Paper I wrote for my Philosophy class of Self and Identity. They'll be a proper blog update soon... prolly before the weekend.
Struggling to find oneself in a pervasive culture of consumerism as seen through the lens of the film Fight Club
IN ANY GIVEN generation, in any given time period in human history, a study of the self, of who we are, of what we are, of how we define ourselves, of how our culture defines us, is always an interesting and fundamentally important study and will reveal something unique about ourselves. We may never get to the definitive truth, to concrete answers, but nevertheless, a deeper understanding that stimulates in us different perspectives of who we are. The current time in history is particularly interesting to look at in my generation with so many historically unprecedented factors influencing people. The bombardment of advertising, chiefly carried out by television, perpetuating a consumeristic Mr. Hyde mentality of gorging ourselves on stuff we’re told we want. The film Fight Club based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk offers a rather dire and sad way of looking at our lives; but one with some truth to it. How we buy into the corporate, consumer, slave to advertising culture of acquiring materialistic possessions that ultimately define who we are and keep us from truly living.
Tyler Durden: “An entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives.”
Jack, though a 30 year old adult, struggles to come of age in a world of Ikea furniture and the meaningless, monotonous Dilbertesque routine of his white collar office job that leaves him feeling alone and isolated by a world that seems to have betrayed him. As a result, he suffers from insomnia and goes to support groups for people with life threatening illnesses that he has no business going to where he becomes addicted to unleashing his tears into various different people from different support groups such as a big boobed man named Bob. In a sort of post adolescence initiation into a quasi eastern form of enlightenment, he boldly breaks away from the half-sleep waking purgatory existence that is his life defined by material attachment. He does so with the help of his alter-ego, the counter-side of his psyche to his shadow self, a character that is actually a fabrication of his own mind: Tyler Durden, who is confident, capable, smart, good looking and already free from the prison of a society of people hypnotized by advertising, who identify themselves with brand names, and approaches life with the kind of fearless verve Jack wishes he possessed.
Before Jack meets Tyler, while he is still support group hopping, he meets a girl at one of the support groups doing the same thing he is because, like Jack, she has hit bottom. But he is reticent to open up to her despite what they share in common. He does manage to exchange phone numbers with her, though, but when she calls him he avoids talking to her, afraid to show her he is attracted to her. He deals with his lonely, isolated self by nurturing his “nesting instinct”: filling his house with Ikea furniture and the other materialistic junk he buys and identifies himself with. If he can satisfy his perfect ideal of his apartment, then he will be happy and satisfied, so he thinks. While I can relate to this a little, I was a bit surprised to learn to what extent some people actually do.
Tyler begins to show Jack how his life is holding him back. Jack comes home from a business trip one day to see his apartment has been bombed. “It wasn’t just a bunch of stuff that got destroyed. It was me!” he tells Tyler. Tyler tells Jack: “The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything.” Jack slowly starts to switch how he identifies himself from the meaningless, lifeless connection he has to his material possessions that represents the epitome of the western mentality to liberating himself by a more eastern “zen” mentality of letting go of the wheel that is driving his life down a narrow, dead end road… and to approach life in a more… non-linear way. When Jack literally lets go of the steering wheel of the car and crashes, Tyler exalts: “we just had a near life experience, man!” Jack has to resort to letting go completely in order to sort of shock himself to waking life. The film and book are sort of symptomatic of a culture that is starving for something to meaningful to identify itself with—a way to break free from the cultural enslavement, from the limiting and limited materialistic meaning of their lives. Instead of leading spiritually fulfilling lives with meaningful human connections, the mass consumerism machine led by the constant bombardment of messages in the form of television and magazine ads blindsights us into thinking our happiness and fulfillment is to be found in the things we’re told to want, and the things we’re told to identify ourselves with; that these things will make us happy and complete. Tyler tells Jack: “What concerns me are celebrity magazines, television with five hundred cannels and a designer name on my underwear.” These are not the things that should be defining how an entire generation shapes its view on who and how to be and live. These are not the things that should be shaping the future leaders of tomorrow who will only continue to perpetuate this spiritually bankrupt materialistic mentality.
I went into a Myspace group dedicated to the film and book of Fight Club to see what others thought about the film. Most of the members are teenagers and clearly can identify with the film’s premise. People with name’s like “Your Broken God”, “Zen Master” and “In Tyler We Trust.” While one person was willing to share their constructive insight into the film, most people’s form of communication is to verbally attack others with colorful language. If not attacking someone, judging something in a similar fashion. For example:
This IS the fight club group, do you expect normal people who are just going to be kind and nice to everyone, who will just give out happy opinions? this is life, it ain't about sunshine and rainbows, fight club was a great idea that I personally think is getting more lost every day by assholes like yourself, so quit crying, and why don't you do something with your life, and stop trying to bother people who've been in this group much longer then you have, because honestly, we all like them more then you.
I postulated some topics and questions to see how people who apparently identify with the film and book feel and think about it:
I'm asking fans of the film to give their opinions on what they liked about the film, what about the film (or book, but I haven't read the book) resonates with them. What things about it they identify with. What the author or the film director is trying to say. What do people think about the many notions postulated in the film? Do you agree that losing all hope equates to freedom? why? Do you agree with Tyler that you can't know very much about yourself until you've been in a fight? Has anyone tested this theory? Any thoughts from your own experiences? What do you think of the idea that "it wasn't just my stuff that was destroyed, it was me!"? Jack says this to Tyler shortly after his apartment gets destroyed. Can you relate to this statement?
One fifteen year old girl replied without berating me. I thought her response was rather perceptive and profound. I was surprised that a young girl would have such insightful things to say about being in a fight; reminding me of unconscious stereotypes in my mind like weeds needing to be uprooted.
I do believe that you learn more about yourself after you've been in a fight. It tests how you would react without really thinking about it. I've known people who thought they had everything in life figured out; then they got in a fight and didn't know who they were anymore. Being in a fight unleashes everything, and suddenly when you’re fighting someone you stop fighting them for whatever reason you started, and fight them for everything you haven't fought for in the past. After a while you think “If I kick this person’s ass all of those other problems will be solved.”
"It wasn't just my stuff that was destroyed, it was me!"
I sadly related to this. Earlier in the film at the bar with Tyler, Jack says "I was almost complete." I think that way all the time. I say to myself when I get my own house I'll fix it perfect and everything will be organized and right, and if my house, clothes, etc. is all perfect I will be perfect. I am my material possessions and if that was all destroyed I would be destroyed. I can't help but think that once I'm "complete" that "no matter what happens I'll have that couch problem handled." [Quote from the movie]
Honestly, this movie has made me curious about what I would learn about myself by getting into a fight. My older sister was telling me how in a class she took in school the professor would have the students watch classic pop-culture films such as “Pretty Woman” and ask how these films influence people. My sister then asked me if a film ever made me want to be like the people in the film or do things from the film. I couldn’t think of any examples and at first thought it was silly when she said Pretty Woman had a negative impact on young girls because it gave them the idea that being a prostitute could be an appealing thing in order to be saved by a nice, wealthy man. This sort of ties into a quote from Fight Club: “We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t.” But when I was watching Fight Club I found myself becoming curious about whether there was something to this fight club mentality—if being in a fight might challenge my fears—things I have been avoiding in life might rise up to the surface, and might bring to the surface of my consciousness latent interests and desires that have, in Tyler Durgen’s eyes, been suppressed and dumbed down by a consumer culture. Who knows, maybe it would wake me up to have a “near life experience.”
I’d like to close with a quote that basically sums up the film: “You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis. You're the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.”