Then again, didn’t the psycho in American Psycho listen to Huey Lewis and the News?

There is a video up on Slate about how villains in popular culture like classical music. I watched the whole thing, hoping for an argument as to, you know, why this might be so, but the makers of the video got lazy and didn’t bother.

My theory is that for a lot of people, classical music is appropriate for villains because it evokes both power held by means of exclusion (intellectuals, WASPS, aristocrats) and a sort of sinister “here is this strange, stylized thing that you don’t get and this other person does, and doesn’t that make you distrust them a little – what other strange information or dangerous tastes might they have?” In the clips in the video, villains are often shown enjoying it while cooly doing or being responsible for horrible things. It’s the music of people who believe they are above the rules. Or who are somehow false, many-layered in a dark way, disconnected or wrongly connected within, etc.

But a taste for this sort thing can also be used to code a character as weird in a pitiable way – I remember a show about a Boston public school that used to be on when I was in college, which was often strangely anti-intellectual given what it was about; the cool teachers got together after hours and played bad jazz, while the teacher who blasted Dvořák in his car was condescended to by both the storylines and the other characters.

Classical music: the sign of an inherently disordered relationship to other people and/or the world?

10 thoughts on “Then again, didn’t the psycho in American Psycho listen to Huey Lewis and the News?

      1. There also seems to be a connection between really hands-on, DIY evil people and the solo piano repertoire.


  1. Excellent recent Goldberg usage in Snowpiercer, functions as a reveal for elite entitlement/solipsism rather the villain (yeah yeah same difference, but in this instance much less crude than the norm & not Gould either).

    Also, this Wednesday Tom Cruise is going to be filmed blowing up the Wiener Staatsoper. Villainy kinda immaterial here, because the Boulez-meets-the-Kulturindustrie irony is so verdammt geil?


      1. I think the fact that the city of Vienna effectively pays film producers to come shoot here might have molded the cinematic circumstances somewhat. All I know is that the house is to be blown up during the Opera Ball (or Hollywoodized version thereof), which as my boyfriend put it, ‘naja, wenn es einen Terroranschlag in Österreich geben *müsste*…’. Oh and Tom Cruise jumps off the roof for good measure, they filmed that the other day while lighting up half the inner city like a football stadium. All this is on my way to and from work, there’s been a lot to see & they’re closing the Ring for another few days yet. The Wiener are very proud though & are calling it ‘Mission Österreich’, bless.


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