At the most basic level, the TV show was a deathmatch between two dominant cult films of the end of the 90s: the narrator from Fight Club and Patrick Bateman from American Psycho over the stakes of capitalism. Mr. Robot is Sam Esmail’s attempt at re-purposing and repairing of these two opposing representations in order to succeed where they both failed. Therefore Mr. Robot transcends tribute and arrives at re-invention.
Basically, Mr. Robot himself is Tyler Durden reimagined in the 21st century version. And the E Corporation suit, Tyrell is the Swedish version of Patrick Bateman, but married to an equally psychopathic wife, a Lady Macbeth type.
With Project Mayhem & fSociety, both Fight Club and Mr. Robot had vigilante groups led by mysterious but charismatic individuals hellbent on causing financial chaos by deleting debt, and free people from the shackles of corporations. One used explosives, the other used coding. But Mr. Robot goes further than mere imitation because it is set in a dramatically different world where the landscape for rebels and revolution is fundamentally changed. The criticism of corporations has moved from mass produced coffee tables to big data, surveillance & political freedom.
In American Psycho, Patrick Bateman was a smooth talking, suit wearing, greased haired golden boy on his way up the corporate ladder. But beneath the perfect Yuppie facade lurked a psychopath who had uncontrollable desire for murder. In Mr. Robot, Tyrell, tho equally psychopathic, is less about culture and more about promotion. As a caricature of corporate culture, utterly obsessed with power, he functions as the perfect embodiment of the antagonist for Elliot.
With the conclusion of the first season, Tyrell appears to be established as the major villain, but it is also Tyrell’s origin story in the corporate machine that runs parallel to Elliot’s hacking collective that is out to destroy that machine. Mr. Robot is more than just the typical Joseph Campbell journey of the hero overcoming the mountain, it also shows the emergence of the mountain, Tyrell as the 1 percenter versus the 99 percenter in Elliot.
However, as season one turned out, my analysis may be flawed, because Tyrell is no longer on the side of the 1 percenters, and that the Chinese Hacker White Rose actually is. Bring on Season Two!
4 thoughts on “Mr.Robot, Fight Club, American Psycho”
I searched Sam Esmail and Anti-Oedipus and found an Academia paper which introduces the series as a presentation of Deleuze and Guattari. The show has a healthy amount of dissociative behavior, where language is an obstacle to belong in the world, where schizophrenia and capitalism can be looked at together. I watched Season 1 over the weekend to see what this post was about and am grateful you identified the similarities with Fight Club and American Psycho.
Hey g09! Thanks for the comment, and I'd LOVE to read that paper on Deleuze/Guattari!
Had I a better handle on their philosophies, particularly that of the Anti-Oedipus. I took part in a close reading as a grad student a few years ago, but I need to get back to that book one day.
Season Two had some interesting developments…
The article I mentioned above is here https://www.academia.edu/20437748/Capitalism_and_…
This is from Anti-Oedipus, the sort of thing Mr. Robot reminded me of:
"[I]t would be a serious error to consider the capitalist flows and the schizophrenic flows as identical, under the general theme of a decoding of the flows of desire. Their affinity is great, to be sure: everywhere capitalism sets in motion schizo-flows that animate "our" arts and "our" sciences, just as they congeal into the production of "our own" sick, the schizophrenics. We have seen that the relationship of schizophrenia to capitalism went far beyond problems of modes of living, environment, ideology, etc., and that it should be examined at the deepest level of one and the same economy, one and the same production process. Our society produces schizos the same way it produces Prell shampoo or Ford cars, the only difference being that the schizos are not salable. How then does one explain the fact that capitalist production is constantly arresting the schizophrenic process and transforming the subject of the process into a confined clinical entity, as though it saw in this process the image of its own death coming from within? Why does it make the schizophrenic into a sick person— not only nominally but in reality? Why does it confine its madmen and madwomen instead of seeing in them its own heros and heroines, its own fulfillment? And where it can no longer recognize the figure of a simple illness, why does it keep its artists and even its scientists under such close surveillance—as though they risked unleashing flows that would be dangerous for capitalist production and
charged with a revolutionary potential, so long as these flows are not co-opted or absorbed by the laws of the market? Why does it form in turn a gigantic machine for social repression-psychic repression, aimed at what nevertheless constitutes its own reality—the decoded flows?
Indeed, and it might take me a while to figure out a handle on season 2. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but can't really find the angle for a blog.
Many thanks for the essay. I definitely will be reading it over the weekend.