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American Psycho

R18: sadistic violence, drug use, offensive language and sex scenes

Spoiler alert

This page outlines how the classification criteria were applied. We do our best to discuss the content while avoiding spoilers, but please avoid reading this information if you do not want to learn anything about the content of this book.

American Psycho book cover

Date registered: 07/07/2014

About the book

American Psycho is set in the late 1980s, is written in predominantly first person narrative, split into 60 chapters with titles such as Date With Evelyn, Concert, and Taking An Uzi To The Gym.

The book follows the exploits of the central character Patrick Bateman, a 26-year-old Wall Street investment banker. The book documents Patrick firstly as a vain and superficial yuppie obsessed with materialism and pop culture, and secondly, as a sadistic and nihilistic serial killer.

American Psycho was originally classified in 1991 by the Indecent Publications Tribunal (IPT) as 'Indecent in the hands of persons under the age of 18 years'. Under section 42 of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, people can apply to have classification decisions reconsidered if more than 3 years have passed since the original decision was registered.

A quote from the book - I have all the characteristics of a human: blood, flesh, skin, hair; but not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust. Something horrible is happening inside of me and I don't know why. My nightly bloodlust has overflown into my days. I feel lethal, on the verge of frenzy. I think my mask of sanity is about to slip.

Decision summary

The book features acts of torture and the infliction of extreme violence or extreme cruelty. However, it cannot be said to promote and support such activity. Although such conduct is described in length and in detail, it sits within a wider body of material that features lengthy and detailed descriptions of banal and monotonous activity such as morning showering routines, lists of expensive possessions, and conversations at bars and restaurants where the characters talk past each other about fashion and etiquette.

The dilution of the extreme content within the wider body of content has a dulling effect to some extent. The violent descriptions are also not intended to be read literally. Instead, to the astute reader, they provide metaphors for objectification and consumption. They are layered with subtext that critiques a society inured to violence, and obsessed with status and materialism, and ultimately society's dehumanisation, sense of entitlement and nihilism.

The availability of the book is likely to cause injury to the public good unless it is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 18 years. Younger readers are not likely to have previously encountered such plain and explicit descriptions of sex, horror, crime, cruelty and violence, in texts available to them.

The book is intended to be satirical. A sophisticated knowledge of how satire works is necessary to read that intention into this book. Children and teenagers do not have this requisite knowledge. Instead it is more likely they will read the text literally. The descriptions of extreme violence, sexual violence, necrophilia and cannibalism are shocking, disturbing and horrifying; such material will have a negative impact on young persons' mental wellbeing and their developing worldviews.

At a minimum it will inure them to such material; at worst it will cause an attitudinal shift, normalising such conduct, and to some extent (given the elite and sophisticated setting), glamorising it. Adults may find the descriptions upsetting, but have the ability to contextualize the material as sophisticated satire, in a way younger readers will be less able to.

The Classification Office has considered the effects of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 on the application of all the classification criteria. Given the balancing requirements of the Act, it would be unreasonable to limit the availability of the book any further. However, there are also no convincing reasons to lower the existing restriction. Despite the time that has passed since the book's publication and original classification, the strong content in the book still has a real risk of causing injury to the public good if its availability is not restricted to adults.

Contact the Information Unit if you require further information on a classification decision.

R18 label
R18: sadistic violence, drug use, offensive language and sex scenes