David Fincher's Fight Club was released during a time when the world economy and international politics was improving drastically. While 1994 saw the end of the South African apartheid era, the Middle East and Russia brought their respective tyrannical rule to a close. Meanwhile, America was showcasing a rise in employment and was boasting a cinematic renaissance with movies like Bottle Rocket, Pulp Fiction and Dazed and Confused.
So, why did Fincher's adaptation of Chuck Palahnuik's novel ended up being a critical and financial flop during such successful times? Well, the most blatant answer would be because the movie's prediction of modern culture was so realistic that viewers found it unacceptable. As Fight Club's underlying themes and David Fincher's satirical take on society pointed out our hypocrisies, critics and the general audience felt it was a dampener on the euphoric atmosphere of the '90s. As our ego didn't allow us to heed to Palahnuik and Fincher's warnings, there are some interesting parallels between modern society and the Narrator's (Edward Norton) life.
Increase In Materialism And Consumerism
Throughout Fight Club, we come to know that the Narrator had gone through a traditional upbringing. He went to school, graduated from college and then joined a job that he hates but pays good money. Although this didn't cause any major problems, the Narrator's stereotypical childhood created a vague personality that led to his inability to define himself as a man, thereby inaugurating his search for satisfaction via purchase of fancy items.
"Like so many others, I had become a slave to the Ikea nesting instinct. If I saw anything clever like a little coffee table in the shape of a yin-yang, I had to have it. The Klipsk personal office unit. The Hovetrekke home exerbike. Or the Ohamshab sofa with the Strinne green stripe pattern. Even the Ryslampa wire lamps of environmentally-friendly unbleached paper. I'd flip through catalogues and wonder 'What kind of dining set defines me as a person?'"
This idea of being a part of a social structure by buying sophisticated items is formed by corporate companies, and is mirrored by the modern generation. Mobile companies annually launch models that are a carbon-copy of their previous versions and even though people are aware of that, a hollow impression of ourselves cause us to accept the companies' definition of "cool". Considering how we are consuming 20% more than the entire planet can generate, it's evident that we have replicated this "buy it and you'll be complete" procedure on a macro level.
But corporate giants aren't entirely to blame, as a peek into the lives of celebrities and access to easy money has compelled us to believe that that is perfection. However, instead of persevering to reach that position through manual labor and honing our skills (much like the Narrator opting for a sleeping pill rather than exercising) we gravitate towards purchasing expensive items that simulate a higher lifestyle. And once this addiction is validated by friends and followers on social media, we continue this cyclical narcissistic process, despite having the knowledge of simpler ways to exist.
Fight Club And Tyler Durden Personify Our Duality On Social Media
While most will consider the emergence of Durden to be the moment where the Narrator visibly breaks into two identities, it actually happens when the Narrator joins a group therapy session for men with testicular cancer. During this exercise, he apparently learns to let go of himself by empathizing with Bob and accepting his physical self. Nevertheless, this doesn't last long as it turns into an addiction and he begins to partake in similar sessions under fake identities, thereby taking his first evident step towards a dual identity.
This kind of faux sympathy can be seen on social media everyday, and the term for it is now 'slacktivism'. It's a process where people log-in to social media websites to show their support for a trending cause by either sharing, tweeting or signing a petition about it. Additionally, we're able to express a version of our emotions through emojis, all while sitting at the comfort of our homes. As these acts are further fueled by likes and shares, we experience the feeling of doing something meaningful and socially laudable without putting any substantial effort into it.
There is no denying that slactivism has a positive side, but the lack of motivation behind a person's involvement in it can lead to a complete mental breakdown once it's pointed out. Although the Narrator's final result is the ultra-macho Tyler Durden and our's is just an online alias to wage war in various comment sections, the reason behind both of these instances is identical: it relieves us from the feeling of shame.
"You were looking for a way to change your life. You could not do this on your own. All the ways you wish you could be, that's me. I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck. I am smart, capable and, most importantly, I'm free in all the ways that you're not."
Once the transition is complete, it's generally followed by joining a group that harbors the same ideals. While Fight Club justifies self-destruction as a sign of masculinity, these internet-based factions hail their acts of cyber-bullying as an operation to protect their principles. Most commonly seen in comic book related groups, this form of self-preservation has reached such heinous heights that people who once identified themselves as a geek or a nerd, are choosing to alienate themselves from these fandoms.
Modern Protest Groups And Project Mayhem Are Ideologically Similar
When Tyler Durden arrives, the audience is made to believe that he is the messiah who'll liberate everyone from the shackles of capitalism. In reality, he's quite the contrary. As the Narrator's world view is extremely shallow, despite being his antithesis, Tyler has no clear goal. Although it's true that the Narrator nurtures anti-establishment sentiments due to his traditional lifestyle, it's that very lifestyle that robs him of the knowledge to come up with a sustainable solution that'll reconstruct the societal structure.
For starting Project Mayhem, Tyler states that corporate giants are forcing an entire generation to run after money and then waste it by buying unnecessary things. While this highlights the system's illusion of choice, Tyler doesn't give a positive spin on it by motivating everyone to pursue their individual goals, like he does with Raymond. Instead, he hammers everyone with his perception of masculinity by substituting their need to buy with the need to fight a spiritual war.
This kind of behavior has been exhibited by universities who barred controversial figures like Ann Coulter and Bill Maher from speaking at their events. Most of these colleges are popular for being open-minded and liberal, but have fought back with bans instead of inviting speakers with opposing views to join a public debate. While Tyler inadvertently becomes an anarchist to fight corporate suppression, by preventing free speech, modern liberalism is unconsciously becoming the very thing they should be against: conservatism.
Project Mayhem also takes part in vandalism, destroying symbols of corporatism and ultimately blowing up headquarters of credit card companies. Although Tyler thinks that this will hurt the rich and establish equality by bringing back the debt record to zero, his ignorance about offsite backups and economical collapse actually makes his act of terrorism affect the general public more than the corporations he's fighting against.
This process is mirrored by the far-left group Antifa, that believes in uprooting authoritarianism by smashing restaurants and limousines. Due to their idea of how society functions, their actions end up harassing ordinary citizens and having no lasting effect on the upper tier of the country. It also shows how these symbols of liberalism sets out to improve society (like Tyler's Fight Club) and ends up mimicking their oppressors due to the lack of a visionary leader.
By following the stories of the Narrator and Tyler Durden, Fincher manages to observe the negative side of masculinity, the oppression by the upper class and how a flawed revolutionary can lead to flawed revolution. However, it also points out the importance of choice and how compassion can help us realize and accept our reality. Although it took a gun-shot and Marla Singer to bring the Narrator out of his duality, mere mortals like us can learn it by deconstructing Fight Club.
What are your thoughts about Fight Club? Let me know in the comments.