The First Rule of Fight Club is…
Anyone who has spent two minutes on this blog or has spoken to me know that I break the first rule of Fight Club so often. Why? Because this is the most misunderstood book/movie ever.
Yes, I know Chuck Palahniuk himself said, “No two people walk into the same room.” I accept that everyone takes something different away from what they read. The New Yorker has written about how the book has become a bible for the incel movement. Palahniuk addressed it in an interview with The Guardian. Someone even wrote a blog post about how The Proud Boys and Boogaloo Boys ruined Fight Club. All you have to do is google “fight club incels” and Google will provide 182,000 hits. That is pretty telling.
The idea that so many have seen this book as a call to arms to prove masculinity through violence boggles the mind. I have to remind myself that not everyone has the ability to think critically and things were lost on them. It makes me sad this was the take away of so many.
While I was trying to decide on a topic for a final paper for one of my Global Issues in Literature class I discovered Chuck Palahniuk was gay. Somewhere I had missed this. My brain took a moment to work through the revelation that the author of the Most Dude Book Ever™ was in fact a gay man. Fight Club suddenly had a whole new meaning. Yes, it was still commentary about consumerism in America, toxic masculinity, societal expectations of men, rebellion, repression, and mental illness. Everyone always forgets that the main character is suffering from mental illness and this is important. It is also about catathymic crisis, an unexpected explosive outburst of impulsive often destructive behavior understandable only in terms of unconscious motivation. This is something that is characteristic of serial killers. This is what my paper ended up being about. Why? Because I seen so much of the violent actions of my step-father in it being a repressed gay man in the 70’s and 80’s while being diagnosed with mental illness similar to that of the unnamed narrator.
There is a brilliant scene in the movie that was not in the book. I did another project during my undergrad degree on this scene because it is really powerful if one takes the time to really look at it.
Pitt laughing in this scene is so telling. It’s an ironic laugh. He knows he is that standard. He is also playing that standard in the unnamed narrator’s mind. This scene would not have worked if anyone other than Pitt had played Tyler.
The relationship, the ménage à trois, between Marla, Tyler, and the unnamed narrator is problematic at best. Marla is treated how men are told to treat women. Or at least how people like Tommy Orlando and his “men’s self-help book” on how to pick up women, and other books like it, tell men to treat women. Granted, they don’t tell them to render their girlfriends mothers fat into soap, but everything else is pretty spot on.
Fight Club is about cults. What happens when the men in this book/movie don’t live up to expectations? They follow Tyler blindly, Tyler who is an alter ego formed my a mentally ill mind. They act out because Tyler tells them to. They are giving mental illness power of them. Look at Elliot Rodger, the guy that went on a killing spree because he couldn’t get laid. He felt he was entitled. This is the message that men are given in society, if you do certain things you will have money and women. There was mental illness involved. Is this a case of life imitating art or art imitating life? While this case is more contemporary than Fight Club, Palahniuk got the idea from somewhere.
Of course no one knew the unnamed narrator was mentally ill, talking about mental illness in society is still considered taboo. He tried to get help from his doctors and was blown off. In fact, his doctor treated him much how women are treated by doctors. It’s amazing women haven’t acted out in a similar vein.
Fight Club is not violence for violence sake, as many believe. It is not an instruction manual to incels, like they believe. It is a satirical commentary on society, how we built society, and what society expects. This book is so much deeper than people give it credit for, as is all of Palahniuk’s books.