When Fight Club was first released, I found it to be the most scathing indictment of consumerist culture I had ever witnessed. Granted, I was 16 at the time, so I really hadn’t seen many indictments of consumerist culture yet. I am, of course, no longer 16 years old, and Fight Club is rapidly approaching its 15th anniversary. The film was recently the subject of a Comic-Con tribute, with director David Fincher and writer Chuck Palahniuk in attendance; a graphic-novel sequel to Palahniuk's ode to alpha males will be published early next year.
Fight Club has returned to the zeitgeist, and logically so – many of the subjects it touches upon, and the predictions it made about the Western world’s decay, have become all too real. Chaos between citizens and the people who pledged to serve and protect them reigns in the streets, the income gap is widening moment by moment and corporations are merging at a speed rivalled only by cell fusion. Given these variables, it makes sense that we would once again embrace Fincher and Palahniuk's nihilistic fairy tale. The trouble with doing so, however, is that we are embracing something just as offensive as what it is critiquing.
It has been a solid ten years since I have been in a dorm room or visited a Hot Topic. As such, I have lived a life sans the ubiquitous Fight Club posters that litter those landscapes. I had more or less forgotten the film’s existence. Its recent resurgence in popularity, however, made me want to see if the movie I loved so much as a teen held up, or if my teen self was wholly full of shit.
Upon re-watching the film, I came to the conclusion that yes, my teen self was full of shit, because all teens are full of shit. Full-of-shittedness is just as unique to the teen experience as acne, struggles with sexuality, and the idea that anarchy could be a viable solution to society’s problems.
I illegally downloaded it, because that’s what Tyler Durden would have wanted me to do. “Rage, rage,” I could hear his voice imploring me, “against the existence of the machine.” After pouring myself a stiff drink and opening a fresh pack of cigarettes (again, as Durden would have wanted me to do), I set to judging.
The film’s main credits run over an oh-so-1990s, trippy, cyberpunk travel through the brain’s synapses while nondescript, intensely inorganic digital music blares. The imagery is as outdated as the film's overarching idea that society can somehow be saved from itself. It resembles a video game, which makes sense because it’s designed to appeal to those who, when not thinking about how fucked civilization and capitalism are, play video games they spent $70 on. Post-credits, it opens with a gun in the lead character’s mouth. Extreme, right? Can you handle this level of intensity, sheeple?
Our insomniac narrator is the living embodiment of the modern world’s anomie, adrift and alone in a sea of Starbucks and prefab furniture. Grasping for meaning, he attends testicular cancer-support groups—the men he meets there are not men, because they are capable of tears, hugs, and self-pity. Bob, a member of the group has tits, hence his name—said tits further emasculate him. How little of a man is he? He has tits. End of discussion.
Once our narrator embraces his emasculating surroundings, and Bob’s tits, he is allowed entrance into the warm escapism of slumber. Until, that is, she arrives. And naturally, “She. Ruined. Everything.” How crazy is she? She smokes in cancer support groups! She walks into traffic! Steals other people’s property! Robs our man of his ability to sleep! She is the definition of a femme fatale; her existence as the only female force in a film completely devoid of other examples of the fairer sex cannot be overstated.
Your classic Zelda Fitzgerald–esque mess, she is a void that Tyler Durden fucks in order to warn the narrator of her soul-sucking potential. He fucks her violently, the fucking equivalent of the club she is denied entry of based on her gender and inherent untrustworthiness. Durden informs the narrator that, were he to talk about him to her, the epic bromance the two men share would be over. He would be cast away from the Eden that is non-homosexually sitting in the same bathroom as a bathing Durden. “If only I had wasted a couple of minutes and gone to see Marla Singer die,” the narrator laments, “none of this would have happened.”
“We’re a generation of men raised by women,” Durden says, lying, again, in a totally non-gay way, in a bathtub directly next to the narrator’s tortured psyche. For men raised by women, it seems they sure as hell don’t seem to need them. Funny, that. “Our fathers are models for God,” Durden proselytizes. “If our fathers bailed, what does that tell us about God?” The answer to that question is that God is a man, apparently, and that women could never be our redeemers.
“I felt sorry for guys packed into gyms, trying to look like what Calvin Klein or Tommy Hilfiger said they should,” the narrator cries. “Is that what a man looks like?” Durden spits in response to the Gucci ad they’re both staring at. “Self-improvement is masturbation,” he declares. “Now, self destruction...” The film then cuts to a scene of two shirtless, classically muscular men, with the tanned muscle and sinew facsimiles of the guys in the Gucci ad, beating the shit out of each other.
The brutality they exercise on one another is borderline pornographic. Society has never told men that in order to be real men, they must not fight, nor express their animalistic instincts. It is, rather, the opposite. War Machine may currently be public enemy number one, but the fact remains that MMA is one of the most popular sports in the modern age. Violence is in vogue. So what the fuck are these guys rebelling against so emphatically?
One scene brings to mind a modern version of Allen Ginsberg’s "Howl.” The narrator speaks about how he had seen the greatest minds of his generation pump gas, wear white collars, and work jobs they hate to buy shit they don’t need. “Our great war’s a spiritual war,” he says. “Our great depression [dramatic pause] is our lives.” He, and the demographic he has been created to speak for, was raised to believe in inevitable greatness yet has thus far found the achievement thereof impossible. And guess what? They’re “very, very pissed off” because of it. It’s the same argument “nice guys” make for not getting pussy—I was promised this, I deserve this, so why aren’t I getting this? they ask into the void.
Fight Club, I realized upon viewing this scene, is the Reddit of movies.
Palahniuk wrote Fight Club as satire, as an examination of the horrors that lie within the juvenile male id. At the end of the book and film, the narrator is shown standing before the destruction said id created, regretting what it has done. Which is all well and good, but that isn’t the message the average audience, the average red-pill-popping Redditor, takes away. These dorm-room-poster owners are, instead, completely entranced by the intense violence and misogyny that transpired in the two hours before the end scene.
Some people just want to watch the world burn. They don’t care about the fact that they’re not the only entity in said burning world. Nihilism is, inherently, narcissistic. To the narrator’s credit, he ultimately does not want this. He wants no part in Durden’s salt-the-earth mentality. Most fans of the film, however, feel as though he is being irrational, totally pussing out, in the film’s end scene. If most people don’t understand the satire, is it still satire? Or is it just horrific, socially acceptable (and marketable) brutality with a trite message tacked on for the critics?
This is Jane’s disgruntled opinion.
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