This week the news leaked out that Chuck Palahniuk is working on a sequel to his 1990s novel Fight Club, which will be published as a series of 10 comic books in May 2015. So if Chuck can break the rule that “you do not talk about Fight Club” then so can we. Here’s our list of eight things that the original Fight Club taught us about masculinity.
- Men don’t talk about masculinity
Yes you guessed it….the first rule of Masculinity is: Men do not talk about Masculinity. The second rule of Masculinity is: Men do not talk about Masculinity. Well maybe most men don’t and maybe that’s changing, so let’s break a few rules and talk some more about Masculinity……..
- Masculinity still doesn’t cry
As a man, Edward Norton’s insomnia-suffering character has no acceptable outlet for his emotional despair. His doctor advises him to visit a support group to see what real suffering looks like. Norton becomes a support group junkie, addicted to the type of emotional release that is socially permissible for women, but only available to men when they have a serious problems like a terminal illness. This catharsis enables him to sleep again until his cover is blown by Marla (Helena Bonham Carter). Without this emotional release he finds himself trapped, once again, inside a notion of masculinity that denies him true expression and his insomnia returns.
- Masculinity thinks like Brad Pitt but feels like Edward Norton
Fight Club’s director, David Fincher said: “We’re designed to be hunters and we’re in a society of shopping. There’s nothing to kill anymore, there’s nothing to fight, nothing to overcome, nothing to explore. In that societal emasculation this everyman is created.” The average modern man may not feel like a hero, but somewhere in the collective psyche we still expect masculinity to show up looking more like Brad than Ed.
- Masculinity is a thing that is not defined by things
One of the key turning points in Fight Club is when Edward Norton’s character discovers his home and all his possessions have been blown up. Norton is a fairly typical nineties “new man” whose masculinity is defined by the things which are external to him—his job, clothes, car, home, possessions, sex life (or lack of). Only when he loses those external trappings—and lets go of his attachment to these thing—does he begin to access and experience the unexpressed masculinity that resides within him.
- Masculinity is competitive
The film’s eponymous Fight Club is a raw and brutal expression of the innate, masculine drive to fight and win. According to Tom Fordy, who recenty broke the first rule of Fight Club by talking about it at Telegraph Men: “men have natural instincts that are sexual, competitive and aggressive—power instincts that are impossible to tame”. In a review of the film, Eivind Figenschau Skjellum of the website Masculinity Movies said: “for many men, fighting a friend can be an expression of love, a challenge for them to tap deeper into their power. This is something many women will never understand. When we men engage in such fighting, we are not being violent as much as we are challenging each other to be all we can be.”
- Masculinity is in crisis
Fight Club has come to symbolize the concept of a “crisis of masculinity ” that has left men emasculated. Norton’s character experiences this emasculation—even his imaginary “power animal” in the film is not a wolf, a lion or a bear, but a penguin! The most overt example of this masculinity crisis is Meatloaf’s bodybuilding character, Bob Paulson, with his man boobs and lack of testicles, he is the film’s embodiment of a man who has literally lost his physical masculinity. According to the cultural historian, Robert von Dassanowsky, “Bob has become the extreme metaphor for middle-class, male-led panic in the postmodern era”.
- Masculinity might not be the problem (or the solution)
According to the cultural critics Henry Giroux and Imre Szeman, Fight Club presents the crisis of capitalism as a crisis of masculinity, with Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) representing the “redemption of masculinity repackaged as the promise of violence in the interests of social and political anarchy…..Fight Club’s vision of liberation and politics,” they argue “relies on gendered and sexist hierarchies that flow directly from the consumer culture it claims to be criticizing”.
One of Giroux and Szeman’s key criticisms of Fight Club is that it defends “authoritarian masculinity” and ignores how neoliberal capitalism dominates and exploits society. “Fight Club has nothing substantive to say about the structural violence of unemployment, job insecurity, cuts in public spending, and the destruction of institutions capable of defending social provisions and the public good,” they say.
8. Masculinity is not a special snowflake
Towards the end of the film, Tyler Durden tells his Fight Club army: “You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake”. According to Eivind Figenschau Skjellum of Masculinity Movies:
“The illusion that we are special is a huge problem in modern, narcissistic society, and keeps us men apart from our true potential. For when we are “special”, we live for recognition. Only when we embrace that we are just another human being is the humility in place to make us truly special. Only when we embrace that we are not special are we ready for true masculine power, true masculine spirituality”.
Tyler Durden would probably not approve of such talk of “masculine spirituality” as one of his famous lines in the film is: “self-improvement is masturbation”! And of course all men know that you don’t talk about Fight Club, you don’t talk about masculinity and you certainly don’t talk about “self-improvement”.
Tell us what you think. Are you a fan of the film Fight Club and what do you think it has to say about masculinity, manhood and men’s experiences of the modern world?
—Photo Credit: Dark Horse Comics Promotional Image
Article by Glen Poole author of the book Equality For Men