I have chosen to post a link to a site from The New York Times dealing with the novel Less Than Zero. I think it both helps and problematises the representation of the 1980s American culture. I am going to focus on drugs, Los Angeles and youth culture.
http://www.nytimes.com/1985/06/08/books/books-of-the-times-the-young-and-ugly.html -Review by The New York Times.
This review highlights the positive and negative aspects of the novel, suggesting that the book does help us to understand the 'blank generation', and what the 1980s American culture was like, for the wealthy young adults in education. It states, 'first-person narrative encourages one to read the novel as a largely autobiographical account of what it's like to grow up, rich and jaded, in Beverly Hills'. This indicates that because the novel is written in the first person, it is automatically associated with reality, and what it is like for a young rich person, to live and grow up in California. It later adds, 'If Mr. Ellis's story seems grossly sensationalistic at times -among the events described are a gang-rape of a 12-year-old girl - it also possesses an unnerving air of documentary reality, underlined by the author's cool, deadpan prose.'. Although this does problematise the novel's representation of the 1980s, because it indicates that this era was not the best and most safe time to live your life, especially if you are a young female, it does also help to understand the 1980s too. The novel helps to understand this decade, as it shows the reality of the 1980s, and the fact that the author describes gang-rape, alongside drugs etc., with an emotionless response to knowing that these things happen around him. Therefore, it suggests that this was considered fairly common, which in turn, gives us an understanding of the representation of the 1980s. It also problematises the novels representation of the 1980s, because it makes the 1980s in the United States to be seen as terrible, which may or may not be the case.
Interestingly, the novel Less Than Zero, also is similar to the notion of the Yuppie Culture that also happened in the 1980s. This is because the book suggests that the rich young adults have adopted their parents values and attitudes, such as selfishness and no thought about others. The New York Times comments, 'The narrator, Clay, and his friends - who have names like Rip, Blair, Kim, Cliff, Trent and Alana - all drive BMW's and Porsches, hang out at the Polo Lounge and Spago, and spend their trust funds on designer clothing, porno films and, of course, liquor and drugs. None of them, so far as the reader can tell, has any ambitions, aspirations, or interest in the world at large.' This resembles the stereotypical Yuppie at the time. The fact that they all drive cars such as Porsches, indicates their wealth and arguably, success. Alongside this, they spend their money on commodities, and live in the present, rather than invest in the future. The fact that they do not have any interest in the world, or even others close to them, illustrates that they are selfish and could also be considered a Yuppie. In this instance, the novel's representation of the 1980s is not problematic, but instead, understandable. This is because the Yuppie culture was a huge culture in this decade, thus the novel helps our understanding of the culture of young, wealthy and selfish individuals within the 1980s.
The location of the novel is significant when looking at the representation of the 1980s, because it provides readers with a sense of perfection. The idea that there are beaches, a warm climate, and fits certain American ideology. However, this is quickly reversed when the author indicates what actually occurs in this place, often associated with paradise, in many films and novels. That is that drugs, rape, abuse and alienation happen. The New York Times argue,'''Less Than Zero'' ends up feeling more like a ''60 Minutes'' documentary on desperate youth than a full-fledged novel. Its narrative, told in fast-paced, video-like clips, devolves into a litany of predictable scenes involving sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. And the characters remain so alike in their aimlessness and disaffection that the reader has a pretty hard time of it telling them apart.' This concludes that although the novel is not the most enjoyable book to read, it does to a certain extent, provide an understanding of reality of the 1980s. Although, that being said, at the same time, the narrative of sex, drugs, rock-and-roll, abuse, rape and wealth, does also problematise our understanding of the 1980s, because it questions whether the 1980s was an era to remember as successful, or not, when looking at the urban life in the United States.
Grace La Traille