Sunday, February 3, 2008

Fight Club

Warning! Spoilers!

Author's note:This was formatted into proper essay like goodness, but copying it over killed the tabs. Sorry.

“You are not your fucking khakis.” This is the six word summary of the idea behind Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club. A controversial book, published in 1996 and later made into a movie in 1999, with a plethora of interpretations. The beauty of the ideas presented in Fight Club is that each idea can be contrived as correct. Some may say that the fighting is just a representation of a battle or inner struggle against society, while others may view it as just a way to simply take out aggression or stress accumulated over the day. If taken directly from the book or movie, however, the message of Fight Club and its spawn, Project Mayhem, is quite clear. The average human is no longer in control of his life when his every desire, goal, and thought is dictated by those with money and power. This is not the way it is supposed to be.
The premise of Fight Club is that the unnamed narrator grew up in modern-American society. The narrator is easy to connect to because he is the every man. His father left when he was young. He was told by the television and movies that he would be rich one day but never has been. He is constantly told that what he owns defines him and tells what kind of a person he is. In the back of the Narrator's mind, though, he has grown to detest the system in which he lives. His sub-conscious forms what Freud called the Id, which is that which a person most desires to be. The Narrator's Id eventually reveals himself to the Narrator in the form of Tyler Durden, who is, in reality, nothing more than an illusion or mirage. Tyler Durden leads the Narrator to form Fight Club and Project Mayhem. The intent and purpose of these groups is to remove from society that which the Narrator/Tyler Durden despise.
The average human is constantly assualted by advertisement. He is told that by buying a product, his life will be complete. Armani, Versace, Docle & Gabana, none of these have any true meaning to him, aside from his past which has taught to desire them because they are the most expensive and sought after names on products. Man is taught to desire what society and big bussiness want him to desire. It is not coincidence that Coca-Cola instead of Pepsi is the label on the cups that Simon, Paula, and Randy drink out of each night America sits down to watch American Idol. The common man is the target of corporations whose only desire is to sell their product to the masses and keep the masses coming back for more.
What do the products of corporations truly result in? Do they make a person warmer than the fur of an animal they have killed? Do they quench the thirst better than the water of a cool mountain stream? Fight Club's simple answer is no. The name of the ideas to gather and posses and consume that modern man has been taught are materialism and consumerism. This is not an instinct from our thousands of years ago. There is no presence of name brands in tribal societies. Admitted, there is such a thing as greed, but greed is often looked down upon as harmful to the whole tribe. The materialism and desire to acquire what is dictated by society as the best and transfers the status of elite to its owner is a lie. A man's life is no different if he owns Versace or Fruit of the Loom. The man must still eat, breathe, and keep warm. The label or maker of his clothing does not affect this in any way.
At one point in movie, Tyler Durden asks the Narrator what a duvet is. The Narrator answers that it is a blanket. Tyler Durden then poses one of the most profound and least asked questions of today. “Why do we need to know what a duvet is? In the hunter gatherer sense of the word?” The answer is that man does not need to know what a duvet is. Tyler Durden poses the idea that instead of knowing what this empty comfort is, man should instead know how to fish. Or how to hunt with a spear. Or how to make a bomb. Instead of knowing the names of hundreds of products that the television tells man he should want, man should instead know the hundreds of ways to survive without the ease and comforts that are so easily provided by Walmart.
A goal is different from a desire in that a desire often manifests itself in physical form, while a goal is a status, position, or accomplishment. A man desires wood, thus his goal is to cut wood. Goals are laid before us much the same way our desires are. There are innumerable instances of people that are told to grow up to become doctors or lawyers or professors. Man is dictated to by society from the time he is young. Through the television, he is decieved that he will grow up to be a rock star or cop who lives a flashy life in Los Angeles, where it is always sunny. There is no effort ever seen in achieving these things. They are just presented to the protagonist. When the man grows up and comes into the real world, he has become lost. The realization that he does not control his life sets in and it becomes accepted. His goal is no longer reasonable and he drifts into a state of apathy.
One of the most outspoken modern nihlists is also one of the people who most often represents the Hollywood goal of money, drugs, and women. This man is, of course, Marilyn Manson. His genre of music is often classified as industrial rock, or more appropriately, glam rock. One of the defining lyrics that emphasizes the glorification that Hollywood puts on its select few is seen in the song Lunchbox, which states, “I wanna grow up. Wanna be, a big rock and roll star.” By buying the clothing, cds, and other merchandise licensed to Manson, many teenagers follow through with just what Manson's music preaches against. The goal of most teenagers is a career of some sort. Often this career is what they are told will get them the most money. What happens when a person reaches his late-twenties and realizes that all his life has been a waste? More often than not, the answer is the person continues wasting his life because he has become too old to change the course.
Why are we supposed to be rich? The goal of being rich is comparable to the desire to own a duvet, in that neither affects who the person actually is. The base of all goals people create is to be special or to be different. By establishing himself as a doctor or lawyer or accountant, a man is able to identify as special from the people that did not choose his profession. Tyler Durden answer to this is a simple one. “You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake.” We are taught in science that each snowflakes is beautiful and unique and different. However, it is impossible that every snowflake is different when the sheer number of snowflakes that fall daily are taken into consideration. Just as it is impossible to have a unique snowflake, it is impossible to be a unique human.
A man's goals and desires are, of course, determined by his thoughts. What are these thoughts determined by? According to the famous behavioral experiment conducted by Pavlov with his group of dogs, thoughts and reaction are controlled by conditioning. The modern American/Western man is conditioned to see thin as sexy and perfect teeth as desireable. He is told to buy Abercrombie and Fitch or Hollister because people that are sexy buy and wear these names. He is told that driving fast in a cool car will get him laid.
Even beyond the consumerist and materialist aspects of of this societal conditioning is how to react to events and how to deal with people and events. Blood and violence are fantastical things. Most people go days, weeks, or months without seeing blood. Fights and agression at school are bad because someone might get hurt. Instead, man is made to talk about how he feels or think how he could view it differently. While thinking is good for problem solving, it is often not the best stress relief on a primal level. If a person has scars or bruises, that person is considered less attractive on the basis of the physical features. Each scar has a story, though, and each story can be wonderful. A scar is lasting reminder of an event in the scarred person's life.
“Self improvement is masturbation. Now self destruction...” This quote, by Tyler Durden, sums up Fight Club's idea of beautiful people. The common man is conditioned to want to look like how Calvin Klein and Armani tells him. In reality, almost no one looks like that. By eliminating the posters and advertisements for these corporations, Project Mayhem shows that man should reject what others tell him to look like and just be what he is. Fighting is a raw, gruesome, dirty thing which gets man closer to himself than he ever could be from sitting in a circle with a group of other men talking about how he feels.
The ideas behind Fight Club were aimed at Generation X. While the line, “We have no great war. No great depression,” is quickly fading into untruth, there is still something to be said in it. The media and Hollywood coverup and distract man from the billions spent on the war in Iraq by covering the pregnancy of Jamie Lynn Spears. The government provides and provides for those who having nothing so that no pain is felt. Instead of making a person actually work or hunt or fish for their food, the government provides for everyone. What happens when the government fails, though? If one day the sun rises on an abandon White House and Congress, what will the reaction of the masses be? Will the common man be able to survive without his satellite television or his Audi or his J.C.Penny suits? Why did he not spend more time looking for what really mattered in life and how to survive on his own rather than being provided what he was told to want?

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