Rewriting through Google Ads: Mimi Cabell and Jason Huff’s American Psycho
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by Maru Pabón
Mimi Cabell and Jason Huff, MFA graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design, have rewritten Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho by sending the novel to each other, page by page, and collecting the Google ads that appeared next to their e-mails. Their artist’s book may bear the same cover art and title as Easton Ellis’s novel, but its text is replaced by footnoted ads for a strange array of objects.
Cabell and Huff wanted to bring attention to how Google’s web crawlers read e-mails and pull up ads to match each message’s content. They were curious as to what Google would try to advertise when faced with the graphic violence of Easton Ellis’ novel, and the results range from Crest Whitestrips to Crate & Barrel furniture. As Cabell explains on her website, “In one scene, where first a dog and then a man are brutally murdered with a knife, Google supplied ample ads regarding knives and knife sharpeners. In another scene the ads disappeared altogether when the narrator makes a racial slur.”
In a way, this iteration of American Psycho is a product of two levels of hacking: Google’s infiltration of private correspondence plus the artists’ appropriation of the physical book. It’s a fascinating and unsettling object, a testament to the possibilities of combining digital aesthetics and the traditional book form.