Imagine a film where, in the final shot of the last scene, a man stands with his back to the audience. Although he is wounded, he takes the time to look over the remains of an empire he has conquered through the power of his will alone. He commands an army of men who would give their lives for him. He is holding hands with the only girl he has ever loved; she loves him back.
Just before the film fades-out a gigantic penis fills the screen.
Now tell me that Fight Club is feminist drama.
I rest my case.
No, wait. Back up. Let me start again
Men are failing at school, work, and families. In theory because the modern knowledge and skill-orientated world is largely testosterone-intolerant…While man's strength and aggression were useful in establishing the modern world, they're an impediment to its smooth day-to-day operation, a task better suited to the instincts of females.1
The above is a description of society that appears in Chuck Palahniuk’s biography in the DVD special edition of Fight Club. It describes one sex failing to find a useful place within a society. It describes what most men are coming to terms with; that they are the new second-class citizens of the west.
Regardless of whether you consider this to be true or not, Fight Club has come from a mind that believes that men are going through a crisis of identity as society changes to become more feminine. Fight Club is about a man’s struggle against emasculation more than any other theme.
My contention is this:
Fight Club is an archetype of Masculist cinema.
This should be one of the easiest arguments to make ever. Read on if you want to see how quickly I can make a tit of myself and say something sexist.
“make a tit of myself.”
Home effing run.
I said in the introduction to this piece, that it doesn’t matter if you believe that society is feminised or not. Personally I do, however Fight Club does not take that chance. The writers have included hints, particularly at the start of the movie, that the society the characters live in has been feminised.
Just to run through it quickly: A male character is growing breasts (literally the addition of a female symbol to a man); mail order catalogues have been fetishized into pornography; a duvet is ‘comfort’, not simply a blanket and Martha Stewart is the figurehead for society. Equally they have also kept the power of men in society from the gaze of the audience, no men at the start of the film are powerful or satisfied. In this way the writers have cleverly attached the concept of femininity to society. This will allow the contrasting dichotomy to be established and exploited later in the film: the idea that being anti-society is masculine.
I think it will be useful to explain the differences between the two organisations in Fight Club and define them further in terms of why they are important to the development of the masculist nature of the film. Or to put it more simply: Why is it believable that some men would find Fight Club and Project Mayhem satisfying?
Afterwards, we all felt saved.
Fight Club is a loosely formed organisation based around rejection. Its members push feminised society away. The people who join it are mostly from ‘buttoned down’ jobs where political correctness is the order of the day and there is no advantage in being aggressive. Fight Club is filled with people who want to “lose the tie”.
Nobody seems more into Fight Club than Bob. His wholehearted transformation from a pathetic blubbery mass to a roaring large-breasted masculine figure is one of the most appealing of the many character changes of the film. In the mind of an audience member Bob’s ability to reclaim his masculinity despite looking like a woman inspires us. Bob shows us that the traditional way men deal with their problems (get over it, pull yourself together and move on) still works.
Fight Club is portrayed as almost completely benign. I suspect that it might even be legal so long as no-one presses assault charges. Even the homework assignments are fun. The idea of going into a zoo to shave monkeys cracks me up every time. In short, Fight Club is an almost totally positive influence on every character’s life.
Like a Space Monkey, ready to sacrifice himself for the greater good.
Project Mayhem however is a highly-structured, sacrifice based organization. The day to day work involved in Project Mayhem is no different to that in an average menial job. They are sacrificing the freedom they found in Fight Club, risking imprisonment and death because they believe in their unarticulated aim. I believe that this aim is to make a society with masculinity at its centre:
“In the world I see - you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You'll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You'll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you'll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway.
Tyler’s dream for the future of America is one with no protection from the police or army, because there is no military or police force. People would need to gather around strong characters and fighters for survival. This truly anarchistic vision simultaneously encourages structurelessness and nostalgia for a former time, one that was male dominated.
This is the vision that Tyler is working towards, and in the best traditions of men since history began the Space Monkeys will sacrifice anything to achieve it. In a way Tyler’s dream becomes a new patriotism, something men can protect, rally around, and die for. It has traditional masculinity written all over it.
I hope you can see that although they are closely linked, the spirit of the two organisations is totally different. I am far more attracted to Fight Club than Project Mayhem. Critical studies of Fight Club often conflate these two different organisations. This makes involvement in masculism seem more extreme and inaccessible than it really is.
If there is a warning about conformity in this movie, as is claimed by the makers of Fight Club, Project Mayhem is where it comes from. Edward Norton, Chuck Palahniuk, David Fincher as individuals find the idea of Project Mayhem horrifying. But that doesn’t mean the audience will agree with them. The film doesn’t give any real condemnation of Project Mayhem as a lifestyle choice.
We're a generation of men raised by women.
The explication of the main characters adds the next level of masculist interpretation. Let us start with the two most fucked-up characters in the film. Jack and Marla.
Marla is a masculine Woman. She has, like many post-feminist women, fallen into stereotypically masculine habits. She is sexually voracious; aggressive (but not violent); she steals; she has little empathy for others; she smokes; she tries to commit suicide she is lonely and alone. Feminism allowed women to act like men, and now here she is.
Jack is the emasculated man. He has had his will crushed entirely by society. He works in a depressingly immoral, menial and emotionally numbing job, but never complains, he spends his free time shopping, he is incredibly house proud; he drinks but doesn’t smoke; he is a hypochondriac; he is lonely and alone. Women said that they wanted a modern man, and now here he is.
Then Fight Club happens. Jack is no-longer lonely, he has beliefs he has power, he can sculpt his body in the fire of combat, he has discovered his own therapy.
You fuck me, then snub me. You love me, you hate me... You're Dr Jekyll and Mr Jackass.
Jack’s reaction to Fight Club isn’t surprising, Marla’s reaction to Jack and Tyler however…well… isn’t all that surprising either.
I don’t want to talk about the relationship in terms of the subconscious so I will phrase it in a way everyone can understand, Marla and Jack hate in each other what they hate in themselves. Edward Norton describes the relationship like this: "She’s too much like him, he sees, he sees himself reflected in her too much2". The movie shows the transition from their initial antagonistic relationship through to the affection and love they have for each other at the end. Both the love and the hate are based around the similarities they share.
It is Tyler who restores Marla’s femininity. Tyler knows how to treat women correctly and Jack doesn’t. When Marla is around Tyler she is affectionate, subservient and childlike but above all she is happy. When she is around Jack she is confused, aggressive, cold and above all unhappy. In the mind of a male viewer this could not have a clearer message: "Be like Tyler and you will get all the women you want."
I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need
Lets finally introduce the main attraction: The beautiful, sexy, tanned, six-packed, iconic, Brad Pit:
And how gay Tyler Durden is in this movie.
Don’t worry, I only did that for dramatic effect.
I do however have a serious point to make. Just as women have suffered from female on female sexism, Heterosexual men force each other to conform to certain stereotypes without any encouragement from the opposite sex as well. One example of this encouraged behaviour is being rampantly anti-homosexual.
Although Jack and Tyler never have sex, their brotherly love for each other is enough to cause misunderstandings. This is quite depressing in itself. It implies that some critics find it more realistic for two men to be gay than to be close friends.
Let me briefly describe the salient aspects of an ancient culture that could have helped inspire Fight Club.: The Spartans. The Spartan male youth was separated from, what was for its time, a feminised society at an early age. He was usually given to an older Spartan who would train him for combat and use him for sexual gratification.3.
I hope I don’t need to tell you how hardcore the Spartan phalanx was.
My point is this: So what if Tyler and Jack were gay? They’re still masculine, they’re still men. It wouldn’t have mattered if Fight Club had turned into a massive gay sex orgy half way through, it would still be masculist cinema. You can be gay and masculine at the same time. Furthermore, you will not hear a single utterance of a homosexually derogatory swearword in the script. It would have been easy for the writers to establish a masculine tone by being anti-homosexual, this film is a product of forward thinking masculism.
However with apologies to my homosexual brethren I must reassert that Fight Club is not gay.
I fuck like you want to fuck I fight like you want to fight.
Back to Tyler Durden.
Tyler is our hero. Every other character revolves around him, he is in total control of everything, he literally has worshipers and disciples. Throughout the whole film he never loses. In comparison to Jack and Marla, Tyler has his life in order.
He might be the most glorious characterisation of masculinity ever to be put on screen. He beats Bond, Maximus and Rambo hands down in this author’s opinion.
Slowly but surely you are becoming Tyler Durden.
The final scenes of Fight Club are about the reunification of Tyler into Jack. Tyler and Jack become one personality at the pull of a trigger. Some people think that Tyler dies at the end of Fight Club but the reactions of the other characters imply that this isn’t true. The Space Monkeys, who for the whole film could tell the difference between Tyler and Jack, now obey Jack’s commands. Even Marla, who has every reason to be angry with him, takes care of Jack instead.
To realise why this happens we must examine the reason why Tyler exists.
I didn’t create some loser to feel good about myself. Take some responsibility.
Tyler’s purpose, his motivation for everything he does, is tied into helping people become greater than they are. He helps Raymond K Hessle follow his dream to become a Vetinarian. By inventing Fight Club he becomes the therapist-messiah to hundreds of disenfranchised men. Through Project Mayhem he hopes to cure society as a whole.
But above all he is trying to help Jack. Jack created Tyler as a mould to grow into. He is a tool, to help Jack become an effective human being. Blowing up his condo, Fight Club, Project Mayhem, the lye scar, the car crash, they were all carefully planned attempts to turn Jack into Tyler.
Using Marla to prompt Jack into action was the one that finally worked. Marla arriving just in time, the fight in the basement, the gun, all of that could have been prevented if Tyler wanted to retain the status quo. He could have just ordered the Space Monkeys to lock him in a room. It was an innocent woman being threatened that moves Jack to overcome his fear of death, and finally open his eyes.
Therefore when Jack proves that he doesn’t need Tyler anymore it is a victory for both of them. Tyler can only disappear if Jack becomes just like him. Jack becomes our new hero in the space of a scene, but he is the same hero we were worshiping a second ago. Outwardly there is no longer any genuine difference between what Tyler was and what Jack has become.
Tyler’s power lives on in Jack, and we love him for it. Our narrator and our protagonist become one just before the moment of their ultimate victory. We have enough time to empathise with them fully and admire them as a single personality before the buildings explode.
Now that’s one hell of a climax.
I think this is about where we came in.
In summation: this node has tried to show that as well as being a masculine film, Fight Club is a showcase for modern masculist principles, and shows them in a positive light.
Fight Club and Project Mayhem are very specific and stylised examples of possible approaches a masculist might use to improve his life. These examples are presented as having a positive effect.
Fight Club shows how both men and women can be adversely effected by a feminised society. Through Bob, Marla and Jack we are shown that masculism can be used as an antidote to this situation.
Finally Fight Club gives us a masculist icon, in both Tyler before the recombination, and in Jack afterwards.
I still can’t think of anything
In conclusion, Fight Club is a terrifying film. It does promote violence. It does promote masculinity. It is anti-society. For some people this is about as scary as it gets.
That’s why there have been attempts to subvert its meaning using unsuitable and weak criticism. The feminist and homosexual interpretations hope to alienate the male fan base. Condemnation through claims of extreme-sexism, and neo-fascism are designed to make people feel guilty for seeing it. The post-modern critical body has tried to corrode the message of Fight Club to irrelevancy by claiming that it is intended to be taken ironically.
The fact that critics have slammed this film because of their own fear, tells us how impressively powerful this film is. Deep down they know that the literal, and the most likely interpretation of Fight Club is the masculist one. Fight Club scares them so much that they have tried to twist and weaken its message.
I’m glad it didn’t work.
1Masculinity in crisis, (Author undisclosed) The Economist Nov 4th 1999,
2From the commentary on the DVD Special Edition. Scene: Outside Jack’s apartment building, as he phones Tyler for the first time.
3 Article on Spartan homosexuality
A message to nocodeforparanoia: The above is in no way a dismissal of your essay. I enjoyed your essay and I found it thought provoking. It is a much better essay that mine. I realise that you were writing a reaction paper and so your node is based around another’s views which you may or may not agree with. I realise that you have covered yourself from this type of response in the line "Fight Club, a seemingly (and actually) masculine movie". If it’s any consolation I held off posting this node for about a year due to these concerns.
I have tried to write this so that it would stand on its own; I can make no apologies for its Fight Club content.
This is now being used as an example of non-conformist essay writing by my friend who teaches English in India!