The film Fight Club, which is just about to turn fifteen, has had a lasting influence on pop culture. Brad Pitt as the hipster revolutionary Tyler Durden is arguably the actor's most iconic role, and his-mug-as-Durden has found its way on to any number of internet images over the years. But beyond it's influence on mainstream culture, Fight Club has had an especially lasting impact on the patriot movement, the conspiratorial right and libertarian circles in general. For instance, the popular Austrian School-centric economic news website Zero Hedge is written by a group of editors who collectively use the pseudonym Tyler Durden when posting. What's more, Zero Hedge's name derives from the line "On a long enough timeline the survival rate of everyone drops to zero" uttered by Pitt's Durden inn the film.
This is only scratching the surface of Fight Club's influence on such "grassroots" circles. Fight Club was one of several films released in 1999 (The Matrix, American Beauty, eXistenZ, Eyes Wide Shut, and so forth) that would go on to have an enormous influence on post-9/11 conspiracy culture. In hindsight this is hardly surprising. Fight Club, as well as The Matrix and American Beauty, feature burned out white yuppie protagonists who ultimately engage in one type of rebellion or another against their soulless consumerist existence. No doubt this has became the fantasy of any number of burned out white yuppies who are now convinced the presidency of Barack Obama is the most heinous personification of evil the nation (and possibly human kind) has ever confronted.
And while superficially Tyler Durden's anti-corporate/consumer monologues have a certain appeal in the New Normal, a closer examination of Fight Club reveals a picture deeply steeped in a certain type of revolution and one that would hardly lead to "freedom" as defined by most Americans. As best as Recluse can remember, the Chuck Palahniuk novel upon which the film is based took a dimer view towards the Durden figure and the revolution he attempts to incite. Conversely, director David Fincher depicts Durden as an MTV ready anti-hero bent upon wrecking the yuppie complacency with consumerism all the while maintaining an impeccable tan. Fincher and scribe Jim Uhls even go so far as including more expletive political overtones to Durden's musings so as to add meaning to what is ultimately rebellion seemingly inspired more by boredom than anything else.
Fight Club is effectively the tale of a nameless corporate drone sometimes referred to as "Jack" (played by Edward Norton) who, in order to cope with the meaningless of his existence, develops an alternative personality: Tyler Durden (Pitt). Tyler is everything Jack wishes that he was, and "together" they begin founding a gentleman's clubs in which other emasculated men beat one another to pulp on certain nights of the week. Eventually Jack/Durden becomes enamored with the potential of these fight clubs and effectively turns the organization into a nation wide secret society. Thus Jack/Durden, the prototypical yuppie, possess himself as the leader of the "middle children of history" (who largely consist of waiters, bus boys, clerks, and other minor professions) in a revolt against their corporate overlords. And in the midst of all of this is Helene Bonham Carter as Marla Singer, a kind of stand-in for woman kind who becomes in a bizarre love "triangle" with Jack/Tyler.
|Norton as the Narrator|
"While Fight Club registers a form of resistance to the rampant commodification and alienation of contemporary neoliberal society, it ultimately has little to say about those diverse and related aspects of consumer culture and contemporary capitalism structured in iniquitous power relations, material wealth, or hierarchical social formations. Fight Club largely ignores issues surrounding the break up of labor unions, the slashing of the U.S. workforce, extensive plant closings, downsizing, outsourcing, the elimination of the welfare state, the attack on people of color, and the growing disparities between the rich and the poor. All of these issues get factored out of Fight Club’s analysis of consumerism and capitalist exploitation. Hence, it comes as no surprise that class as a critical category is non-existent in this film. When working class people do appear, they are represented primarily as brown shirts, part of the non-thinking herd looking for an opportunity to release their tensions and repressed masculine rage through forms of terrorist violence and self-abuse. Or they appear as people who willingly take up jobs that are dehumanizing, unskilled, and alienating. There is one particularly revealing scene in Fight Club that brings this message home while simultaneously signaling a crucial element of the film’s politics. At one point in the story, Tyler takes Jack into a convenience store. He pulls out a gun and forces the young Indian clerk to get on his knees. Putting the gun to the clerk’s head, Tyler tells him he is going to die. As a kind of parting gesture, he then asks Raymond, the clerk, what he really wanted to be in life. A vetinarian, Raymond replies, but he had to drop out of school for lack of money. Tyler tells him that if he isn’t on his way to becoming a vetinarian in six weeks he is going to come back and kill him. He then lets Raymond go and tells Jack that tomorrow morning will be the most important day in Raymond’s life because he will have to address what it means to do something about his future. Choice for Tyler appears to be an exclusively individual act, a simple matter of personal will that functions outside of existing relations of power, resources, and social formations. As Homi Bhabha points out, this notion of agency 'suggests that "free choice" is inherent in the individual [and]...is based on an unquestioned "egalitarianism" and a utopian notion of individualism that bears no relation to the history of the marginalized, the minoritized, the oppressed.'
"This privatized version of agency and politics is central to understanding Tyler’s character as emblematic of the very market forces he denounces. For Tyler, success is simply a matter of getting off one’s back and forging ahead; individual initiative and the sheer force of will magically cancels out institutional constraints, and critiques of the gravity of dominant relations of oppression are dismissed as either an act of bad faith or the unacceptable whine of victimization. Tyler hates consumerism but he values a 'Just Do It' ideology appropriated from the marketing strategists of the Nike corporation. It is not surprising that in linking freedom to the dynamics of individual choice, Fight Club offers up a notion of politics in which oppression breeds contempt rather than compassion, and social change is fueled by totalitarian visions rather than democratic struggles. By defining agency through such a limited (and, curiously republican party )notion of choice, Fight Club reinscribes freedom as an individual desire rather than the 'testing of boundaries and limits as part of a communal, collective process.' In the end, Fight Club removes choice as a 'public demand and duty'20 and in doing so restricts the public spaces people are allowed to inhabit as well as the range of subject positions they are allowed to take up. Hence, it is no wonder that in Fight Club it is not about working men and women who embody a sense of agency and empowerment but largely middle-class heterosexual, white men who are suffering from a blocked hyper-masculinity."
|Raymond the would-be veterinarian|
"Evola argued that it was absurd to identify the right with capitalism. Fascism, properly understood, was the antithesis of bourgeois society, not its avatar. Since fascist values like blood, sacrifice, and heroism were far more pagan than Christian, fascism was also in opposition to the Catholic Church. He was equally relentless in his condemnation of the Salo left. To Evola, Marxism, with the its stress on material issues, was merely a further extension of bourgeois ideology, not its negation. Any movement primarily inspired by economic concerns was intrinsically anti-heroic."
(Dreamer of the Day, Kevin Coogan, pg. 211)Black, sacrifice, and heroism certainly play a crucial role in Durden's ideology. Nor is the only time Fight Club's philosophy crosses paths with Evola. Much of the ideology underpinning Tyler's revolt is centered around an obsession with the warrior ethos of old and a complete rejection of all things feminine. Indeed, Fight Club effectively blames the spiritual malaise of modern man at the end of the millennium on the stifling emasculation of the hyper-feminized society in which they inhabit. Continuing with Giroux:
"The pathology at issue, and one which is central to Fight Club, is its intensely misogynist representation of women, and its intimation that violence is the only means through which men can be cleansed of the dire affect women have on the shaping of their identities. From the first scene of Fight Club to the last, women are cast as the binary opposite of masculinity. Women are both the other and a form of pathology. Jack begins his narrative by claiming that Marla is the cause of all of his problems. Tyler consistently tells Jack that men have lost their manhood because they have been feminized, they are a generation raised by women. And the critical commentary on consumerism presented throughout the film is really not a serious critique of capitalism as much as it is a criticism of the feminization and domestication of men in a society driven by relations of buying and selling. Consumerism is criticized because it is womanish stuff. Moreover, the only primary female character, Marla, appears to exist to simultaneously make men unhappy and to service their sexual needs. Marla has no identity outside of the needs of the warrior mentality, the chest-beating impulses of men who revel in patriarchy and enact all of the violence associated with such traditional, hyper-masculine stereotypes... But representations of masculinity in Fight Club do more than reinscribe forms of male identity within a warrior mentality and space of patriarchical relations. They also work to legitimate unequal relations of power and oppression while condoning 'a view of masculinity predicated on the need to wage violence against all that is feminine both within and outside of their lives...'"
"Evola's own mythmaking centered around Hyperborea, the original article homeland, also known as Thule, the sacred island. Evola's Hyperborea was as much a vision of being (or what he calls a 'framework of an ontology') as a historic fact. The sacred figure in Hyperborea was the king, conceived not simply as the ruler of a warrior aristocracy, but as a 'God/man' – a living link to the divine, much like the Japanese emperor or Egyptian pharaoh. King, not high priest, was the true pontifex, who united the natural and supernatural dimensions.
"From Hyperborea (or Ultima Thule), the sun-worshiping Boreal Race migrated in two directions. One group went to northern Europe, where it preserved its solar symbolism in the swastika. A second migration went first to Atlantis and then into the Americas and Western Europe. Remnants of the Hyperborean culture had also been preserved by the Aryans, who originally entered India from the far north.
"During their vast migrations, the Hyperboreans encountered many indigenous cultures. Although the northern European branch kept itself relatively pure, the 'Atlanteans' allowed intermarriage with the aboriginal races of the south. These encounters with 'inferior races, which were enslaved to the chthonic cult of demons and mixed with animal nature,' gave rise to 'memories of struggles that were eventually expressed in mythological form.' In these myths geography took on symbolic meaning. The chaotic, fertile sea was female. Mountains, as fixed 'elevated places' (and the traditional seat of the Gods), were the masculine opposite of the 'contingency of the "waters."' Another symbolic north/south dividing line involved burial ritual: In solar cults the dead are incinerated, while in the south the dead are placed in graves and returned to Mother Earth.
"The south's religions, the cults of Earth and Sea, were matriarchal. Out of them came pantheistic naturalism, sensuality, promiscuity, and a passive mystical and contemplative nature. The south also gave rise to egalitarianism by dethroning the original ruling warrior caste and replacing it with the sacerdotal or priests caste. Any society governed by such a priest caste was inherently 'feminine in its attitude to the spirit' because kingship had been reduced to a purely material function. Before the decay, the dominate warrior caste had followed the northern solar-worshiping religion without need of priestly mediation. The elevation of the Brahmans above the Kshatriyas therefore marked beginning of the Silver Age. Now the priests determined the divinity of the king.
"The north/south struggle was mythologically symbolized by the clash between the sun-god principle of the north that stood for 'the superior invisible realm of being' and the moon goddess of the south whose dominion was the 'inferior realm of becoming.' Evola believed that the Italian personality was split along a north/south archetypeal axis, where 'Nordic elements coexisting in perpetual anarchy with Africo-Mediterranean elements,' causing an absence of 'psychic equilibrium' critical to an understanding of Italy's complex, infuriating history. He rethought world history as well, declaring that the Mayans were a telluric race, while the Aztecs and Incas followed of the solar north. Japan was a model solar civilization whose aristocratic bushido warrior code best preserved Tradition. In Greece, the Eumenides symbolized the victory of the masculine north over matriarchy.
"With Heracles the West had its first great epic hero. In his book Metaphysics of Sex, Evola called Heracles the embodiment of solar masculinity who became legendary both as a conqueror of the Amazons, and as 'a foe of the Mother (of Hera, just as Roman Hercules was the foe of Bona Dea), from whose bonds he freed himself.' Heracles dominated the Tree/Female life force principle by obtaining 'Hebe, everlasting youth, as his wife in Olympus after attaining the way to the garden of Hesperides,' where he plucked the golden apple, 'itself a symbol link to the Mother (the apples have been given by Gea to Hera) and to the life force.'
"Dionysus, however, stood for a 'Chthonic-Poseidon form of manhood,' as he was linked to Poseidon, god of the waters, and also to Osiris, 'conceived as the stream of the Nile, which waters and fertilizes Isis, the black earth of Egypt.' Dionysus symbolizes 'the wet principle of generation related to the merely phallic concept of manhood; the god is the male considered only according to the aspect of the being who fecundates the female substance and, as such, is subordinate to her.' This was why Dionysus 'is always joined with female figures related to the archetype of the Great Goddess.' Even as a sun god, Dionysus was still viewed 'not in the aspect of pure, unchangeable light but as the star that dies and rises again.' Dionysus symbolized the sun only in an inferior way, the way 'the sun sets and rises again,' when its light 'is still not the steady, abstract light of being or of the pure Olympian principle.' As for Christianity, it was less a Jewish sect that another variant of Dionysianism from Asia Minor.
"Only in its 'Apollonian manifestation' does 'pure manhood' fully manifest itself. Here the god Apollo becomes:
"The embodiment of Olympian nous (perception) and of unchangeable uranic light, freed from the earthly element and also from his connection with goddesses in some spurious historical varieties of his warship. At this level Apollo, as the god of 'pure form,' was conceived without a mother and was born by himself, ametor (without a mother) and autophues (self-growing), being the Doric god who 'produced from geometrically.' (This determination of plastic matter is proper to the male and to form, whereas the indeterminate nature of plastic matter and the limitless apeiron, belongs to the female.)"
(Dreamer of the Day, Kevin Coogan, pgs. 304-306)
|the Baron Evola|
"He first manifests himself as the image of violence and unbridled arrogance but, as he gathers to himself a range of Nordic, Asiatic and Aegean attributes, his divine personality becomes more and more complex. It synthesizes within itself so many warring elements which it finally reconciles into the ideal of wisdom which is regarded as the Greek miracle. Apollo embodies the balance and harmony of the passions, achieved not by suppressing instinctive impulses, but by directing them through the development of awareness towards an ever-increasing spiritualization..."
(Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pg. 34)
In a sense this is also the path Tyler and Jack take as well, though their "spiritualization" of their instinctive impulses is to form a cult geared toward carrying out a rather juvenile terror campaign. It is dubbed Project Mayhem. In the second installment I shall consider Project Mayhem and the curious overlap it and the fight club secret societies have with one of them ore compelling claims floating around conspiracy culture. Stay tuned.