The Middle Children of History

I knew that I shouldn’t have gone over to Andy’s blog when I needed to do some work, but the Fight Club conversation is irresistible. I’ve written about Fight Club in the past (still waiting for that article to appear in print), so I’ll try to keep this brief.

If my chronology is correct, Amanda from Pandagon started this thread by commenting in passing that Fight Club’s critique of consumer culture still relied deeply upon an identification between cosumer culture and feminization: thus Tyler and Jack’s struggle against conformity is essentially a struggle against emasculation. Matt then argues that Fight Club is essentially a radically anti-individualist work, pointing to Tyler’s platitudes that “self-improvement is masturbation” (after looking at an impossibly chiseled male model in Calvin Klein ad) and during the Project Mayhem training sequences, “You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake.” Finally, Peter disputes Matt’s interpretation, arguing that Fight Club is actually radically individualsitic, with its “brutal satire of progressive groupthink” and its “call to take responsibility and not blame outside influences.”

I’m tempted to argue that all three are correct, if only because Fight Club’s politics are in fact remarkably incoherent, which is generally the case with most popular culture texts, but as my entry on Fight Club and masculinity points out, the film very clearly associates cosumer culture with femininity (“the Ikea nesting impulse,” Jack’s particpation in a testicular cancer group, the anti-Martha Stewart remarks) and implies that the former is something to be rejected. Also worth noting, Tyler sells expensive soap to women made out of human fat removed presumably from owmen during liposuction surgery. I think it’s also possible to read Tyler’s “self-improvement” comment in response to the Calvin Klein model in terms of male panic. Of course this is complicated somewhat by the distancing imposed by Jack’s narration, and we’re never quite sure how Jack perceives Tyler’s actions.

This distancing is why I think the film leaves open the possibility for both radically individualistic and anti-individualistic readings. Tyler and Jack’s rejection of consumer culture may very well be done in order for Jack to regain his “true” identity (note the fake names he gives at support groups, his comment about airport time: “If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?”). Thus, one reading of the film seems to point towards Jack’s move towards embracing his identity and, in a sens, taking responsibility for his actions. However, Tyler’s anti-individualistic comments also have affective appeal. Tyler Durden, especially as he is embodied by Brad Pitt, is nothing if not seductive. His dialogue, including the lines mentioned by Matt, are immensely quotable.

I think this ambivalence also works when it comes to the representtaion of the support groups. Of course they are the object of satire, but in the novel, especially, the support groups actually provide a va;uable form of community ffor Jack and Marla, something that is downplayed in the film. And many of the film’s most exciting scenes depict actions not unlike the anti-WTO (note: not anti-globalization) protests in Seattle, which took place within weeks of the film’s release. I didn’t intend to write such a long entry, but it’s interesting to see that the film still provokes such vastly different interpretations.

1 Comment »

  1. spiralshaman Said,

    December 14, 2006 @ 9:49 pm

    great piece, join the middle children of history tribe

    http://tribes.tribe.net/middlechildren

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