White is a collection of essays or writings really, about growing up, nostalgia, the act of writing. today’s world and culture, and a whole lot about Hollywood and how it affects the writer. By extension possibly, those who are deeply connected to the world of movies, wherever they may live.
Brett Easton Ellis is a well-known American writer, novels, television scripts. His best-known work is American Psycho which was also made into a film. I have not read any of his novels nor do I think I have watched their movie versions.
However, I must hasten to add that this lack of knowledge makes no difference in the enjoyment of this book. Ellis has a very easy style which makes reading him a pleasure. The subjects and his opinions may not always match those of the reader and indeed, why should they? He challenges commonly held assumptions and ideas and explains lucidly why he disagrees. Even if you don’t agree, he makes you think.
Ellis delves plenty into nostalgia, his youth and how life was so different for children in the 1960s and 70s. From that nostalgia, from the usual clichés of how our parents left us to fend for ourselves when it comes to entertainment and learning about life, Ellis moves on to social media and how it invaded and conquered our days and nights.
Nostalgia is a funny one: we pick and choose what we liked about the past and then build stories around that. Ellis’s stories may not be mine but readers who are pre-millennials, pre-GenXers, will understand what he’s talking about. Those younger may be in awe of how we managed to live minus technology or scoff at our innocence.
But what Ellis does is to make us challenge the sentiment of this past because it was not all Steven Spielberg’s children from ET. There were darker shades and to combat those, Ellis talks about his fascination with horror films as well as changing moralities. It is fun to read about his interactions with Tina Brown when she took over New Yorker or interviews with Judd Nelson. Or his analysis of Tom Cruise, which leads to insights into stardom, how it changes and how it manipulates the star as well as his or her audience.
For my money, it is when he analyses social media, the quick share of information and with that formation of instant opinions, that Ellis comes into his own. He makes us confront at how we live in this world where we run from total condemnation to total glorification every other moment, leaving no space for introspection, nuance, grey areas and sometimes even simple comprehension. Social media has made this of us, and we are all guilty of falling into this brook-no-arguments X versus Y trap, regardless of our politics and our leanings.
Ellis’s breakdown of the demands of sites like Twitter and our reactions to it are an eye-opener, even to those of us who count ourselves as aware and thinking. He examines the gay community’s reactions to his tweets, even as a gay man, he examines how rap star Kanye West’s support for US President Donald Trump was not seen in the context of a pop star but of a political analyst. Ellis walks into the uncomfortable, with ease and good navigational skills.
He seems to relish the opposition and the controversies his views might engender. In many ways, that’s the fun of it for him and that rubs off on the reader. He can be the child holding up the mirror, or the child looking at himself or the adult looking back at his inner or imaginary self as a child.
All in all, an engaging read.
The writer is a senior journalist who writes on media affairs, politics and social trends. She tweets at @ranjona