Archive for November, 2005

The film and consumerism

Posted by John Webster on Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

For a film supposedly criticizing consumerism, Fight Club had a lot of product placement.  I noticed products from Starbucks, Jergens, Super Shuttle, Krispy Kreme, Gucci, Cadillac, Good Year, AT&T, BMW, Apple, Pepsi/Mountain Dew, Busch beer, American Airlines and Jiffy Lube.  This seems hypocritical, considering at one point Tyler says, “Advertising has us working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”  One of Project Mayhem’s acts of vandalism is to destroy a work of corporate art and a franchise coffee bar at the same time.  But what’s the most ubiquitous coffee franchise in the country?  Starbucks, one of the film’s product placers.  I suppose one could argue that the filmmakers were trying to make a point (such as the one Bret Easton-Ellis made in American Psycho by flooding the book with brand-name references).  But at other points in the movie, we see fake products where we could see brand name ones.  For example, when Meatloaf joins fight club, he fights in a “World’s Gym” shirt, which has a logo that is strikingly similar to “Gold’s Gym.”  Also, I don’t know much about the film industry, but it seems you need permission before you can use a product’s image in your film.  Therefore I take all the product placement in Fight Club as sheer advertising.

At one point in the film, when Tyler is going off about duvets, he complains about celebrity magazines.  This was hard to take seriously coming from Brad Pitt.  Tyler/the Narrator is also an entrepreneur with his soap business.  Can he really combat consumerism when he owns a profitable business?  Is Tyler really discouraging consumerism with his ever-changing outfits and many his cool sunglasses?  Isn’t not consuming the way to not subvert consumerism?  Yet, when the narrator quits his office space job, he keeps his salary.  If you have a salary, you’re going to spend it.  Or you’re going to put it in the bank, and they’re going to invest it.  Either way, you’re helping a capitalist economy that thrives on consumerism.  Therefore, I don’t see Fight Club as effectively criticizing consumerism.

Light Shows

Posted by Josh Lind on Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

I thought it was interesting that the protagonist (Jack?) could only be content in situations where he could witness or cause pain in others.  In the support groups in the beginning, he was surrounded by the pain of others, all with the knowledge that he was not condemned to die in the way that they were.  At the same time, he gained their sympathy.  He curses Marla for revealing his subterfuge: “Oh, this should be so sweet, the remembered warm jumble of Chloe still in my arms and Chloe dead somewhere” (27).  In this sense, he seems to be vampiric or parasitic (and it’s interesting that a few of these support groups were for people suffering from parasites).  He feeds on their pain.  The fight club itself ostensibly reverses this tendency in the sense that Jack himself experiences pain.  It seems that his own pain cuts through the anesthetized condition of consumer capitalism.  But a more remarkable difference is that Jack is unsatisfied by the static and received pain of the other support groups.  Instead, fight club generates and extends pain, causing pain where none existed before.  Jack describes the first night that he and Tyler punched each other: “both of us knowing we’d gotten somewhere we’d never been” (44) – and the reaction is similar to that of the addicted consumer: ‘cool’ and ‘I want another.’  The narrator gives the following reason for fight club’s success: “Most guys are at fight club because of something they’re too scared to fight.  After a few fights, you’re afraid a lot less” (45).  This seems to empower them, but in a way, fight club acts as a release valve for social despair, a torture chamber that allows one to better deal with the regular world – but it doesn’t effectively change the world.  Pain and violence become the commerce of the new system.  When it extends outward in Project Mayhem, it seeks to change the capitalist social order, but really only in the amount of pain and violence active in the world.  While the novel is clearly critical of the fascism of Project Mayhem, the effective result seems to warn against social change in general.  In many ways, I agree with Giroux’s reading.  He writes that “Fincher is less interested in fighting oppressive forms of power than he is in exploring the ways in which men yield to it” (14).  The film acts a bit like a warning light in the dash of a car: it makes it very clear that there’s a problem.  And although it may seem gratuitous to complain that the light doesn’t actually fix the car, the film’s reception warrants Giroux’s criticism, in the sense that so many viewers have responded to the warning light as just another light show, provoking that same “Cool” from the mouths of a new (masculine) generation.

i once had a fight club in my basement but…

Posted by zpeterse on Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

it was found out by the feds, and they sent me to juvie for a week. i was nine.

like jarrod, i appreciated the cultural work giroux did with regards to the film, which, as stated before, can be a thankless task, not in the least because Hollywood films by their very nature don’t lend themselves to be read critically. moreover, the "critical" commentary of film critics and, as we saw in giroux’s article, of the actors themselves, for one reason or another, trump the work scholars do. scholarly film criticism may even be perceived by the entertainment industry as moving into a feminized space, work that hollywood culture deems irrevelant, inchoate, and socialist. Don’t get me wrong – I do feel that Hollywood films have the potential for critical engagement with the viewer. For example, Adorno talked about this: viewers would sit through a recycled hollywood film and realize that their lives were not like those on the screen, thus giving them the impetus to change society.

One point I thought giroux was especially right on was his reading of the scene where tyler points a gun at the back of the head of Raymond, the convenience store clerk or aspiring veternarian. Giroux’s thesis is that Fight Club effaces real social problems caused by corporate capitalism in favor of a simpler consumer – capitalism – emasculates theme, thus making it "a morally bankrupt and politically reactionary film." Tyler orders him to go to school to become a veterenarian without considering how much it would cost him – if he had any money at all – or any other responsibilities at home, etc. In all probability, the next day, which Tyler said would be Raymond’s most important day of his life, was probably spent calling his boss at the convenience store explaining his absence, why the door was open and all the product stolen, negotiating the terms of his dismissal, etc. Giroux is also right when he says Tyler, by way of his ‘just do it’ attitude, is nothing more than a spokesman for Nike.

At the same time, I wonder if this scene could be read differently if Giroux wasn’t focusing on the sociological side but rather the psychological one; after all, giroux never really admits that it is actually jack holding the gun to the clerk’s head. at another point in the article, giroux says the film’s message is that "violence is the ultimate language, referent, and state of affairs through which to understand all human events and there is no way of stopping it." That is to say, that the same  latent violence bred by the contradictions in capitalism is the cause of Raymond’s dropping out of community college AND Jack’s schizophrenic condition. In this psychological reading, Jack and Raymond are caught tragically in the same encompassing cycle of violence. It makes sense that the gun wasn’t loaded, for jack was never in any real power position to begin with, rather, the powerful referent of violence is pervasive and capitalism hands out markers of violence to all people and things.

   

In defence of Fight Club’s softer side

Posted by skjeldaa on Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

Although Giroux has a good point when he asserts that we should not overlook the pedagogical aspect of films like Fight Club, and the way its violence might potentially further numb our already malfunctioning (according to him) human sensibility, I too think his critique was a bit ‘over the top’. While I feel many of his interpretations of the film were justifiable, I want to defend the novel against some of his most harsh accusations. Could it not be that the point of its violence is to display how the capitalist system makes young men like Jack so completely numb that he feels nothing even when ‘destroying something beautiful’? In Fight Club the novel, it seems that the ‘two Tylers’ ultimate and impossible dream is to restore what is natural and beautiful, yet now tragically and for all purposes out of reach. Part of their frustration is the legacy their generation is left to deal with. A comparison between the scene in which Tyler, the human ‘trash’, turns his being fired into a blackmail and tells this boss “I am […] your responsibility” and the sense of unwanted responsibility in the following quote is telling: “For thousands of years, human beings had screwed up an trashed and crapped on this planet, and now history expected me to clean up after everyone…And I have to foot the bill for nuclear waste and buried gasoline tanks and landfilled toxic sludge dumped a generation before I was born” (115). There is a strong sense of bitterness and a good deal of despair, therefore, in the want to destroy “everything beautiful I’d never have” – like an untouched Amazon rainforest or a clean ocean (115). In a sense, it does not matter what you do to the beautiful things of this world, for they are already gone,- and recycling is “like someone who quits smoking on his deathbed” (116).

Similarly, through the mention of whales sacrificed to make ladies perfume and through the brutal story of the origin of soap, the texts installs the notion that the production of consumer commodities is based on the sacrifice of living things. Hence in a typically anti-postmodern move, it turns the focuses back on the production process which, as Jameson pointed out, remains hidden in the capitalist culture of consumption. The making of soap and explosives are done boy-scout style, and without covering up the sacrifice involved. The production of soap demands not merely extracts from the human body, but also herbs fertilized by blood and bone. But this is small-scale production’s sacrifice. Jack’s job, on the other hand, is sacrifice systematized. Thus while society’s official ideology is one of security – of the importance of having health insurance and building a good ‘nest’ (which, as Giroux points out, is up to each individual) – its capitalist forces are systems of brutality. Caught between the two, you get stagnation and numbness. Or you get one personality for each irreconcilable part of the divide. Although the novel offers no real solution to this state numbness – only a demonstration of what the solution is clearly not – it can be argued that not all artistic expressions need to come with its own politics and suggestions for a way out of the crux. Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground was also dark and marred by disillusionment, without this being a mark of poor artistry! 

I think that as a critique of the destructiveness of neo-liberalist society, the fact that Fight Club portrays the desperation and disillusionment of white men who, as Giroux (and Julie!) points out, should have nothing to complain about, is significant. For whereas Jack can have no material complaints about the system, there is still something fundamentally wrong and dehumanizing about it that causes him to suffer. Something that cannot be explained as the result of poverty, racism, or other kinds of direct oppression, but must be the symptom of a more indirect and elusive kind.   

Why Watch Fight Club When I Could Watch “Goblet of Fire” for the Fourth Time?

Posted by Jarrod on Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

I really wish I had written my response before I read Giroux’s article. I had this idea… I was going to write about the significance of Fight Club’s presence in contemporary society. I was going to answer that question that Dr. Paul Smith tells me all Cultural Studies students are supposed to answer: Why this? Why now? I was going to go on a long diatribe about how this film is yet another Hollywood blockbuster in the guise of an intellectual exercise. And then I read that damn article. It said everything I wanted to say, but actually made sense. He used topic sentences, supporting details, relevant quotes and his reflexive moments were subtle. Well, as it is too late to speak of something else, here I go on my silly rant that ultimately is making the same point you have already read.

I guess I should begin by defending the article. I think he chose to only address the movie because he was specifically interested in the paradox of a big budget film bemoaning the effects of capitalism. His intention was not to produce a close reading of a text that less than one percent of our population will encounter. Furthermore, I don’t know that his beef was with the fact that the “story isn’t meant to embrace every single aspect.” Rather, I think he was more interested in the fact that the film did not perform as advertised. It was not a critique of capitalism; it was the championing of rightwing politics. It was a movie made for my father (the one who has seen every Schwarzenegger film and whistles at the sexy ladies on beer commercials.) It’s not that he wanted the film to address marginalized people, but he wanted some awareness that violence is not just men fighting in the basement to work out their Oedipal complexes, it is also battered wives and police brutality.

As for my own views, philosophy and big-budget films don’t mix. If the theories are essentialized enough to make it into a society of the spectacle, they are already worthless (please see I heart Huckabee’s treatment of existentialism). The novel, while I’m sure it has its merits, was chosen for adaptation because it is littered with sex and violence, not because of its astute treatment of post-Marxist theories. It had guns, sexy people, and just enough homoeroticism to make it chic. The violence in the film is depoliticized, and MTV’d up. If anything, it was made more palatable, consumable. A lot of blood, but very little gore. Where was the hole in the cheek?

Finally, I can’t be the only one not to mention Marla. Of course she is the oppressed, psuedo-femme fatale, but not because she is responsible for the death of masculinity. In fact, its just the opposite. She is there to reaffirm it, to be objectified and ultimately saved.

The movie, the book, the movie, the book. I can’t decide!!!!!

Posted by Jakester on Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

I was also puzzled as to why Giroux ignored the novel to focus on the movie. I can at least see that he wished to look at Hollywood’s influence and how the images it sends to society upholds many problems that exist. But considering the influence the novel already has, the time it took for it to be made into a movie and the fanatical following that has been created in the wake of both, one  such as I must wonder how anyone attempting to analyze one can ignore the other.

In this light I wish to look at how Fincher may have only furthered the ideas that Giroux so quickly grasped onto; that of the masculinity of violence and the movie influencing the minds of the viewers. I agree that Palahniuk deals with a lot of issues and of course Fincher had to trim them down in an effort to not make a twelve hour movie, but the way in which Fincher modifies the pieces he keeps drastically changes the impact, at least in my mind. Not only does he overly emphasize the violence, he makes it fantastic and a whirl of special effects. One instance of this is the death of Robert Paulson. Instead of him simply drilling into a parking meter, the “homework assignment” becomes a gigantic golden ball that destroys a (possibly) Starbucks.

Not only is the violence overly emphasized, it is trivialized and playful. When the members of Fight Club must start and lose a fight, the background music is playful, light even. The violence throughout this scene is violent, but the viewer is bombarded with much happier and playful images than the simple idea that these men are committing acts of violence. There are countless instances of this in both the novel and the movie, I believe there are some key differences between the two that Giroux wanted to avoid.

Most important is Jack/Tyler’s reluctance for violence in the end. I do not mean strictly Jack’s; we know he doesn’t wish for anymore violence. Instead there is the final moment atop the tallest building where the bomb fails because Tyler/Jack uses paraffin in the mixture. Jack seems to imply that he always knew this; it was spoken of many times throughout the book. So why would Tyler do such a thing? And how does this change what Giroux sees in the film. If the ending of the film were to incorporate this idea instead of the hand holding/buildings exploding Fincher ending, would Giroux have been able to envision so much of societies mirroring of the violence?

At the very least, I think Fincher kind of botched it with this ending. Palahniuk makes it all one big cyclic joke. Jack tries to avoid consumerism and slavery to it, Jack tries to destroy consumerism, Jack becomes part of consumerism (Fight Club© and The Paper St. Soap Co. © – all marketable images), Jack tries to destroy his own consumerism. In the movie there is not so much this as a glorification of the violence and the finality of the violence paying off in that there is at least the semblance of a happy ending between Jack and Marla. I could go on about this for a long time, but I just wish to end with this question. Which do you think is more condoning of violence, the book or the movie?

Let’s Talk About Death

Posted by Carolyn on Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

The film and the novel reminded me of White Noise in their focus on death. This time, the characters were not afraid of it, like Jack and Babette, but need to come close to it by fighting until they can barely cry out for it to stop. By testing their bodies to that extreme, they feel more alive and more prepared for death. The narrator claims he is dying when he cannot sleep, to attempt to have his doctor to take him seriously. His doctor does not give him the attention he needs, so he adopts the persona of someone who is dying by attending the support groups. There, his life is ephemeral and therefore more valuable; he is not taken for granted. The narrator could go to a plethora of support groups for people who are not dying (AA, gamblers anonymous, etc.) but he chooses to connect with people under these false pretences for two years. Even when Tyler has a gun in the narrator’s mouth, he assures him that they “won’t really die,” but will become immortal, become “legend” (1). Marla is obsessed with death too, attempting to kill herself, thinking she may have tumors, and declaring her affection for Tyler in terms of death, by saying she wants to have his abortion. Death is Marla’s way of getting attention, however fleeting, but it will not bring her the same power that it would narrator/Tyler.

Going along with the death aspect of Fight Club is the treatment of religion. God is a father figure in Western culture, and this God has given up on the middle children of history, according to Tyler, because of their troubled relationships with their fathers: “If you’re male, and you’re Christian and living in America, your father is your model for God” (177). Tyler then becomes a god to the fight club and project mayhem members and therefore thinks of himself and immortal, because he now has the power of all of the fathers of the men. At the end of the novel, God is a doctor in a mental institution, and the narrator has a realistic way of seeing humanity, as not crap, and not special, but just being. He finds the happy medium between the extremes. God doesn’t like his answer, but the narrator does not give this male authority figure ultimate power; instead he concludes, “you can’t teach God anything” (198).

Marla again

Posted by julie g. on Monday, November 28th, 2005

Juliet, I’m not sure I agree with your assessment of women in Fight Club. Yes, Marla seems to be an extremely weak character who lets herself be dumped upon and blamed by Tyler. Yes, she tries to commit suicide, in the very least as a “cry for help.” I would agree that she is weak. That she is a pawn in Tyler’s game. But I don’t think she is necessarily positioned as the “enemy” in this film. For sure she is Tyler’s enemy. Marla knows too much and therefore becomes a threat to Tyler’s and Project Mayhem’s society. These are the men who are so afraid of being nothing, nobodies, that they must go about reclaiming their power through violence and ego-boosting machismo. She is their enemy, but not Jack’s (Joe’s). Tyler, in the end, becomes the enemy from whom Jack needs to separate. She, like the space monkeys and Jack, represents a figure who is pulled in by Tyler’s power, the fascism of American consumerism, propaganda, and all that America stands for. She is dumped upon by Tyler, loved and then left, like society is by consumer culture and mass media. Tyler uses her and then leaves her for Jack to pick up the pieces. I’m not sure Palahnuik is blaming her, but rather is saying that she is also a victim…perhaps (and I’m just pontificating here) she knows the disillusionment the men are going through because she has gone through it as well…?

I think further proof that Marla is not the enemy is the fact that Jack (who I would argue can be separated from Tyler for these purposes although they are the same person) does not see her as a threat. Jack must “hit bottom” and stand up to his demons, namely: Tyler. In the end he finally does and takes on responsibility for his own actions. The point where he begins to diverge from Tyler’s path is when Marla is at stake (as Edward Norton says, quite insightfully I think, in his commentary on the movie).

Marla also does not fall prey to the same ambition that the men do. She is disillusioned just as Jack, but she deals with it in a different way. She shuns popular culture and the material world the same as Jack, she visits the nearly dying in order to feel relief and she is trying to hit bottom. All reactions of the humans who have lost all faith in this novel/movie. The one difference is that she is drawn to the power, but she does not try to reclaim it. Maybe because she never had it as a woman or because she has lost all hope that she will ever have the power. Marla is drawn to the power, but does not believe she can have it, which is why she loves things that were loved for a short while and then dumped an hour or a day later (like her bridesmaid dress). Marla is like the dress. She is dumped upon in relationship with Tyler. This is a woman’s role in society.

Bob, Angel Face and jealousy

Posted by ada on Monday, November 28th, 2005

With all of the discussion of the character of Marla in the film Fight Club and the comparisons to her representations in the book, I want to look at some of the other marginal characters in this narrative, namely Bob Paulson (played by Meat Loaf) and also Angel Face (played by Jared Leto). While we see Marla as an under-represented, undeveloped female character in the film, her presence is an essential part of the schizophrenic world that Jack/Tyler Durden lives in. She moves in and out of the scenes, in a way a filmic parallel to the movement of the narrative and she is also the first character we look to when searching for clues that betray the “surprise” twist. Just as she is a complicated character that we never get to really know, so are Bob and Angel Face. I guess that the root of my thinking is what these characters, particularly the two emasculated and feminized men represent or symbolize or how they work in the story. Bob’s testicular cancer has given him a body that is not his own, and yet, through the Fight Club, more so than at the meetings, Bob regains his masculine identity in violence. How would this work for Angel Face, who because of a perceived “beauty” is the object of jealousy, especially for Jack? This jealousy is so strong, in fact, that Jack seeks to destroy it by beating him to a pulp. His face through the rest of the film has become a form that is not his own, a bloody, broken mess. There are some elemental homoerotic underpinnings in the introduction of Angel Face as a character, in light of his interaction with Tyler, and yet, the hate and need to destroy that Jack feels may be driven by a more deluded jealousy, particularly since the attention of which he is jealous, the attention given to Angel Face, is his own.

oh how I love the Fight Club…

Posted by nicole on Monday, November 28th, 2005

I am not fond of the Giroux essay. I do not agree with just about all of what he has to say. Except agreeing and disagreeing about this essay isn’t that simple. I “agree” with the foundation of his argument… that when contemplating the issues presented in Fight Club, such as capitalism, consumerism, violence, misogyny, the emasculated male, it would be swell if Fincher/Palahniuk could have discussed the entire spectrum effected and not limited the issues to one particular class, race, gender, and so on. But I “disagree” because the story isn’t meant to embrace every single aspect. It’s specifically pointed at white, middle-class men for a rather valid reason and it just seems silly to say that the movie is any less insightful because it chose to narrow its concentration. It doesn’t mean that Fincher is saying anything against those other elements, that they aren’t as important, or that it isn’t worthwhile to explore, it just simply isn’t relevant to this particular story. Statements such as “Given Fincher’s suggestion that men have no enduring qualities outside of their physicality… (14-15),” “…romanticizing violence in the face of… abuse and violence that people involuntarily experience every day because of their sexual orientation, [their race], their gender, or their class status… (17),” just drove me a little bit crazy. My reading of both film and book is that “Jack” realizes the fault in their little experiment and attempts to right “Tyler’s” wrongs… i.e. realizes that violence and terrorism is not the answer, otherwise known as providing the moral to the story. “Jack,” however, fails in both texts and ultimately inflicts even more violence upon himself in order to find his true identity, peace, etc., but I can’t completely accept that it all promotes this chest-beating brute that Giroux sums it all up as.

The biggest critique, or question, I have always had is why the movie lessens Marla’s significance in “Jack’s” journey. Palahniuk says that Fight Club is first a love story, and then a whole bunch of other things afterwards. Julie is disturbed by the anti-feminist/misogynistic manner in which Marla is portrayed, and I completely agree, but mostly only in the case of the film. Marla’s role is much more positive in the book and I’ve always wondered why Fincher would have down-played the relationship so dramatically. Perhaps a victim of post-modern marketing?

No More Fight Club

Posted by julie/jules on Monday, November 28th, 2005

As I’ve been hankering away on my oral presentation all weekend, I’m sick of Fight Club, the book, the movie, the whole nine yards, primarily because, as a woman, I’m not that fond of the underlying misoginystic conception within the text to begin with. As you all may guess, Fight Club was my last choice to present on, and tomorrow, it will become quite clear as to why. My visual for tomorrow’s presentation will, disappointinly, not be a a technologically advanced one, but rather, it will consist of poster board and other eccentric anachronisms, so please refrain from narrowmindedness (just kidding- I think we’re all pretty open minded).

Palahnuik’s witty narrative and catch phrases, the attractiveness of the narrator’s alter-ego, the Freudian complexities, and the social commentary on why it’s all so messed up for ‘the (white?) man’ in contemporary society makes the text an interesting experience, but the explanations are often flawed and misguided. Without revealing too much, Marla’s consistent degradation throughout the film and the novel is problematic and downright repulsive. The woman-hating and blaming for the social ills that constitute postmodern society is not only ridiculous, but it is socially dangerous and irresponsible. Some argue, "Juliet, your missing the point," and that really, the novel and the film is a critique of the evils of an inhuman, unfeeling consumer society. Some say the film brilliantly portrays the Freudian notions of ‘the Id,’ Tyler the alter-ego, verus the debased ego (the narrator/Jack). Others insist its really about learning how to become a man and establish a credible identity in a P.C. society that explicitly resents all that is white and male due to the white man’s history of violence. Still, others believe Palahnuik’s narrative is a testament to the working class and the underprivelged (white?) men that are dispossessed by the consumer culture under which they are enslaved. Yes, this is all possible, but when all of this seems to hinge on a hatred toward women and what femininity represents, when violence and ultimately, terrorism, are presented as the only alternatives to "being a pussy," its hard to appreciate the complexity of the numerous overlapping themes in both texts.

Marla is the problem, and by this, I do not mean it in the way that the narrator/Jack/Tyler do. She and everything that she represents, including consumerism and all women (since she is the only female in the narrative), is positioned as the enemy, when perhaps the real enemies are the narrator’s actual father, father figures, and perhaps, his corporate father’s who are, in reality, far more responsible for the contemporary evils of consumerism than women are. Marla is a scapegoat, when perhaps, (white?) men and their ‘forefathers’ should be held accountable for their current situations. Needless to say, my sympathies do lie with white men and the conditions they face in today’s society (no offense guys), since maleness and whiteness comes with privelges that are still unavailable to other groups in this country, regardless of the P.C. backlash against white male supremacy in the 1990’s. For instance, white men still run this coutry (and apparently not to bright ones at that), and men (not sure if this is true of specifically white men) get paid, on the average, $15,000 a year working the same job a woman works (a fact that easily verified through many online sources and studies). Sorry Mr. Palahnuik and Mr. Fincher, I’m not buying it.

Sleeping, dreaming, reality, and more!

Posted by karen on Monday, November 28th, 2005

Where to start…where to start?  Well, one thing I can start with is that Fight Club once again brings us to dreaming/sleeping and escaping problems.  Part of the narrator’s (Tyler’s?) problem is his insomnia, which is actually a product of the commercial/consumer-related job he has.  He is a bi-product of a consumer market that requires a job that assesses the damage of careless production.  His inability to sleep either creates or is created by the world he is a part of that has shaped him into someone he hates (a nice cinematic touch with "I hate myself" graffitied over and over again on the brick wall behind the two Tylers, as they discuss how "it’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.")  Interestingly, he has created an alter-ego who covers the night shift of his life, which we are led to believe he is not aware is himself until later in the story.  When he is trying to hunt down "Tyler" after Bob’s death (and keeps "missing" him everywhere he goes), he says, "Was I asleep?  Am I asleep?  Was Tyler my bad dream?  Or was I his?"  The narrator seems to struggle (as we have repeatedly witnessed this semester) with reality.  At the start of chapter 18, he says, "This Friday night, I fall asleep at my desk at work.  When I wake up with my face and my crossed arms on my desktop, the telephone is ringing, and everyone is gone.  A telephone was ringing in my dream, and it’s not clear if reality slipped into my dream o[r] if my dream is slopping over into reality" (129). And of course, he explains, "with insomnia, you’re never really asleep, you’re never really awake" – is it really a surprise that he is not aware of his full identity and actions?  Ironically, too, when Marla shows up at his support groups, he thinks, "This is the one real thing in my life, and you’re wrecking it" (14) – possibly exchanging his real (and hated) life for his fake life of support groups, or even – and more likely – acknowledging the realness of people dealing with terminal diseases and with issues that genuinely matter and involve true personal interaction (much more so than his worthless, mass-produced actual life).

I also wanted to mention how much I liked the narrative style of Fight Club.  Even though some of the narrator’s/Tyler’s thoughts were a bit over-metaphorical/allusive, I appreciated their placement within the unfolding of events – I believe that the Tylers would really think of such things during their daily experiences, perhaps as a result of such a clichéd, mass-produced society.  I particularly appreciate the "I am Joe’s/Jack’s ____" interjections.  I particularly like "I am Joe’s/Jack’s wasted life" once they get "corporate sponsorship" for the Fight Club via the narrator getting his boss to pay him to remain quiet about what they do with the recall situations, rather than doing his assigned job.  Is this a reflection of his once wasted life now serving a purpose by funding a (in his eyes) meaningful mission?

Then, there is the whole deal with "changeovers."  I loved this dual-meaning and oh-so-subtle self-awareness within the film and then the book (I watched the film first and actually appreciated searching the text for hints of Tyler’s identity once I knew it from the film!)  The key with a changeover, as the narrator explains it, is "The movie goes on.  Nobody in the audience has any idea" (18).  This is obviously more effective in the film version, as the audience of the film falls victim to the very occurrence the narrator describes!  Without having any idea, a changeover happens before our very eyes!  And even better, as my husband couldn’t WAIT to point out after we watched the film (and which most people probably already know) is that there is a scene toward the beginning of the film when the narrator is photocopying things at work where a spliced mili-second of film flashes an image of Tyler next to the copier.  If you didn’t catch it, go back and take a look (reminiscent of the sneaky insane asylum scene in Memento).

Giroux: Why Only the Film?

Posted by Mike Scalise on Monday, November 28th, 2005

Lots of Fight Club this week. It’s hard to know where to start, and how not to annoyingly retread everything we’ve discussed up to this point.

An interesting thread, through the novel and film, is the question of sociopolitical presence within Project Mayhem’s movement to reclaim masculinity. My wife, who has seen only the film, often bemoans the "obtrusive whiteness" of it, then compulsively watches it anyway to see Brad Pitt shirtless. Giroux’s essay, however, critiques the film’s sociopolitical ignorance in a more articulate and effective way, and I thought all of his points were powerfully made. As I read the essay, though, I kept returning to why he chose to analyze that text as opposed to the novel from which it originated.

The only thing I could think of may be the admission of the novel’s genesis in Chuck Palahniuk’s introduction in the post-movie reprint: " . . . I’d seen a Bill Moyer television program about how street gangs were really young men raised without fathers, just trying to help one another become men." (Palahniuk, xvi) And that is the closest either text comes to acknowledging that there is an underprivileged social population that exists below those in the locus of effect for Fight Club, Project Mayhem, etc. So maybe, in an attempt to keep his argument foolproof, he avoided the novel altogether.

But I am interested in ways, if any, that the novel is less susceptible to that criticism, because I really don’t see many. Apart from plot technicalities involving the "twist" ending, Marla’s eventual involvement, and how the narrator "met" Tyler, the social commentary between the two is fairly consistent, (if not more strongly developed in the novel. So Giroux’s choice to criticize only one text is a curious one. I sided with Giroux’s comment that the "human sacrifice" scene as being "curiously Republican" (14), and I admit that the homework assignment always struck me as counterintuitive to the seemingly more communal goal of Project Mayhem, which seems to be a forced dehumanization and equal standing for all involved in hopes of teaching them their "higher power." Then again, "hitting bottom" just to start all over again does, in a way, speak to the cliche of conservatism for people to "pick themselves up by the bootstraps" (aside: Giroux’s definition of neoliberliasm sounded, to me, in many ways like the current definition of neoconservatism. I’m ignorant. Can we discuss the difference?). But that scene was very similar in both the film and novel, as well as other scenes that Giroux very effectively held up to scrutiny, such as the lye-on-the-hand scene (arguably even more pivotal in the novel), and the end where the buildings crumble (which carries the same narrative sentiment in both). Is there material in the novel that would negate aspects of Giroux’s argument, or is it just that as a major film release, backed by "brand name" studios, directors, and people, it more effectively scrutinized as a cultural commodity? Maybe book reviewers were not as responsive to the novel’s release as movie critics were  to its mostly-fathful film adaptation. Sad thing that says about the state of literature; when a film adaptation draws a more thoughtful critical response than the printed manuscript.

Note: a similarly-toned story that may effectively address what Giroux notes as faults in Fight Club (political ramifications, socioeconomic standing, violence, counterculture) is David Foster Wallace’s "Girl With Curious Hair" which can be found in the collection of the same name.  

It seems to be the involvement of stolen masculinity and violence that, Giroux says, both propels the action of, and acts as the ideological failure of logic throughout (the novel and film of) Fight Club, and I thought it may be interesting to highlight one area where a real-life movement is afoot with a similar ideology, without the complication of gender roles and violence. I don’t know if I’ve blogged about this before, but Kalle Lasn is the editor of a magazine called Adbusters, which could be seen a more direct "Paper St. Soap Company," in that beneath it all, he attempts to foster worldwide action against corporations’ influences on the world through advertising. He’s written the very manifesto-ish Culture Jam (also moderately popular, ranking 100,744 on Amazon), and from it has spawned a Lasn-lead Culturejammers Network, which, like Fight Club or Project Mayhem, has rules and assignments as ways to subvert consumerism’s hold over society (albeit less violent). Aside from gender-related criticisms, many of Giroux’s arguments with Fight Club could apply to Lasn’s ethos as well, but I thought I would at least highlight a real-world example for possible avenues of discussion.

Identity in Fight Club

Posted by kiraprater on Sunday, November 27th, 2005

After reading the book, seeing the film version of Fight Club, and reading Henry Giroux’s article on Fight Club, I definitely had a lot to ponder. Giroux frowns on director David Fincher’s comments that the movie is a "coming-of-age narrative" (21), but I don’t think that aspect of the book and film should be ignored.

Obviously, the narrator craves an identity. He is, as Giroux points out, he is: ". . . a neoliberal Everyman: an emasculated, repressed corporate drone whose life is simply an extension of a reified and commodified culture" (8). He believes he can get an identify from death, or dying: "This is why I loved the support groups so much, if people thought you were dying, they gave you their full attention. If this might be the last time they saw you, they really saw you" (98). Later on, he says: "And the fight goes on and on because I want to be dead. Because only in death do we have names" (192).

However, it is ironic that the narrator longs for an identity available only in death because, in creating Tyler Durden, he created a sort of eternal life (or identity) for himself. In keeping with the scripture (King James Bible, John 11:26), "And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die", the narrator created a God/Father for lots of men, one that would never die.

I suppose it could work both ways – that the narrator is both the creator and the created (both Victor Frankenstein and the Monster). The narrator and others talk about being freed from the workyday life – "As long as you’re at fight club, you’re not how much money you’ve got in the bank. You’re not your job" (135), but ultimately the members of fight club are not freed. They are merely enslaved by something new. After all, the God/Father narrator ends up making his disciples in his image, with black pants, etc. The disciples are "a copy of a copy of a copy".  This all reminds me of Giroux’s mention of fascism: "Jack is shocked by the killing, which in turn enables him to recognize that Tyler has become a demagogue and that Fight Club has evolved into a fascist paramilitary group. . ." (11). The narrator is not freed, either – he may no longer be enslaved by his recall campaign coordinating, Audi-driving, IKEA-furnished life, but he is enslaved by his creation, his Tyler Durden-demagogue identity.

I suppose that the narrator does "hit bottom" at the end, but I’m not sure he is "saved" by the God/Father of the mental hospital. But I wonder why Chuck Palahniuk did not name the narrator, not even at the end?

Donnie Darko and the Eighties

Posted by Mark Sample on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2005

Donnie Darko: Why 1988?

Fear and simplification

Posted by skjeldaa on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2005

Is Donnie Darko a brilliant movie about deep philosophical questions of time and creation, or is it just another “God-is-dead-it-is-up-to-one-man-to-save-the-world” movie? Personally I reacted much like Josh; thought it was a cool, quirky film, more valuable because of its satirical treatment of contemporary society than because of the ‘philosophy’ of its time travel element.

Donnie Darko is interesting because the main character, the schizophrenic, seems to be the most sane and well-reflected of all the characters. If he does indeed have superpowers (like he indicates to Gretchen), these are the powers to resist the massive manipulation that works to reduce the world into a two-dimensional affair. Contrary to the teachings of Cunningham and his (fanatic!) followers, Donnie realizes that everything cannot be reduced into a continuum of love and fear. The human spectrum of emotion is complex, and fear and love only constitute one vector in multi-dimensional space. Consequently, this schizophrenic teenager exposes the guru Cunningham as a fraud. Cunningham plays on people’s fears and oversimplifies them in order to sell his (no doubt expensive) package of cheap solutions. He represents the danger implicit in the tendency of reducing profound questions into naiveties that can only lead us astray. The film provides several examples of the deception or destructiveness of this kind of denial. Cunningham himself is, of course, the greatest deception of all. Whereas he claims to possess the means to rid all people of their inner fears and lead them onto the path of love, he is himself a man possessed by a subversive kind of love and a nagging fear of having it exposed. Kitty Farmer’s refusal to believe the truth about Cunningham when it is finally exposed (by Donnie) is also a naïve denial. Contrarily, the people who do possess a wider perspective on things are restrained from communicating their knowledge. Due to the religious policy of the school, Dr. Monnitoff is not allowed to talk to Donnie about the deep philosophical questions that are to the latter a matter of life and death. Similarly is Karen Pomeroy’s concern with the increasing difficulties involved in the attempt to communicate with a generation in the process of receding into a state of apathy caused by the overexposure to ‘prescribed nonsense,’ interpreted by the principal as her own personal failure as a teacher. The principal finally fires her on the basis of her ‘unsound methods’. In this manner the people with real knowledge are silenced, while Kitty Farmer’s voice is heard as it rises to loud and shrill to warn society about the dangers of the active mind; of the subversive literature of Graham Greene, a character from Bonanza. On the bases of these characters and events, I read Donnie Darko as a critique of a mindless and fear-based society: a society based on censorship.      

I think Donnie is the only character that has a well-reflected view on fear. Whereas he acknowledges the fact that he possesses many fears, I do not think he is necessarily lying when he tells his psychologist that he finds the question of ultimate loneliness absurd, and that he has stopped thinking about it. Donnie seems to recognize that there exist different kinds of fear: rational as well as irrational. Being afraid when someone tells you that the world is going to end in 28 days, is, however absurd the situation, a natural reaction. If we accept the main framework of the film – namely that by being led by a Manipulated Dead rabbit, Donnie is able to save the world from destruction – then this fear is also highly rational.

Given the deceptive simplicity (and outright censorship) of the society Donnie Darko presents, the fact that the main character is a schizophrenic is significant. Possessing a mind of multiple personalities, Donnie – even when medicated – cannot be forced into seeing the world from one perspective only. His open mind and willingness to deal with questions otherwise avoided is indeed what saves the world. Although his condition is at times destructive, all his acts of destruction are ultimately creative. The flooding of the school leads to a new relationship; the fire to Cunningham’s house to the realization of a deeper and darker truth about the guru of simplification. Similarly, the murder of Frank indirectly becomes the salvation of the world. The events of the story in this manner underpin Donnie’s interpretation of destruction as creation. A world without the potential of creation is a stagnant and in many ways a worthless world: – hence his critique of the Smurfs. Within this line of thought, my question becomes: what if Donnie hadn’t saved the world? Could not its destruction in turn have led to ultimate creation?

Finally, I cannot help regretting the way the director has added the textual version of ‘The Philosophy of Time Travel’ to help guide the viewer through the interpretation of this complicated and somewhat confusing movie. Does not this addition somehow reduce the reading of the movie into exactly the kind of prescribed understanding it criticizes?