For the next three years, he worked on getting the adaptation of his 1994 book of short stories, The Informers, off the ground. They secured the financing for the film and locked in a star-studded cast. Billy Bob Thornton, Winona Ryder, Kim Basinger, Mickey Rourke, Amber Heard, and others. The script was solid, but the Hollywood machine eventually tore it apart.
“And it kinda turned into a disaster, you know, it kinda turned into a disaster for many many many many many reasons,” he recalls. The film had been under budget, but there was an unforeseen cost shift. By the time they figured it out, it was too late. It grew to $20 million, which was sizable but not unheard of for a high-end indie with a deep cast. The production started getting out of hand and he lost control of the movie. The money people took it over, sliced and diced the finished product, and crushed his vision for the film.
“And as I write in White, I got involved with some of the actors that were, it was just, it was a mid-life crisis I was going through and the movie was a reflection of that in a way,” admits Bret. “And … my friend was fired from the directing of it and replaced by another director. And I lost friends over it.”
Many thought it should have been Bret’s cue to leave this schizophrenic town and move back to New York. But the TV industry was in the early stages of its renaissance. So Bret moved on from The Informers debacle – selling TV pilots and show ideas. He also wrote the screenplay for the 2013 erotic drama The Canyons, directed by the famed filmmaker Paul Schrader (think American Gigolo, Raging Bull, and Taxi Driver) and starring Lindsey Lohan and porn star James Deen. The film was largely panned by critics, but found a major audience in video-on-demand.
It was around this time that someone reached out to Bret. His agent got a call from a guy named Norm Pattiz. Bret knew of him as a big radio guy, and he was starting a podcast company. He wasn’t really sure what a podcast was at the time but recalled some guy named Mark Maron tweeting at him asking him to be on his podcast called WTF. Maron now has one of the biggest comedy shows in America.
The call came at just the right moment.
Bret had started publishing controversial long form articles, one a five thousand word essay for The Daily Beast charting the downfall of Charlie Sheen … and he started to notice something. People criticizing him on message boards, or in articles about the article, were not connecting what he wrote at the beginning of the piece with what he concluded near the end. In other words, people weren’t reading the entire piece.
“And yet I was hearing that people were listening to podcasts for an hour, for two hours, three hours,” he recalls. “And so I thought, can I combine them? Can I do a podcast show where I’m writing something every week and I’m reading it aloud, and then I’ll have a guest and we’ll talk about just cultural things. And we’ll talk about movies.”
So in 2013 he launched a film podcast, bringing his own personal flair to a growing new media format. He’d open the show with whatever was on his mind that week, and then he’d have a guest. His first was a guy that always makes noise, Kanye West, and Bret was thrilled by the response. “And then of course after talking about a couple of movies he then went on one of his rants and started going after Zappos and whatever. It just turned into a Kanye Fest. But the downloads were insane. I mean it was huge. And it got so much press, and so I signed on for I think two years.”
Tinseltown A-listers like Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith found their way onto his show. Bret was off and running. His approach was a breath of fresh air in Hollywood. He spoke with a candor, unheard of in this company town. He lambasted the industry for its self-congratulatory posturing on films that appeared to receive accolades more for their chosen subject matter than artistic accomplishment. He did the unthinkable in Tinseltown – he began criticizing movies with traditional victimhood themes – black films like Moonlight, Twelve Years A Slave, and Fruitvale Station. This is the third rail in Hollywood that seasoned insiders rarely dare touch. A divide between Bret’s straight talk and Hollywood’s growing political correctness began to show. This separation was underscored when in 2013, comedic moralist Judd Apatow appeared on the podcast and was noticeably uncomfortable as Bret criticized the stale theme explored in Fruitvale Station, a film that follows the real story of Oscar Grant, a black American, who was fatally shot by police in Oakland.
“But a troubling thing that I saw emerging in American movies this year,” started Bret, “was a kind of victimization cinema, where we are taken through the world where a person is victimized and we’re supposed to see ourselves mirrored in it …”
A sound of unease filled Apatow’s long meandering reply, where he eventually landed on the response, “I like victimization stories.”
“And I saw his face fall right across from me in the studio and I made note of it,” admits Bret. “I made note of it because to me the movie was not nearly as great as everyone is proclaiming but it was about something important and was about something noble and Hollywood likes to congratulate itself for liking movies like that.”
Apatow’s fumbling but polite response foretold a future flashpoint for Bret’s brand of frank talk.
His podcast was doing well – tons of people were listening to the show. Bret’s criticism of films’ predictable formulas cut against the grain. He largely stayed focused on the movie and TV industry. But then something happened. A new development would open his eyes to an entirely new line of exploration.
#NeverTrump has been an utter failure on most fronts, but it can be credited for at least one positive accomplishment – it gave birth to the new voice of reason in liberal Hollywood.
It all started for Bret in the summer of 2015, August 6th to be exact, when the world first learned that Donald Trump had become the target of a young ambitious media personality. At the first Republican Presidential Primary Debate, Fox News’ rising star Megyn Kelly took aim at the reality star turned politician.
“Mr. Trump,” started Kelly, “one of the things that people love about you is you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s filter. However, it is not without its downsides, in particular when it comes to women. You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.”
“Only Rosie O’Donnell,” Trump famously replied.
Megyn Kelly’s pointed attacks on Trump continued throughout the debate – at one point she suggested that the presidential hopeful was not even a Republican.
Trump took notice. “I don’t think they like me very much,” was his response.
Her questions were aimed at the long shot’s jugular, and Megyn Kelly drew blood. The counterpuncher-in-chief was undoubtedly looking to return the favor.
“The following day,” remembers Bret, “I think actually Trump was on CNN and he said something about ‘oh and she was so mad at me and she was bleeding through her eyes, and her ears and her wherever’.”
Trump’s appearance was on the show of Megyn Kelly’s timeslot competitor, Don Lemon. In the moment, Mr. Lemon didn’t protest the remarks. In fact, he didn’t even flinch. But within hours of the interview the then-editor-in-chief of RedState.com, Erick Erickson, disinvited Donald Trump to an influential GOP leaders conference he was hosting the following day. The #NeverTrump movement was born – and it gave license to the media to wage an unprecedented attack on the Manhattan real estate mogul.
The Sunday Edition of the New York Times – by far its widest circulation day – ran a front page, above-the-fold Maggie Haberman hit piece entitled “A Word Too Far? ‘Blood’ Remark Tests The G.O.P. Fallout From Suggestion That Moderator Was Menstruating.”
When he grabbed the paper, Bret couldn’t believe what he was reading.
“The New York Times made that the headline of their paper. I thought, what is that? Why is that the headline? That’s a dumb thing Donald Trump said, I’m sure if you, yes, gross – perhaps juvenile making a glancing joke about Megyn Kelly’s menstrual blood. I thought, you know, whatever. But the Times took it seriously and they thought it was something that they could use, I suppose, to derail his candidacy.”
Bret began to watch as the news sources that he had so respected throughout his life digressed into a fake news orgy.
“I began to see how Trump was being covered,” he recalls, “and it was very interesting because it wasn’t the way any candidate had ever been covered in my lifetime and certainly not by institutions like CNN and the New York Times, which I had followed all my life and who I had watched and read religiously. And I started to see this thing happening that, oh, the press is involved in an election and not reporting on it -they’re part of the story and they want to determine its outcome. And it became, as it went on into 2016, maddening. Frightening … and that’s how I got interested in the election itself, something I have never been particularly interested in in my lifetime.”
Over the years that followed his awakening, Bret has become a critic of the Trump Derangement Syndrome infecting the media, the political correctness plaguing Hollywood, and the corporate takeover of free speech that has ensued all along the way. But for Bret, this was really nothing new. Since the 80s, he’s laid bare the excesses of elites through his fiction, films and movie criticism – in a way that lessor Hollywood insiders would not dare. In his first outing Less Than Zero, he exposed the consequence-free debauchery of Hollywood’s youth. In American Psycho – he painted a hollow, bloodthirsty picture of Wall Street types. This natural inclination to expose the rich and powerful has been a long-running theme in his work and has lent him a kind of punk rock persona amongst his peers. Hollywood is a town where creatives are king, and Bret is a giant among creative giants … which is why the top of the Tinseltown food chain has paraded through his podcast.
But the environment today is different than when Bret first entered the scene. In this day and age, not hating on the orange man hard enough can get you cancelled from culture.
Which is all the more reason to marvel at Bret’s new book White. It’s a page-turner that addresses hot button issues usually forbidden in a city dominated by what can easily be categorized as a liberal cult. Bret’s even-keeled, yet biting cultural commentary is often in stark contrast to the belligerent, anti-Trump tirades spewed by his colleagues, and it’s even more striking coming from a revered writer, with so much to lose – a man born and raised in a company town that tends to quietly punish those that don’t bend the knee to its groupthink.
The Tinseltown apostasy conveyed in Bret’s White should not be interpreted as a political screed though – it’s something subtler and far more important. It’s a voice of reason in a town whose shelves are all stocked with crazy … a community that went from Mueller is a god, to Mueller is a dog in less than a news cycle.
Bret witnessed this shift in his millennial socialist boyfriend Todd. Following the release of the Mueller report summary, his boyfriend was very quiet. Not saying much, with his nose buried in his smartphone. Bret stayed quiet on the subject for most of the time. This went on for two days until finally, something happened.
“He said, ‘Well I don’t believe it. I don’t believe the Mueller report. I don’t believe Mueller.’” Bret was surprised. “And Mueller was his granddaddy for two years. The man he loved. Mueller was going to sort it all out for us and get rid of the big orange potato chip in the White House … and that is why I have no problem using the term Trump Derangement Syndrome at all.”
Bret has seen ample signs of this affliction during the promotion of his new book. A recent interview with a hostile anti-Trump reporter from The New Yorker prompted Bret to make a 2020 prediction.
In the exchange with the reporter, Bret expressed a seemingly common sense perspective.
“I don’t know necessarily if, for example, real sexual assault is the same as Trump on a bus bragging that he grabs them by the pussy,” he contemplated. The reporter snapped back, “The New Yorker writer said it definitely was the same. That’s why Trump’s reelected in 2020. That’s not just the same.”
But with all this talk about politics … Bret is really an apolitical guy.
Over the past decade, I’ve spent a lot of time around political animals – the crips and bloods of policy debates – that judge everything based on an ideological litmus test. From all that I’ve seen of Bret Easton Ellis, the only political discussion that triggers him is the political correctness ravaging the arts and the newsroom. Right and Left isn’t his thing. Censorship is his fighting word. If there was a single issue animating his vote, it would likely be ending the outrage culture engulfing Hollywood that looks to score points by canceling people over their speech. And it’s a sentiment he claims others in Tinseltown share.
“I have to say this … my friends on the left, my liberal friends hate this as much as anyone does,” says Bret. “My liberal friends hate canceling people.”
I’m sure he’s had a lot of those conversations, mixed in with the ones in which he’s talking someone off the ledge after another Rachel Maddow hoax falls embarrassingly short of delivering. That’s what you get from White – straight talk and candor that will no doubt delight those of us that aren’t so easily triggered by the era of Trump. But White also tells the story of a man who’s found himself as the lone tour guide coaxing Hollywood back to sanity – a man who believes some will follow … a man who is willing to take the personal risk to find out.
Which brings me back to that thought I had when driving to Bret’s apartment. When is it time to abandon the mentally ill of Hollywood? It’s easy to see that the legendary writer from Sherman Oaks has an odd love affair with Movie City. I think for Bret, he won’t abandon this place until his last sane liberal friend, the final one that still hasn’t lost his marbles, throws up his hands and gives in, reluctantly joining the outrage mob. But even then, if that moment ever comes, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bret kept speaking hard truths in hopes that his hometown will eventually come to its senses. Let’s hope he succeeds.
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- Bret Easton Ellis, photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto, GettyImages.
- Los Angeles, Mario Tama, GettyImages.
- President Donald J. Trump, Chip Somodevilla, GettyImages.
- Forced School Bussing (1974).
- The Firing Line (1985).
- Less Than Zero (1987), 20th Century Fox.
- American Psycho (2000), Lions Gate Films.
- ‘The Canyons’ Premiere, Pascal Le Segretain, GettyImages.
- Megyn Kelly, Fox News.
- Donald J. Trump, Fox News.