An Extremist Christ
In 2001, the US experienced the worst terrorist attack ever recorded on its land. A total of 2,977 people were killed in New York City, Washington, DC and outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania2. Economical losses were also tremendous as $123 billion -estimated economic loss during the first 2-4 weeks after the World Trade Center towers collapsed in New York City.
Two years earlier, the movie fight club came out in theaters and stood as one of the most successful and controversial plots established. Fight club defends strong voire extremist worldviews against ways society is established economically and socially. Fight club underline religious analogies, to promote an idea of salvation from identity problem, and contrast barbarism and masculinity, and finally enlighten the liabilities of economical system.
Jack is a man who lives in. He is single, has a decent job, owns his own apartment and has an average economical social status. He lives for what he has more than living for But like man people Jack has an identity Jack is not
Fight Club use religious analogies to address salvation and identity problem. John the Baptist baptized people for them to repent and be prepared for the arrival of a man who is the son of God and will deliver them from their sins. Jesus means salvation for those who were waiting for him to come. Religion is an important theme that is carried throughout Fight Club and it sides along with people social insecurities. Tyler is created by the narrator out of necessity, encompassing everything that the narrator lacks and offering ‘salvation.’ In a sense, Tyler could be comparable to Christ. The narrator and others look up to him for guidance and salvation. He offers this salvation; however, you need put your full trust in Tyler. Tyler preaches that, “Only after disaster can we be resurrected. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything.”(70). In essence, Tyler is offering them a type of rebirth but only until they are willing to give of themselves . In Luke 14:25-35, Jesus gives us an idea of why He asks us to give everything up for Him. Here he basically says, “Here. This is what it costs to follow me. Everything. You can may lose your possessions. You may lose your family. You may lose everything. And if you’re ready and willing to do that, you can follow me.” This parallels the religious ideals of such as Christianity. Christ gave his life upon the Cross to save humanity. But even on the upon the Cross Jesus maintain trust in his father and did not redeem from his mission. One has to love GOD and let him into ones life; fully trusting him, in order to be a ‘good Christian.’ Similarly in fight club, “…Tyler said if I loved him, I’d trust him” (89). There are rules of fight club that everyone must obey, similar to the Ten Comandments that Christians must follow. If it were to parallel it to religion, Fight club in a sense would represent a church. The men go there and from that experience gain clairity and a type of peace, Tyler is a representative of Christ, whom the men respect and follow. Project Mayhem; therefore, would be in a sense missionaries, spreading Tyler’s word.
Graphic violence and ultraviolence have been the axis of numerous popular American movies since the 1960s. The idea that a man should demonstrate his strength is still dominant nowadays. Refusing to fight is a sign a “weakness” because real men fight.
Fight Club encourages masculinity and barbarism. No one expects Jesus to come out of heaven and says “Be a man!” Yet Tyler is not as soft as Christ. Jesus demonstrates through his ministry that love and humbleness surpass everything. That we must live by love and demonstrate it to each other. Jesus never promoted violence in his preaching. He says that only by peace and love would a man find salvation even if he dies for his beliefs. By love, Christ bears the scars upon the cross where he gave his life and his flesh. On the other hand, Tyler believes a man finds salvation in the grief of his flesh. For this he organizes bloody fights between members of his club. He preaches “I don’t want to die without any scars.” In sense, Tyler depicts a more masculine Christ. The narrator and the members of the club find joy fighting each other. It These scenes support the contemporary idea that “real” man are not afraid of pain. For a masculine audience, it is more intimidating cause if they do not compel with the reasoning of the movie, they are not man.
The Perversion of Spiritual and Emotional Fulfillment in "Fight Club"
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Consumerism
- 3 Art Direction
- 4 Colour
- 5 Light
- 6 Shape Language
- 7 Compositional Techniques
- 8 Conclusion
- 9 References:
- 10 Books
Semiotics is the study of symbols and signs a communication system which relies on a visual metaphor to communicate information in the most culturally universal instinctual way. Explored in film first by Peter Wollen in his book “Signs and their Meanings” Peter put forward symbols as integral communication devices to help progress story and meaning.
Fight Club was originally a book written by Chuck Palahniuk in 1996 and later adapted into a screenplay by Jim Uhls. It is a grim story which outlines the gross levels of consumerism in our society as well as the dangers of cults, the story revolves around a man, “the Narrator”, whom rejects his reality by creating a personality which is able to reject and rebel against the lifestyle which he feels is corrupting the way we live our lives.
This essay will focus on how Fight club portrays the perversion of spiritual and emotional fulfillment in the modern age through the grotesque consumerism and the degradation of the American dream and how damaging it can be too the emotional and spiritual health of a person. These topics will be discussed mostly through the semiotics of the art direction of Fight club and how both David Fincher and Alex McDowell’s design choices added to both the experience of the film as well as to the meaning behind, emphasizing key story moments and how said design choices communicated the underlying themes and motifs of the original story, to ultimately signify the perversion of the American dream through excessive consumerism and how acquisition of material goods and wealth has taken priority over living a meaningful life.
One of the main themes of Fight Club is Consumerism, and how it corrupts our dreams and aspirations. For the Narrator the taint consumes his whole life, he gives us a description of how it affects him in the beginning of the film, things like insomnia which make everyday tasks feel like “a copy of a copy” (the Narrator, 00:04:07), this is followed by a scene of an empty apartment being filled with expensive things, it is at this point that the Narrator claims “Like so many others, I had become a slave to the IKEA nesting instinct.” (the Narrator, 00:04:48). This is an important distinction in the consumer culture as it “draws attention to society’s infatuation and obsession with materialism.” (Nikolai Christofferson).
The acquiring of materialistic goods in the beginning of the film is likened to obtaining the American dream, the Narrator spends his spends his time and money on inconsequential things to fill up his apartment in the hopes of achieving some sort of happiness and or enlightenment. “I was close to being complete” (the Narrator, 00:29:37) the Narrator reveals to Tyler Durden when all of his accumulated wealth has crumbled to ash, this is and indexical signifier of how much control over our lives we give to the items we want, that there is almost a pathological need for them.
There is also a clear visual metaphor where the idea of the American dream literally rots away for the Narrator as he goes from clean ordered apartment to a rotting house and finally the absolute destruction of buildings at the end of the film, this escalates in tandem with the Narrator’s relationship and subsequent merging with Tyler in the end. The decaying and ultimate destruction of the buildings also grown in scale throughout the film signify the Narrator’s state of mind and mental health as the film progresses, as he starts to slowly spiral into the insanity of Tyler Durden whom gives him the freedom to break away from his old ways until finally at the end of the film with the ‘ultimate’ destruction the Narrator will have gained a level of enlightenment that he had lacked throughout the film.
The sickly nature of consumerism is also told through Tyler Durden’s Soap Business, by taking a consumable product ei a soap bar and explain the process of how it comes from human fat from a liposuction clinic. David finches is alluding to both the lack of care in which we as a society get our products from (just so long as we are still able to acquire said products) and the amount of waste that is left over from the gluttonous process. While the example in the film may be an exaggeration the message still stands, as it shows the complete willful ignorance of society and the lack of motivation to change their living situation.
The obsessive consumerist lifestyle is visualized throughout the film using recognizable brand names and logos which are littered throughout the movie often cluttering the backgrounds of specific shots. According to Tim Pelan from Cinetropolis, David Fincher claims that there is a Starbucks coffee cup in every scene this of course is one of the biggest signifiers of consumerism throughout the film as Starbucks is such an iconic brand. David Fincher also uses “visual and auditory elements that imitate advertising tactics.” (Nikolai Christofferson) such as fast cuts and an almost catalogue like approach to explaining how certain goals are achieved in the film, for example the explosion sequence in the narrator’s apartment, or the description of project mayhems plans, and definitely for the Ikea scene in the Narrator’s Apartment. It is important to note that along with material gain in Fight Club the narrator is also looking for truthful validation from other people, which is portrayed by him going to all sorts of different support groups and faking that he has all sorts of chronic or terminal disabilities. It is at these support groups where he can get the full attention of another human being whom does not have any ulterior motives. This in itself is a criticism of the selfishness of the American dream and the consumer lifestyle, the selfishness and narcissism is what eventually spirals the Narrator to into a very literal and visual destruction.
From all the visual cues we can assume that the target audience for fight club is for the younger masculine viewer, as the film boasts testosterone fueled fights with a dark and gritty aesthetic. We can break down the meaning behind the aesthetics into 4 main groups; Colour, Lighting, Shape Language and Compositional Techniques.
“But instead of merely focusing on the internal and external forces affecting the characters, Fincher makes it a point to utilize the environment’s color palette in expressing conflict as well. For Fincher, everything in the shot is an extension of the characters and should reflect their dilemmas.” (Matt Vasiliauska)
Fight Club sports a mostly subdued colour scheme made up of dull greys, blacks, whites and some neutral greens. Browns and blues all of which when combined give a certain sickly or unhealthy feeling to the film. This supports the obviously ‘unwell’ Narrator who has to attend various support groups by faking problems to feel validated as well as the less than obvious split personality reveal at the end. Key moments and characters that act as catalysts of the film are emphasized with bright overly saturated warm colours usually varying shades of reds and oranges, these moments are both alluring to the Narrator as they are dangerous, the danger symbol, which will be further expanded upon later in this essay, is what gives the Narrator a choice in his life which he does not feel has been pre-decided for him by larger corporations.
“color itself has that inherent emotional property. It means that
It can elicit that physical and emotional response from the audience.” (Patti Bellatoni, page 26)
The colour scheme of or surrounding the characters also help to communicate specify characteristics and personality traits. The colours that surround the Narrator are always dull neutral colours, most often whites, greys, and browns and even when reds occur on him in they are subdued sickly reds unlike the bright vibrant colours of Tyler Durden whom is the opposite force of everything in the narrator’s life. In the case of Tyler his colours are so bright and vibrant with the purpose of looking like he doesn’t belong in the world as he is literally a figment of the narrator’s imagination and rejects the world in which the narrator lives. Another reason for Tyler to have these colours, is that he is a catalyst for all the turning points in the film which reveal to the narrator how controlled his life really through the material goods that he has brought.
“David Fincher movies want to get at the heart of what makes reality tick. How human and environmental forces compliment and antagonize one another.” (Vasiliauskas)
The majority of the film takes place in the dark, which of course adds to the grim mood of the film but it also helps to communicate a secrecy of what is going on in the Narrator’s mind “The lighting shows the audience that film is a story of a man fighting his inner demons and problems including his own expectations of himself” (Xhaed123) the dark lighting makes some of the visual information unclear both to us the audience but also to the narrator. In Contrast to the dark lighting the only scenes that are not shot during a night scene nor a dimly light room all highlight the docility and complacency in reality.
They also use lighting to show the mental state of the Narrator and Tyler Durden swapping mainly between heavy contrasted high key-lighting and very even low-key lighting to communicate which of the narrators personalities is most in control at any given time.
“The stark contrast between the lighting depending on whose personality is in control is obvious throughout the film. Blood, fighting, dirt, sweat, masculinity and the dark low-key lighting represent Tyler, whilst Jack is represented through consumerism, clean white oxford’s, neat and tidy spaces, and the bright high-key lighting.” (Lea Studebaker)
The semiotics of the lighting is important towards the two characters because it helps us differentiate the two as well as their role in the film at any given moment.
“If the stark contrast in lighting was not utilized, the dramatic difference between Tyler and Jack’s personalities would not have been as evident” (Studebaker, 2019)
“People may not always notice what figures and shapes surround them still they have a great impact on our consciousness and behavior.” (Alina Arhipova)
Shape language plays an important role in this movie as the order vs chaos theme is used continually to further the consumerist and cult danger motifs through the story. This is done by contrasting the clean, clinical organized scenes of the Narrator workplace and the various support groups that he attends to the disorganized chaos of the basements in which the club fights as well as the cult cells in which he stays after his own house as be reduced to ash. This can be broken down a step further by contrasting the hard edged geometric shapes and the softer organics ones. The hard edged shapes are the prevailing shapes throughout the film all a metaphor for the lack of feeling and emotion these shapes signify order, structure peacefulness in a video by Claudio Graciolli he explains that these shapes could also be seen to embody conformity and even docility, in Fight Club they are often used in places where the Narrator feels trapped and hemmed in. This is contrasted by the use of softer organic shapes generally signify more caring and less dangerous emotions. The Narrator looks for acceptance in characters and environments with these shapes in the movie no matter how universally un-appealing they are, a perfect example of this is the scene where he has to hug a chronically obese sweaty man, which is something that is seen as unhealthy and even repulsive yet it brings the Narrator comfort as it is in direct opposition to the uncaring hardness in the rest of his life and it allows him to drop his emotional defenses and release his pent up emotions.
When the big sweaty man, Bob is soon replaced by the writhing mass of fight club members whom whose smooth flowing organic shape reads quite a bit differently, it becomes something primal and it becomes the extreme opposite of the sterile world which he is trying to escape. The narrator swaps a comfortable lie for the truth in an attempt to gain some closure in his own life.
Figure A, (Fight Club, 1999, 00:04:31)
If we take figure A as an example, in the top frame we have the Narrator visually literally boxed in by hard geometric shapes and leading line with his boss in the foreground blocking his only exit out. This is symbolic of how the narrator feels impotent in his current life with no means of escape. All the lines lead to his eyes which are cast up in a subservient manner to the giant foreground figure. The colours are sterile which add to the narrator’s impotence. The set dressing has no personalization which shows a complete lack of interest in his work as well as adding to his docile subservient demeanor. In this scene we can again the Starbucks coffee which is a reoccurring prop throughout the film.
Figure B (Fight Club, 1999, 00:45:25)
In figure B we have a wide angle shot of a fight scene within the actual fight club. Here the combatant are framed within a writhing mass of people making them the clear focal point of what is going on within this scene. There is a strong triangular composition from by the spreading of the light and the leading lines are less literal and rely more on the line of sight from the spectators of the club. The dim lighting with harsh rim light really adds to the testosterone fueled aggression of this scene and helps indicated the regression of the people here by showing them in a primal light. The colour scheme of this shot is again typical of the fight club colour styling using sickly darker colours to emphasize the grunginess of the scenario, there are some spot colours that are in the shot like the bright whites and the orange-red of Tyler’s pants which serve as focal point, guiding the viewer’s eye back to the main fight in the center of the shot, the colours also serve to show the mental state of the room mainly being an unhealthy one as the colours are all sickly greys, blues and greens while you also have the aggressive orange red spot colours too.
In conclusion, it is the overwhelming disillusioned world that breaks the narrator in the end, he tries to change the American dream by breaking down the hold of the material gain dogma that larger corporations have imposed on modern society. Through the muted, sickly colours, the harsh lighting schemes and the claustrophobic scenes, David Fincher and Alex McDowell have created a compelling visual destruction of the main character through both his environment and his script. While it could be argued that in the end he is reborn from the ashes of the destruction around him and that he has merged with his ulterior personality it is far more believable and compelling that the damage done was lasting and possible even irreversible, while the narrator was able to reject the consumerist lifestyle the same is not true for the rest of the world in the film, and the crimes that he had committed would leave emotional and spiritual scaring. In the end the Narrator was not able to fully cleanse himself nor the world of the consumerist American Dream.
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Dissociative Identity Disorder in "Fight Club"
The film “Fight Club” is about a man suffering from mental illness who has developed an alter ego that is desperately trying to break from societies norms by any means possible. In this film the narrator meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) who ends up being a figment of his imagination. The narrator sees Tyler as the person that he wishes he could be, he represents the symbolic model for a man.
The use of Gender roles throughout the film shows the characters defiance against the norms for genders in society. As well as gender, the use of violence in the film is important in showing these values of men and women. Also, through the defiance of gender roles and the use of violence a patriarchal society is formed.
For the longest time the “ideal man” has been seen as a tall, strong and dominant person. “Men, on the other hand, are presumed by traditional views of gender roles to be leaders. The traditional view of the masculine gender role, therefore, suggests that men should be the heads of their households by providing financially for the family and making important family decisions.” (Blackstone, Amy, 2003, pg. 337) Over the last 30 years or so this depiction of the ideal man has begun to fade into a whole new meaning.
As feminism has begun to challenge men’s dominance over society, the social role for men has changed. Men used to have a very specific role in society, and that was seen as providing and protecting his family and home. Modern day society and feminism reject these ideals. “We are a generation of men raised by women”, this is a quote from Tyler Durden in the movie fight club. This quote explains the change in gender roles and shows how feminism has reconstructed the social norms for men. This film shows the roles of men and women in a couple of different ways. It shows the social norms for men, or what the “ideal man” is perceived as, “married, white, urban, northern, heterosexual, protestant, father, of college education, fully employed, of good complexion, weight and height, and a decent record in sports.” (Dalton Conley), 2017, pg.291) throughout the film we see how the narrator tries to escape these norms. One scene in the movie we see the narrator’s apartment was blown up, an apartment that was filled with all his valuables and possessions (Ikea Furniture). The narrator seems upset about this at first but later in the film it explains how Tyler Durden was the one who blew it up. As explained before Tyler Durden was only a figment of the narrator’s imagination, so it was actually the narrator that blew up his own apartment. He did this to try to break away from his life and the social norms associated with the apartment. Such as the value people see in material possessions and how they idolize name brands over their own identity. The apartment represents the narrator’s femininity and him blowing it up represents him reconnecting to his masculine side.
The use of violence in the film plays a key role in showing the attempt to break away from norms of society and the new gender role for men. The purpose of the creation of the fight club in the movie was for men to come and express themselves through fighting and violence. Through violence the narrator attempts to break free from society and reestablish the fading masculinity in modern society. The character Bob in the film is a former champion body builder who had his testicles removed due to testicular cancer. He is seen in the movie attending testicular cancer support groups where he seeks comfort for his lost masculinity. He was once strong and independent but know is weak and dependent on others. He joins the fight club in attempt to feel less emasculated and gain some feeling of pride he once felt. The use of fighting and violence helps men to reestablish their masculinity they have lost because of society and everyday life. There is a scene in the movie where the narrator is fighting the character called Angel Face, the narrator takes the fight too far and beats him until he is almost unrecognizable. After this the narrator says, “I felt like destroying something beautiful.” This quote represents the destruction of modern society and what the narrator/ Tyler Durden have planned for the future. The use of violence in the film tells a lot about American manhood. Its shows that to be a “man” one must express himself through violence and dominance over others. Violence and the fight club is the first step to the rebellion against the society raised by women. It so influential and appealing to men that feel disconnected to their masculine side because of society.
There was only one female character throughout the entire film. This is the character Marla, she is portrayed as a masculine and brave female. She shows the same traits that the narrator has developed in his alter ego, Tyler Durden. In the beginning of the film it does not display a patriarchal society, but as the movie went on it began to develop in it one. As the narrator becomes more masculine he becomes more hostile and crueler towards Marla. It shows male dominance in society as well as in individual relationships. There are no females involved in the project mayhem and in Marla and the narrator’s relationship it is very one sided and controlled by the male. Tyler Durden treats her very poorly and kicks her out of the home as soon as he no longer wants her there. “patriarchal institutions and social relations are responsible for the inferior or secondary status of women. Patriarchal society gives absolute priority to men and to some extent limits women’s human rights also. Patriarchy refers to the male domination both in public and private spheres.” (Abeda Sultana, 2012, pg. 1)
Gender roles played a large role in the film fight club. It shows the change in society and the emasculation of the modern-day man. Tyler Durden forms a fight club and develops this plan to reconstruct society into how he feels it should be, he does this by aligning the gender constructs, so men regain their lost masculinity, recreating a patriarchal society and influencing people through violence.
Conley, Dalton. You May Ask Yourself: An Introduction to Thinking Like a Sociologist. Core 3rd ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2013.
Blackstone, Amy. 2003. “”Gender Roles and Society.”” Pp 335-338 in Human Ecology: An Encyclopedia of Children, Families, Communities, and Environments, edited by Julia R. Miller, Richard M. Lerner, and Lawrence B. Schiamberg.
Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. ISBN I-57607-852-3 -Sultana, Abeda. “Patriarchy and Women’s Subordination: A Theoretical Analysis.” Arts Faculty Journal, vol. 4, 2012
The Films of David Fincher: Fight Club
Fight Club was released in 1999 and it was directed by David Fincher. It starred Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden, Edward Norton as our narrator and Helena Bonham Carter as Marla Singer. The film was not very well received by critics when it first came out. In fact, it even failed to live up to its expectations in the box office. However, recent re-evaluations show a different case. Dennis Lim in his NY Times review has even gone on to call Fight Club “the defining cult movie of our time”. This movie is directed primarily at male adults aged 18 above.
The film revolves mainly around three characters which are the narrator, Tyler and Marla. The narrator is an average man working as a recall coordinator for a major car company. He is tired of his monotonous cubicle corporate work and he seems to have no purpose in life. The narrator is also a victim of insomnia. His inability to sleep causes him to live life in a half-asleep state and subconsciously create an alter ego that is Tyler Durden.
Marla is a complex character. She is seen as a threat to the narrator throughout the film. Marla was faking illnesses just like the narrator which made him feel guilty of what he was doing. This guilt made him lose his sleep. Then again when the narrator forms a bond with Tyler, we see it weakening after Marla’s entry into Tyler’s life. Tyler only used Marla to satisfy his sexual desires. However, she plays a very important role in keeping in the narrator’s life by keeping him sane and in contact with reality.
Then there’s Tyler Durden. Tyler is the complete opposite of the narrator. He’s built like a “man”, doesn’t care about the rules of society and what others think about him. He lives his life on his terms. He’s basically everything the narrator wishes to be. As a result, throughout the film we see Tyler act much like a father figure and mentor to the narrator.
My theory is that men in current society are obsessed with material possessions. They have no individuality. They work their jobs only to make money so that they can buy things. Masculinity, in today’s society, is a way of selling things. Masculine men are used in modelling and advertising as a way to trick people into buying them, thinking it will make them more manly. This creates a false image in their minds of what a real man is. Hence, the possession of certain products, such as a certain car, make them feel more manly. Masculinity has been reduced to owning material possessions. Material possessions can only bring temporary happiness.
First, the most evident way in which the film depicts there is a crisis of masculinity is in fight club itself. When meeting up with Tyler, after his home had been burned down, he tells the narrator to hit him as hard as he can. The narrator is hesitant but eventually musters up the courage to hit him. This moment sparks a passion for fighting in them and they regularly start fighting. They both create Fight Club as a solution to the crisis of masculinity. Although, more a cult than a club, Fight club represents a place where workers are free from the strings of society. They are able to come into contact with their inner core here. At fight club men are able to regain their loss in masculinity due to their jobs. “”You aren’t alive anywhere like you’re alive at fight club…Fight club isn’t about winning or losing fights “. The narrator isn’t remotely excited about anything else as he is about fight club. The narrator is zombie-like when he is working at his job, but at Fight Club he is truly awake and alive.
Secondly, we see the narrator going to various support groups to cope with his illness. He has insomnia and he is unable to sleep at nights. So, he fakes illnesses and goes to various support groups for diseases he doesn’t have. At a testicular cancer group, he meets Bob. The narrator lets go and cries in Bob’s arms. For the first time he is able sleep, so he continues to attend the meetings. The reason why he is able to sleep is because he is emotionally comforted and feels like he is a part of something.
The third example is the symbolization of testicles as manhood. In the beginning of the film, we see Bob as the narrator’s partner in the testicular cancer group. Bob was a former body builder who took steroids to in an attempt become more manly. However, he developed testicular cancer instead and grew very large breasts, which the narrator refers to as “bitch tits”, after removing his testicles. As breasts are generally associated with women, Robert Paulson’s bitch tits represent the emasculation of men in society. The loss of his testicles, along with the formation of his breasts, make Bob make feel like he is no longer a man. Another reference to balls as manhood can be seen in the scene where the narrator is threatened to be castrated for attempting to shut down project mayhem. This shows that this is the worst possible means of punishment for a man, as it will strip him of his manhood.
In the beginning of the film, the narrator’s insomnia is temporarily cured when he is able to cry and receive affection from Bob. The creation of his alter ego, Tyler Durden, was to satisfy the loneliness in his life. Tyler’s presence in his life changed the way he presented himself. During his time in fight club, he regains the feeling of what it is to be alive as he feels like has a purpose and is a part of a something. At the end of the film, the narrator’s acceptance of Marla in his life represents the acceptance of himself for who he is. Again, and again the narrator is trying desperately to bond with someone throughout the film. Finding a balance in life by establishing connection with someone is the message conveyed by this film.
Faludi as a Lens for Fight Club
Imagine if there was a place where you were not judged based on your appearance, socioeconomic status but solely on your ability to physically overpower the person standing in front of you. The 1999 film Fight Club, directed by David Fincher, tells the story of two men who form an underground club where they fight violently against other men. The creation of Fight Club served as an outlet for a group of men who felt emasculated by their corporate jobs and consumerist lives.
American feminist, journalist, and author Susan Faludi writes about masculinity in a similar view with her 1999 book Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man she examines the role of men in America and the collapse of traditional masculinity. Both works are highly controversial although they do share a common theme. Being masculine is inherent to being a man, in American society successful men are portrayed as having extremely muscular bodies and lots of money. These standards are hard for the average man to reach and most men don’t measure up causing feelings of frustration and anger. Furthermore, when society takes masculinity away from men their sense of pride and purpose diminishes alongside it. This is further discussed in the movie Fight Club and in Faludi’s research in her book Stiffed. Fight Club illustrates Faludi’s argument about the ways American men of the 1990s filled the abandoned promises of their fathers with excess consumerism, thus leaving them further dissatisfied. The Narrator’s frustrations with his life of a “house full of condiments and no food”—fundamentally ornamental and lacking sustenance—led to his existential void, where he and Tyler developed Fight Club as an outlet to ‘fight’ their frustrations with the emasculating effects of American masculinity. In this paper, I will analyze emasculation, consumer culture, and violence elements from Fight Club and how they conform to Faludi’s argument.
The movie presents the argument that men in today’s society have been reduced to a generation of men that cannot do anything for themselves. Masculinity has become a brand, as well as a means to sell products. Being a man then becomes owning the right clothes or car instead of knowing yourself and your values. The emasculating effects that a society with such values creates is the driving force Jack, Tyler, and the other members of Fight Club reject. By stripping away all sense of identity and facing fear and pain these men hope to rediscover their masculinity. Faludi illustrates this argument with a similar approach after visiting a domestic violence group for men, “The men I got to know in the group had without exception lost their compass in the world ” (Faludi, 9). She discusses how the men she met had issues with their masculinity. Similarly in Fight Club Tyler struggles with feelings of being lost in the world. Having an outlet such as fight club created a place where men wouldn’t be defined by their collars but instead, their strength. By putting themselves through an unfiltered raw experience they hope to strip away the socially constructed parts of their lives and truly discover themselves. The fear of castration is depicted throughout the film when the narrator meets Bob at the support group for men who’ve lost their testicles due to cancer; a direct correlation to manhood. Later in the movie, the threat of castration is depicted through Tyler and project mayhem when he threatens the police commissioner to call off his investigation. The narrator also received threats of castration after attempting to shut down Fight Club. These men already feel emasculated by their day to day lives, so there truly is nothing more fearful to them than castration. They feel as if they have just begun to regain their masculinity due to fight club and Project Mayhem, so castration is their worst fear. Having a barbaric act like castration as a common theme throughout the movie goes to show the extent to which these men have lost their manhood in our consumerist society. Tyler believes that our consumer culture is to blame for people feeling unfulfilled in their lives. The film repeatedly detests advertisements that promote power and wealth “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place.” (Tyler). His philosophy contends that people work jobs they don’t like to maintain an image that ultimately doesn’t lead to happiness.“ Our great war is a spiritual war… Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.” (Tyler) The film repeatedly portrays a life where people work jobs simply to maintain an artificial image of success and happiness when in reality they are unfulfilled. Faludi illustrates these arguments when she discusses the pressures the new baby boom generation of men faced. “Their nation had come into it’s own, powerful, wealthy, dominant, in control of the greatest destructive force ever imagined. The fathers had made their sons masters of the universe and it felt, as in the time of Alexander, that what they had created would last forever.” (Faludi) The nation had come into its own now it was time for these men to rule the world. Pressure to become “powerful, wealthy, and dominant” was projected onto men of this generation. After all, if their fathers can win a great war surely their sons can achieve high social status, right? This mentality leads men on a chase for power and wealth and when many fell short it leads to feelings of emasculation and shame.
The men of Fight Club are seeking something of true value, instead of the value system handed to them by advertising and society as a whole. Fighting is used as a path to reach the core of who they are “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” (Tyler) He filled a void for these men and gave them purpose. Faludi illustrates this argument in her chapter when she discusses how harshly men are judged in our society and the emotional toll it takes on them.“They were men judged by their ride out into the wasteland, not their return; they were measured by the control they achieved over their environment through gunplay, not husbandry” (Faludi, 12). Faludi believes that men have trouble with their masculinity for many reasons. Faludi’s argument relates to the theme of violence in the film with the parallels she discovers between men who have issues with violence and their overall satisfaction with their lives. The men that she describes suffer from feelings of dissatisfaction and lack of control in their lives. As a result, they feel emasculated like the members of fight club. Unfortunately, these men resorted to domestic violence, but according to her, she thinks it could be stopped if we could change the way society views and treats men. By teaching men from an early age that they need to provide in order to be valued, we are teaching them that being a man has nothing to do with growth and discovery. This mentality is toxic for boys both illustrated by fight Club and Faludi’s chapter.
Fight Club goes into great depth about men, the struggles they face in society today that are unique to this generation. Faludi’s chapter illustrates these claims using rhetorical strategies to drive her argument. Both works look at the complex issue of masculinity and how it is being threatened by a consumerist culture with the wrong values. These issues are unique to this generation because of the fairly new culture of valuing a man for his ability to own objects rather than his ability to protect and provide, leaving men with an emasculated feeling of uselessness. It is important for us to learn from the messages of works like these. The topics discussed are not widely known and many men are suffering the consequences. I personally think that it is important to raise awareness about the issues presented in fight club especially given that it is almost two decades old and our consumerist culture is just getting worse. The whole idea of Fight club is to rebel against an ingrained system that emphasizes product over all else. Men in America face struggles just like anyone else however a lot of times they are ignored based on a stigma surrounding men and weakness. Men are expected to show no emotion conform and provide, this is a toxic message to be teaching boys and ultimately is damaging to their mental health. I feel that we as a society can learn from movies like fight club, about the internal struggles men face on the daily and instead of ignoring them facing them head-on. Men are human just like everyone else and they deserve to feel like men based on self-discovery and growth, not a car. We as a society can only benefit from men that feel strong and powerful within themselves, we should encourage self-awareness, not consumption.
Psychological Action Film "Fight Club"
Fight Club does has no specific genre but it is a deep psychological action film, which includes dramatic and thriller elements. In the movie, narrator has an easy, well-paid desk job but lives an empty and meaningless life with no family, friends, or goals. In addition, he suffers from insomnia and the empty consumer culture that he and those in a similar position have rapidly started to inherit.
He frequently visits local disease groups in order to form relationships with others and get rid of his insomnia. One day, he meets a magnetic stranger named Tyler Durden on a plane and begins to admire his qualities.
Soon after he meets Tyler, there is an explosion in the narrator’s apartment; the narrator ends up moving to Tyler’s place and they become close friends. With Tyler’s leadership, they form their own secret society called Fight Club, where young and middle-aged men brutally fight each other let go of their frustrations. Durden’s vices against capitalist society are further emphasized in his remark, “We are the middle children of history, raised by television to believe that someday we’ll be millionaires and movie astars and rock stars, but we won’t. And we’re just learning this fact..” Tyler Durden aligns himself with Adorno and Horkheimer’s thought processes, basing most of their ideas on the negative effects of the capitalist system, not the whole picture. Adorno and Horkheimer in The Culture Industry identify the source of these negative effects in popular culture and the ‘culture industry’. They pinpoint these as reasons for people’s passive satisfaction and lack of interest in overthrowing the oppressive capitalist system. The culture industry forces people’s emotions and actions through certain accepted values; there is no place for unique ideas or behaviors. For instance, the narrator lacking a name is an obvious way of claiming that no one is special in consumerist society; a name will not even make you different, so there is no point in including one.
Fight Club is analyzed superbly when Adorno and Horkheimer discuss that the culture industry is a clever dictator. It does not exert any physical power over people. Yet, people may have serious “invisible” mental problems or unconsciously waste their qualities to behave according to popular values. Tyler Durden recognizes this systematic human error and tries to correct it with Project Mayhem. However, he becomes what he set out to destroy. Project Mayhem morphs from the wild fight clubs to a full-fledged dictatorship over those in the group. Durden exerts his mental power over the “maggots” in Project Mayhem by repeatedly assaulting them both physically and mentally.
Everything's is a Copy, of a Copy, of a Copy
“Everything is a copy, of a copy, of a copy.” (Fight Club) Adorno and Horkheimer know that this is true. Their analysis of American culture and society comes in a chapter of their book Dialectic of Enlightenment called The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception. Adorno and Horkheimer identify the ‘culture industry’ as a phenomenon of capitalism that includes all products from Hollywood to the music industry.
These forms of popular culture are designed to satisfy the growing needs of mass capitalistic consumers for entertainment while adding to the lack of individuality each consumer faces. They emphasize how industrialization and capitalism played a crucial role in changing attitudes and characteristics of individuals, societies, and countries, as well as the societal conflicts over the last two centuries. Taking note of Adorno and Horkheimer’s qualification of society, David Fincher continues to echo similar concerns in his cult movie Fight Club. Starring Edward Norton, the unnamed narrator, and Brad Pitt as his alter-ego, Tyler Durden, the movie is generally looked at as a modern commentary on the vices of consumerism and how it has emasculated the modern man. This essay seeks to investigate how Fight Club portrays the nightmare of consumerism by attacking the masculinity of men and how the movie’s themes are studied by academics across the world.
Fight Club does has no specific genre but it is a deep psychological action film, which includes dramatic and thriller elements. In the movie, narrator has an easy, well-paid desk job but lives an empty and meaningless life with no family, friends, or goals. In addition, he suffers from insomnia and the empty consumer culture that he and those in a similar position have rapidly started to inherit. He frequently visits local disease groups in order to form relationships with others and get rid of his insomnia. One day, he meets a stranger named Tyler Durden on a plane and begins to intently focus on his qualities as a person and salesman. Soon after he meets Tyler, there is an explosion in the narrator’s apartment; the narrator ends up moving to Tyler’s place and they become close friends. With Tyler’s leadership, they form their own secret men’s club called Fight Club, where young to middle-aged men brutally fight each other to let go of their frustrations. Durden’s vices against capitalist society are further strengthened in his remark, “We are the middle children of history, raised by television to believe that someday we’ll be millionaires and movie stars and rock stars, but we won’t. And we’re just learning this fact..” Tyler Durden concurs with Adorno and Horkheimer’s thought processes, basing most of their ideas on the negative effects of the capitalist system, not the whole picture. Adorno and Horkheimer in The Culture Industry identify the root of these negative effects in popular culture and the ‘culture industry’. They pinpoint these as reasons for people’s passive satisfaction and lack of interest in overthrowing the oppressive capitalist system. The culture industry forces people’s emotions and actions through certain accepted values; there is no place for unique ideas or behaviors. For instance, the narrator lacking a name is an obvious way of claiming that no one is special in consumerist society; a name will not even make you different, so there is no point in including one. Fight Club is analyzed superbly when Adorno and Horkheimer discuss that the culture industry is a clever dictator. It does not exert any physical power over people. Yet, people may have serious “invisible” mental problems or unconsciously waste their qualities to behave according to popular values. Tyler Durden recognizes this systematic human error and tries to correct it with Project Mayhem. However, he becomes what he set out to destroy. Project Mayhem morphs from the wild fight clubs to a full-fledged dictatorship over those in the group. Durden exerts his mental power over the “maggots” in Project Mayhem by repeatedly assaulting them both physically and mentally.
On the surface, Fight Club’s narrator seems trapped in a society of rampant consumerism where people are pushed (both by advertisements and by a general culture of materialism) to spend their money on things they do not need. Buying things then becomes their only source of pleasure. In this case, the narrator buys furniture to satisfy his craving for consumption, making him feel different from others with those items. The pseudo-individuality portrayed likens to a 1996 political cartoon by Clay Butler. The cartoon depicts a boy asking his mother if he could buy new clothes titled “Rebel” or “I’m a Rebel.” The boy is wearing a shirt and hat that say “I’m Unique,” while ironically wants to buy back into the facade of individuality. The clothing in the cartoon depicts ‘unique’ options or becoming a ‘rebel’ for purchasing a shirt; this is only one example of pseudo-individuality. In the film, Fincher puts a Starbucks cup in almost every scene to drive home the message that consumer products and consumers eventually become virtually indistinguishable from each other.
Henry Giroux and Imre Szeman realize that Fight Club is more than Fincher’s critique on late capitalist society and consumption in their essay Ikea Boy Fights Back (part of The End of Cinema as we know it). The authors explain that “Fight Club is finally less interested in critiquing the broader material relations of power and strategies of domination and exploitation associated with neoliberal capitalism than it is in rebelling against a consumerist culture.” (96) Specifically, the authors are referencing the narrator of Fight Club. He exists as the transformation from the emasculated man in consumerist society to one free of its shackles. For example, the narrator says, “When you have insomnia you’re never really asleep, and you are never really awake.” He says this while watching an infomercial on television, so Fincher employs this as a commentary on how consumerist culture has lulled people into an insomniac state. Giroux and Szeman further this notion by clarifying that there is always a choice and people should not be bound to the things they think hold them in place. Tyler Durden exemplifies this throughout the movie. One of his most famous quotes comes when he talks to the narrator in a bar, “the things you own, own you.” This not only applies to physical objects, but also to ones life’s choices. For example, in the film, Tyler Durden and the narrator go to a convenience store where Tyler pulls a gun on the cashier. He demands to know what he wants to do in life and the cashier responds “I want to be a veterinarian but I don’t have the money.” Tyler turns to the narrator and criticized the capitalist system that prevents someone from doing what they truly want, hanging onto the insomnia. Giroux and Szeman reiterate some of the points that Adorno and Horkheimer make as well. In The Culture Industry, Adorno and Horkheimer realize that “the culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises” (38) (convenience store cashier), and it molds people into what they become. Ikea Boy Fights Back echoes this when Giroux and Szeman identify that the capitalist, consumerist society “rob(s) them of their primary role as producers whose bodies affirm and legitimate their sense of agency and control.” (101)
As Giroux and Szeman hinted at, Fight Club is at its core a critique of the emasculation of men by consumerism and the ‘culture industry’. The narrator embodies this theme; his life consists of buying random Ikea furniture and attending support groups for men that have lost their testicles (literally). Moreover, Fight Club presents the argument that men in today’s society have been reduced to men that do nothing themselves but have become accustomed with watching others do things instead. Masculinity becomes a brand, a means to sell products to men. This is evident in the many commercials directed at the audience and narrator. Following this, Allan J. Kimmel and Elisabeth Tissier-Desbordes conducted a study of thirty French men to determine the extent to which products, brands, and consumption play a role in the development of self-image and conceptualizations of masculinity. The study, straightforwardly titled “”Males, Masculinity, and Consumption: an Exploratory Investigation,” ailed four main issues reflecting the “denial of differentiation, the denial of consumption, the denial of the seductive nature of the male body, and the image of a man in daily life and advertising.” An interesting intertext between this study and The Culture Industry is the mention of the “seductive nature of the male body.” Adorno and Horkheimer claim that “by repeatedly exposing the objects of desire, breasts in a clinging sweater or the naked torso of the athletic hero, it only stimulates the siblimated fore pleasure which habitual deprivation has long since reduced to a masochistic semblance.” (38) This validates the study’s findings and how Fight Club embodies the sexual nature of men. Tyler Durden contrasts all of these qualities as a foil to the narrator. He does not conform to the society that the narrator drudges through. As a result, the Narrator, Tyler, and the other members of Fight Club eventually reject this approach to living and try to find themselves. By putting themselves through the experience of fighting and facing fear and pain, they hope to strip away the unnecessary parts of their lives and discover their true, masculine selves. Subsequently, the threat of castration exists throughout the film. First, the Narrator meets Bob at a support group for men who have lost their testicles to cancer. Later on, Tyler and his men ues the threat of “chopping your balls off” to get the police commissioner to call off his investigation into Fight Club. This loss of their manhood is the worst possible fate these men can imagine, particularly because they feel they have just begun to appreciate their masculinity due to Fight Club and Project Mayhem. While the fighting can be seen as an attempt by the men to reassert their masculinity, it is more of a rejection of what they have been told masculinity is by the consumerist culture industry.
Henry Giroux validates this interpretive problem but also presents small nuances that counter Fight Club’s true intentions. In his essay titled Brutalized Bodies and Emasculated Politics: Fight Club, Consumerism and Masculine Violence, Giroux discusses many of the same points. Conversely, he makes the argument that “Fight Club defines the violence of capitalism almost exclusively in terms of an attack on traditional notions of masculinity, and in doing so reinscribes white heterosexuality within a dominant logic of stylized brutality and male bonding that appears predicated on the need to denigrate and wage war against all that is feminine.” (260) His claim that the crisis in the movie reduces it to only the vices of masculinity, not consumerism, is definitely how it can be interpreted. On the contrary, Fight Club does comment on how consumer culture affects all, not just men, in a suffocating way. Giroux’s claim that the masculine men in the film, and the film itself, wage war on the ‘feminine’ is absurd because Fincher presents the characters in a way that can be interpreted as praising women. Tyler and the narrator try to reconnect with their lost masculinity while discussing how women do not have to feel a loss of personality.
Giroux makes some amazing points on how the film itself is complicit in the consumerist practices it advocates against. He claims, “Fight Club signifies the role that Hollywood films play as teaching machines.” (260) The film’s themes and messages are not the only medium that conveys meaning. The meta-nature of Fight Club is not just simple entertainment, but functions as a public pedagogies as well. It itself is a product the culture industry, of Hollywood. Brad Pitt and Edward Norton are just consumer products brought before the eyes to portray the events that occur in the movie. Fincher, and the consumerist Hollywood industry as a whole, attempt to influence how and what knowledge we obtain from the art; essentially shaping the public thought and imagination. Giroux furthers his position by aligning himself with Adorno and Horkheimer on the “symptomatic [and] wider symbolic and institutional culture… that exerts a powerful pedagogical influence on shaping public imagination.” (261) As previously discussed, the film itself is playing into the follies of the characters it portrays. Tyler Durden says it perfectly, “Everything is a copy, of a copy, of a copy,” furthering the point that the film itself is another version of the same tropes and themes that give it its ‘cult’ following. Also adhering to Giroux’s message, GrubHub (a food delivery company) has recently released an ad advocating for the consumer to ‘want it all.’ Titled We Want it All, the commercial depicts a man ordering food on the GrubHub app while the song I Want it All plays in the background. It ends with many delivery men and women approaching the man’s door with varying types of food from different restaurants. The ad adheres to Adorno and Horkheimer’s principles of ‘instant gratification’ and Giroux’s proposal that the culture industry coaxes consumers to consume. In addition, GrubHub is complicit in Durden’s critique of copies in society. All the food, mostly fast food, that is brought to the consumer is generally a copy of the other; they are just calories to fill the void of hunger, as Fight Club is a movie to fill the void of boredom and individuality. Sharing the same consumer purpose, the ad and film are created to make money, through the art of film. In the end, everything is just a consumer product.
Fight Club is an important novel and movie that directs people to question the system by staying within the system. The movie, from Adorno and Horkheimer’s perspectives, assimilates their ideas of the culture industry into a story that morphs from a typical man versus the system into the deeper understanding of emasculated men in a nightmarish, consumerist society. However, similar to Adorno and Horkheimer’s position, it does not have a revolutionary character, the film (and character) just act revolutionary. The fighting in the novel is not presented as a solution to all of the characters’ problems, but as a means of achieving a spiritual reawakening. The finished consumer product of Fight Club makes one a consumer of it as a product and its consumerized ideology on top of its box office numbers. The film is summed up with the modern anti-hero Tyler Durden shouting: “The first rule of the Fight Club is, you do not talk about Fight Club.”
Tyler Durden as the Perfect Man
In Robert Bly’s book about exploring what it means to be male, Iron John, he wrote that modern men are “not interested in harming the earth or starting wars. There’s a gentle attitude toward life in their whole being and style of living. But many of these men are not happy. . . They are life-preserving but not exactly life-giving.” To Bly, modern men are forced to become docile creatures and slaves to the corporate lifestyle. Men have no great war to be a part of, and since an early age they have been taught to suppress their inner urges to fight and seek conflict. They have learned that this will make them happy, and that violence is never okay. Alternatively, Chuck Palahniuk’s fictional novel Fight Club and David Fincher’s movie adaptation Fight Club build a universe where men break these rules.
The novel is told from the perspective of the Narrator who has a dissociative disorder. The Narrator’s alter ego, Tyler Durden, is representative of what the perfect male would be in the Fight Club universe. Tyler is cool, confident, and is everything the Narrator thinks he has to be in order to be the perfect man. A man in the Fight Club universe is completely detached from the world around him, defies societal norms, and is dominant. In the beginning of the novel, the Narrator lives a very normal life, but as time progresses he detaches from anything that is meaningful. The only thing that is out of order in his life at first, is that he suffers from insomnia. To cure his insomnia he frequents support groups, and this is where he takes the first steps to detachment. During one of these meetings, while crying pressed against a man’s chest, the Narrator, “was lost inside oblivion, dark and silent and complete. . . This was freedom. Losing all hope was freedom” (Palahniuk 22). Since the day men are born they are told not to cry and that they should hide their emotions. Nothing prevents men from crying except their own ego. In these support groups, the Narrator is safe enough to break down his barriers, and this leaves him free to express his inner nature.
Next, the Narrator needed to detach himself from his physical possessions, and to do this he had his alter ego Tyler blow up his apartment. After his apartment was destroyed, Tyler said to the Narrator that, “the things you used to own, now they own you” (44). The Narrator is now homeless and possessionless, but nothing owns him. He was liberated from his bills, home, and everything else. The last step to letting go is accepting his own death, so he can be freed from his body. Tyler pours lye on to the Narrator’s bare hand and tells him that “first you have to give up. First you have to know, not fear, know that someday you’re going to die. . . It’s only after we have lost everything that we are free to do anything” (Fincher). This is the step that the Narrator needed to accept that his life is his own. He breaks down his emotional barriers, destroys all of his worldly possessions, and accepts his own death. With nothing to tie him down, the Narrator is free to do anything.
Once he has detached from the world around him, the Narrator can defy societal norms without fear of repercussion, and grow closer to becoming the perfect man. Life is full of external pressures to fit in with the rest of society, but part of what makes Tyler so appealing is his blatant disregard for fitting in. In the movie version the narrator first meets Tyler on an airplane. In an effort to make small talk, the narrator asks Tyler about his job, and Tyler replies, “why? So you can pretend you’re interested?” (Fincher). This question asks the Narrator to reevaluate how he lets society impact him. He is immediately intrigued by Tyler, and it is this interest to learn more about him that leads them to their first fight. The Narrator is reluctant to fight at first, but Tyler again asks him to challenge the norms, and says, “how much can you know yourself if you’ve never been in a fight? I don’t wanna die without any scars” (Fincher).
This first fight is significant because it is the moment where the Narrator realizes that he needs to be broken down in order to get stronger. He had no idea what he was capable of because he never chose to defy societal norms and engage in conflict. The more he fights, the more he understands his true potential. The Narrator, “got in everyone’s hostile little face. Yes, these are bruises from fighting. Yes, [he is] comfortable with that. [He is] enlightened” (Fincher). By challenging societal expectations the narrator could let out his primal instincts, the instincts that make him a man. Tyler helped him reach enlightenment, and be true to himself.
With no ties to the world, and no respect for society’s rules, the Narrator was truly free to become a man. The final aspect that defines a male in the Fight Club universe is his dominance. Fighting allows the Narrator to do more than see his own potential, it brings out the natural desire to display dominance. The men in fight club all seek the same release. The narrator says that, “when the fight was over, nothing was solved, but nothing mattered. We all felt saved” (Fincher). These men know that the fights are what they need to reach their full potential, and tap into their primal instincts. At fight club, they are free to be men. It is all an appeal to the narrator’s concept of masculinity. In the Fight Club universe, women are another way to display dominance. Tyler says to the Narrator that, “what you see at fight club is a generation of men raised by women. . . I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer I need” (Palahniuk 50).
Tyler has a purely sexual relationship with Marla, and he sees her as an object. As a man, he only needs women for one purpose, and treats Marla terribly. He uses her as a display of his dominance. The final display of Tyler’s dominance is Project Mayhem. The goal of project mayhem is to prove to society that Tyler and his space monkeys, men who follow Tyler, are in control. Project Mayhem is going to save the world “like fight club does with clerks and box boys, Project Mayhem will break up civilization so we can make something better out of the world” (125).
In the Fight Club universe, men are defined by their ability to let go of what holds them back, defy societal norms, and to be dominant. The Narrator created Tyler as a model for the perfect man, and Tyler became who the narrator wanted to be. In turn, Tyler helped the Narrator let go of his emotional barriers, physical possessions, and his fear of death. Tyler liberated the narrator, and gave him the freedom to ignore societal pressures. Fighting allowed the narrator to grow into his full potential, and to display his dominance. This dominance is what turned the Narrator and Tyler, into leaders strong enough to command a small army of men. Together these men are free enough to alter the course of history and shake the foundations of modern society. By doing all of these things, the Narrator and Tyler could appeal to the inner nature of men. In the real world, men are forced to suppress their inner nature. This leads to a society full of men who allow themselves to be slaves to a lifestyle that they really do not want to be a part of. Modern men are not happy, they simply are doing what they need to do to preserve their own lives.
Fincher. Fight Club. 20th Century Fox, 1999.
Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996. Print.
Nothingness in Fight Club
Throughout Fight Club, the concept of the separation of soul from body appears in various forms. Whether forced upon others by Tyler or originating organically, the gap created between the essence of a man and the reality of his life reveals a region of the human psyche that remains unexplored. What occupies this space is more pure than the absence of action, it is nothing. It is this entity of “nothing” that Tyler wants us to fear. This nothingness not only enables, but also promotes complacency with the unconscious rat race that is everyday life. Nothingness dulls our ambitions and tricks us into being content with our own uninspiring lives. The narrator of Fight Club faces an involuntary internal conflict: the empty space between his mundane existence and his ambition—albeit reckless—forces him to rebel against himself, creating the illusion of Tyler Durden to carry out every action that he himself is too weak to even consider. Each of us has a blank space within us that prevents our soul from interacting with our mind and body. Similarly, each of us has a Tyler within us; though our respective Tylers may be considerably less destructive, we all have the power to unleash our most powerful alter egos and achieve what we truly desire. Thus, the message of Fight Club which Chuck Palahniuk seeks to communicate to the reader is to, by any means necessary, find the conductor that will complete the circuit between our dreams and our actions.
The most impactful way to go about this quest is to come face to face with the idea of nothing. “Maybe self-destruction is the answer,” the narrator postulates, conveying his anxiety over the idea of losing everything (49). Fight Club embodies the spirit that playing it safe is cowardly. Moreover, it is impossible to defeat an unseen adversary; unless you know what exactly is tempting you to play it safe, you cannot eradicate that mindset. Tyler soon elucidates, however, that an understanding of what “nothing” is enables us to fill the void with something that is deeply meaningful: “getting fired…is the best thing that could happen to any of us. That way we’d quit treading water and do something with our lives” (83). Before Tyler enters the narrator’s consciousness, despite “little acts of rebellion” like urinating in custard, he is treading water, unable or unwilling to hit bottom (76). Tyler seeks to dispel this exact tentativeness, explaining, “if you lose your nerve before you hit the bottom, you’ll never really succeed…It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything,” succinctly articulating the goal of Fight Club, and asking a key phenomenological question: what is it like to experience nothing? Tyler forces several characters to come to terms with the entity of nothing. To Raymond Hessel, the thought of becoming an object to his parents led him to the bottom. Without anything to lose, Raymond has no reason to not pursue any course of action that does not serve his self-interest. “Fill in the blank,” Tyler asks Raymond, prompting the man who has just hit the nadir of his spiritual existence to connect his aspirations with his physical paralysis; at this point in his life, Raymond is equipped once again with the passion that first inspired him to become a vet (153). A conceptual grasp of nothingness is essential to replace the nothingness within us. It is not an empty space, it must be forced out with meaning; as nothingness is not the absence of purpose, but a destructive quality in and of itself, the only way to create something is out of pure nothing.
The central conflict that faces the narrator is a question of identity that, by extension, encompasses phenomenology and epistemology: in the body that the narrator shares with Tyler, who is real? From an epistemological perspective, the narrator justifies the existence of Tyler as a byproduct of his insomnia (which in itself is a symptom of greater conflict). Phenomenologically, Tyler is perceived as the narrator in his purest form, uninhibited by social constructs or common conventions. Tyler wants control of himself and his surroundings, telling the nearly-castrated police chief of Seattle that “the people you’re trying to step on, we’re everyone you depend on…we control every part of your life” (166). Consequently, as a fusion of himself and his alter-ego, the narrator rests somewhere between the control-obsessed Tyler and his own status as the type of person Tyler warns the police commissioner of abusing—someone who stifles their sense of purpose for the greater good.
Similarly, while being driven into a collision by the mechanic, the narrator states, “I am nothing in the world compared to Tyler. I am helpless. I am stupid, and all I do is want and need things,” underscoring the notion that he is, in a quantitative sense, nothing, and Tyler possesses value (146). As the crash nears, the narrator adds, “prepare to evacuate soul,” presenting an ambiguous image: is the soul evacuating the body or vice versa? Will the narrator’s death—real or spiritual—free him from his soul, or will it free Tyler from him (146)? That the narrator ultimately comes to understand that his fights with Tyler were psychological melees with everything he hates in his life suggests that the aforementioned evacuation symbolizes the liberation of Tyler from the narrator’s incapable body. Moreover, Tyler is who the narrator would be without the prevailing self-defeatist attitude of society. Although the narrator insists that Tyler is the other side of his split personality, it becomes clear through his understanding of Tyler—and the subsequent murdering of his boss—that Tyler is his true self, and cannot be repressed. Ultimately, as the narrator says that he “has to take care of Tyler Durden,” he indicates his revamped set of ideals (197). As he now values himself above all else, the commitment to Tyler, his purest self, demonstrates the clear success of Fight Club: a man’s sense of his meaning and purpose can never be entirely corralled. Furthermore, by committing to his true self, Tyler illustrates that the gap of nothingness can be closed and replaced with phenomenological harmony.
Feminization of a Capitalistic Society in Palahniuk’s Fight Club
The novel Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk, tells the story of a nameless protagonist enveloped in a consumer-driven society. A stereotypical American driven by consumption and possessions, he finds himself living day-to-day as a cog in the machine of a corporate society. Plagued by insomnia and his detachment to the world, the narrator must split his personality, thereby creating a powerful alter ego with which to attack society. With 20th century America as a backdrop, Palahniuk writes a powerful critique of the effects of a feminized, capitalistic society on the mind of this nameless narrator.
The narrator in Palahniuk’s Fight Club is one of millions of cogs in corporate America. A recall campaign coordinator of a nameless company, he describes himself as an average, middle class American. Traveling for work, he constantly wakes up to what he refers to as a “single serving” life. “I go to the hotel tiny soap, tiny shampoos, single-serving butter, tiny mouthwash and a single-use toothbrush” (Palahniuk 28). He later describes his obsession with consumer culture, saying: “You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you’re satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you’ve got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you” (44).
Further, the narrator makes it clear he isn’t the only one with an ingrained nesting instinct. When detailing his consumer-driven life, he states “the people I know who used to sit in the bathroom with pornography, now they sit in the bathroom with their IKEA furniture catalogue” (43). As a product-driven society has become the new American norm, Palahniuk shows us the replacement of stereotypical male activities replaced with domestic, “nesting instincts”.
In her critical analysis of the film version of the novel, “Hurt So Good: Fight Club, Masculine Violence, and the Crisis of Capitalism”, Lynn M. Ta suggests this description of American culture exhibits “an anxiety about masturbatory commercialism by locating the cause of [the narrator’s] seeming loss of masculinity in the proliferation of consumer culture, thereby making participation in capitalism, once considered an entrepreneurial and male endeavor, a feminine activity” (Ta 273). We see in this critique the bonds between an encroaching feminized culture and a capitalistic society. This capitalistic culture, then, can be seen as the root of the loss of traditional male values, replacing them with domestic, feminine, commercial values.
In “Fight Club: Historicizing the Rhetoric of Masculinity, Violence, and Sentimentality”, Suzanne Clark puts forth the theory that the idea of the “domestic, consuming individual (object of middle-class desire) is feminine” (Clark 413). It is this domestic, feminine world that we see our narrator fighting against. The novel, then, reasserts the masculine identity which is threatened by the feminization of an increasingly consumerist American culture. This said, Palahniuk’s nameless protagonist, in an effort to regain his lost masculinity, must create Tyler Durden, his alter ego.
Tyler is everything the narrator is not. A radical anarchist, Tyler revolts against anything driven by capitalism. When creating “Fight Club” (and later Project Mayhem) Tyler gives an impassioned speech, explaining: “Advertising has these people chasing cars and clothes they don’t need. Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don’t really need. We don’t have a great war in our generation, or a great depression, but we have a great war of the spirit. We have a great revolution against the culture. The great depression is our lives” (Palahniuk 149). With no great war or depression, “Tyler registers the lack of purpose his generation experiences, and his tirade not only condemns the capitalist cycle to which they are enslaved. . . it is the ideal of liberalism that has disillusioned men into thinking that masculinity and success are attainable through personal effort” (Ta 274). Entwined with the disgust of capitalism is Tyler’s revolt against all things feminine. This revolt is evident in the fear of castration that runs throughout the novel. From the beginning of the novel, we see the narrator attempting to cure his insomnia through a self-help group for men with testicular cancer. Through “Remaining Men Together”, the narrator “is able to find comfort among other men who have also experienced a sense of masculine loss” (Ta 270). However, as Ta explains, the narrator’s loss is merely psychological. “Therefore, [the narrator’s], fear of castration is alleviated in the presence of men who have undergone actual castration” (Ta 270).
In creating Tyler, the narrator seeks to recover this lost masculinity caused by a capitalistic society. He splits into “a sadistic (and masculine) Tyler who criticizes and punishes a masochistic (and feminine) self” (Ta 266). Throughout the novel, we see the narrator and his alter ego revolt against the feminized corporate world. As the narrator expresses a fear of castration through his attendance at “Remaining Men Together”, his alter ego, Tyler expresses a similar fear of castration. Tyler, working as a movie projectionist splices penis images into family films. Often discussing his estranged father, Tyler says “he starts a new family in a new town about ever six years” (Palahniuk 50). When his dad suggests he marry, Tyler responds “I’m a thirty-year-old boy, and I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer I need” (Palahniuk 51). Thus, by splicing shots of penises into family films, Ta suggests he is “figuratively cutting off his own penis and inserting it into the family unit as a means of reasserting patriarchal authority in an otherwise matriarchal society” (270). Later in the novel, Tyler sees a dildo on Marla’s dresser. “Don’t be afraid. It’s not a threat to you,” Marla says. Tyler’s fear of castration includes this fake penis that threatens to outperform him, again stealing his masculinity (Palahniuk 61). Lastly, at the end of the novel, the narrator, attempting to stop the chaos that Tyler has created tries to turn himself in. At this point, one of the members of Project Mayhem says “You know the drill, Mr. Durden. You said it yourself. You said, if anyone ever tries to shut down the club, even you, then we have to get him by the nuts” (Palahniuk 187). This time, the narrator leaves himself with no option but to physically lose his masculinity if he tries to retreat from his newly-created male world.
Returning to the creation of “Fight Club”, Suzanne Clark suggests “the real danger is an imbalance in the gender wars created by feminism, and Fight Club the self-help group that will let men be men again” (Clark 413). Through the feminization of an increasingly capitalistic society, Tyler (and by extension the narrator), must create Fight Club in an effort to regain their lost masculinity. “What you see at fight club is a generation of men raised by women,” the narrator observes (Palahniuk 50). This comment reflects the narrator’s own childhood in a family with an absent father. With no male role model, he (and the other men in Fight Club) turn to more feminized, domestic activities in the matriarchal culture.
In “Oedipal Obsession”, Paul Kennett explores the oedipal complex found in the narrator. He states “The narrator considers his crisis of identification to be a crisis of masculinity, and becomes swept up in alter-ego Tyler Durden’s obsessive quest to achieve identification through the classic Oedipal complex” (Kennett 48). If this is the case, his participation in Fight Club and self-violence can be seen as rooted in the Oedipal complex, in which he looks to the created Tyler Durden to provide him with a meaningful identity.
Ta, however, looks toward Freud and the condition of dissociated identity in her analysis of the narrator. She notes that the disempowered male narrator seeks release in a brute, regressive Tyler, suggesting that “violence is not only symptomatic, but also constitutive, of this condition of dissociated identity” (Ta 265). Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is, according to Freud, a psychological condition found to be the result of severe childhood trauma or abuse. During the process of mental dissociation, the individual fails to make mental connections between his/herself and their alternate personality. In the case of Fight Club, the narrator must split his personality in order to survive.
Ta suggests the narrator is a mirror of Freud’s “melancholic sadomasochist who, registering the loss of a love-object, undergoes self-division and splits into a tyrannical superego that punishes a submissive ego that in turn grows to enjoy the punishment” (Ta 266). As a cog in the corporate machine, the narrator feels victimized by a culture that has stolen his masculinity and thus feels he must protect this masculinity through his unconscious creation of Tyler.
It is here, Ta suggests, that Freud’s theory of melancholia provides a framework for understanding the narrator’s participation in a feminized society while resisting the castrating culture it promotes. Freud states that mourning is the state in which an individual reacts to the loss of a loved person or idea. The person must go through a period of grieving, usually overcoming his/her grief and returning to his pre-loss condition. However, the melancholic subject faces a a different loss. Freud writes:
The object has not perhaps actually died, but has become lost as an object of love. in yet other cases one feels justified in concluding that a loss of the kind has been experienced, but one cannot see clearly what has been lost, and may the more readily suppose that the patient too cannot consciously perceive what it is he has lost . . . this would suggest that melancholia is in some way related to an unconscious loss of a love-object, in contradistinction to mourning, in which there is nothing unconscious about the loss (155).
In simpler terms, the narrator suffers the loss of a love-object (masculinity) but is not completely aware of his loss. His alter ego, however, is created for the purpose of reclaiming the love-object. As a result of his loss of masculinity, the narrator experiences symptoms matching those of the melancholic. He suffers from depression, sleeplessness, detached from the outside world and begins to punish himself. Most importantly, however, is the experience of a split in personality.
With this understanding, Ta explains that the narrator “embodies Freud’s description of the melancholic condition” (Ta 273). She continues to explain that it is in his quest to cure his insomnia that leads to the creation of Tyler. “Tyler, then, represents the divided melancholic self . . . invented to punish the ego (the narrator)” (Ta 273).
This theory, combined with the struggle of a capitalistic society, is seen through the stark contrast between the narrator and his other self. In contrast to the narrator’s material filled condo, Tyler’s abandoned house on Paper Street is described as “three stories and a basement” (Palahniuk 57). “Everywhere there are rusted nails to step on or nag your elbow on. . . there’s no lock on the front door from when police or whoever kicked in the door. . . there’s nine layers of wallpaper swelling on the dining-room walls” (Palahniuk 57). Tyler’s house represents his own primitive masculinity.
Fight Club, and later Project Mayhem, represent the narrator’s quest to break free from a capitalist society while reclaiming his masculinity. “When Tyler invented Project Mayhem, Tyler said the goal of Project Mayhem had nothing to do with other people. Tyler didn’t care if other people got hurt or not. The goal was to teach each man in the project that he had the power to control history. We, each of us, can take control of the world” ( 122). Fed up with being drones in a capitalistic society which keeps their power to a minimum, Tyler and the narrator fight against the machine the only way they know how; by destroying society’s rules.
In the culminating scenes of the chaos of Project Mayhem, Tyler calls for the castration of the Seattle Police Commissioner. When face-to-face with the commissioner, Tyler speaks out against the evils of a capitalistic society. “The people you’re trying to step on, we’re everyone you depend on. We’re the people who do your laundry and cook your food and serve your dinner. . . We are cooks and taxi drivers and we know everything about you. . . We control every part of your life” (Palahniuk 166). Seen in this example, Tyler’s organizations have quickly turned into anarchy and chaos. Ta notes the irony in Tyler’s organizations, saying “Fight Club, and later Project Mayhem, reproduce the same effects of capitalism by creating the illusion of freedom through demands for self-regulation and self punishment. . . these individuals seek relief from an oppressive capitalistic order through means that are equally conforming and repressive” (Ta 267).
The organizations, with their strict demands and seemingly endless lists of rules, mimic the oppressive capitalistic society that the narrator has come to revolt against. In addition to five hundred dollars for personal burial money, “the applicant has to arrive with the following: Two black shirts. Two pairs of trousers. One pair of heavy black shoes. Two pair of black socks and two pair of plain underwear. One heavy black coat. One white towel. . . one white plastic mixing bowl” (Palahniuk 128). Further, as the narrator notices, the men are each trained in teams, each with a job, and no one asking questions. This new “society” is equally, if not more, repressive than the capitalist society they are trying to escape.
Clark, Suzanne. “Fight Club: Historicizing the Rhetoric of Masculinity, Violence, and
Sentimentality.” Journal of Men’s Studies 11.1 (2002): 65-76.
Freud, Signmund. “Mourning and Melancholia.” Collected Papers, Volume 4. London:
Hogarth Press Ltd., 1925. 152-170
Kennett, Paul. “Fight Club and the Dangers of Oedipal Obsession.” Stirrings Still 2 (2005): 48-64.
Ta, Lynn. “Hurt So Good: Fight Club, Male Violence, and the Crisis of Capitalism.” Journal of American Culture 29 (2006): 265-77.