When it was first released, American Psycho received a mixed reception from the box office and critics. But like many horror movies before it, the film has since developed somewhat of a cult following —but not for the sort of reasons you might expect.
The slasher movie stars Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, a smooth and successful investment banker whose sanity begins to decline after leading a double life as a serial killer.
Based on the novel of the same name by Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho was considered widely controversial by some due to its gruesome violent sequences, with many questioning whether both the book and the movie took it too far. Nonetheless, the character of Patrick Bateman and Christian Bale have developed pop culture icon status over the past few years, especially among (mostly) male ‘shitposting’ communities on sites like Reddit. Here’s why.
Before we go into the memeification of Patrick Bateman, there are three key terms we need to understand: “sigma male,” “based,” and “chad.”
Across some internet subcultures, there’s this idea that we live within a social hierarchy divided into “alpha” and “beta” males. “Alpha” males are usually to describe people at the top of the social hierarchy who are outwardly confident, talented, and successful both professionally and within their social and love life. But they can often also be bullies and arrogant, as seen with movie villains like Biff Tannen in the Back to the Future movies.
Because “alpha” males are at the top of this social pyramid, “beta” males often answer to them, and are seen as the more submissive, stereotypically “nerdy” and slightly more pathetic type of person — while they’re often not bullies or mean people like the “alphas,” they aren’t as successful socially or professionally. So think George McFly.
But outside this social hierarchy, transcending above it is the idea of “sigma” males. Although they don’t share the more extroverted traits of the “alpha,” they are even more successful both professionally and personally, with people being drawn to their driven, hyper-masculine, distinguished, strong-silent-type demeanor.
Obviously, this classification as defined by meme communities like Reddit is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, even if some weirdo communities like incels take it seriously — but part of the joke is that Patrick Bateman is portrayed as a “sigma male” and is considered to have the superior “sigma grindset” which, according to Urban Dictionary, is ” a portmanteau of the words “grind” and “mindset”, and it expresses the determination and complete focus of a sigma male” towards tasks that will help him be successful.
This “sigma grindset” in turn is what makes the sigma male “based,” which, within these meme communities, adheres to rapper Lil B’s definition of the term, which simply means being yourself, being unafraid to go against the grain and carrying yourself with pride.
So, essentially, Patrick Bateman has become ironically worshipped by meme communities because the character is seen as possessing all the qualities of a more idealized, sophisticated, and stylish person on account of making his own rules, going against societal expectations, and being a bit of a smooth operator. Obviously, he’s also an axe-swinging murderer and a creep in the thriller movie, but the very absurdity of calling someone like that a “chad” (an idealized, peak version of masculinity) is part of this post-ironic joke: similar to how everyone ironically pretended to adore flop Marvel movie Morbius.
This has led to millions of Twitter memes, Reddit posts, and TikTok compilations being made that depict Bateman in situations and expressing opinions which are considered “based” and part of his identity as a “sigma male.” These memes and compilations usually include the aesthetic of Bateman in a smart suit, smoking a cigar, attending the Minions: Rise of Gru premiere, and listening to unexpected music on his Walkman.
Like a lot of memes, how serious we’re supposed to take it, and even trying to make sense of it, isn’t an easy task, but that’s the point of shitposting — by definition, what you post isn’t really supposed to make sense. However, “Sigma Bale” has been around for a long time, and while the meme might be messy and confusing, at least it brings American Psycho to a new generation.
If American Psycho is a little too old-school for you, check out our guides to the best Netflix horror movies.