How much do you know about yourself if you've never been in a fight? (Fight Club)
...The fabric of the rhizome is the conjunction "and...and...and..." This conjunction has enough power to shake and uproot the verb "to be". Where are you going? Where do you come from? These are completely useless questions. (Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari 25)(Video) YOU: Season 4 Part 1 | Official Trailer | Netflix
Fight Club (1999) follows Jack's (Edward Norton) struggle to define a sense of identity in late capitalism, where discipline gives way to control (Deleuze 177-182) and consumer culture feminizes men. Within this social structure, people no longer occupy individual subjectivities, but are forced to slide back and forth between infinite subject positions, always in a state of becoming, never arriving. Jack's sense of identity, gleaned from shiny new possessions, exemplifies the postmodern subject that is only a malleable surface and no depth, or, to use Jean Baudrillard's lexicon, a schizophrenic "pure screen, a control center [sic] for all the networks of influence" (a 133). As an alternative to this hollow and meaningless subjectivity, Fight Club proposes that there is a connection between pain and aggression and "knowing yourself". Confronting and grappling with primal feelings of pain and forgetfulness will bring Jack closer to a more authentic sense of identity than he could ever buy from Ikea.
In search of "real pain," Jack begins attending support groups for the sick. The crying and sense of oblivion among these groups proves cathartic for Jack. These early scenes anticipate the idea that one cannot acquire an authentic sense of identity through external things; rather, the search for authentic identity has become redundant and the only way out is to strive for something less inauthentic. The way to do this, Fight Club suggests, is to embrace the hopelessness, go back to grade zero, and proceed in a simpler way.
Jack's apartment and the items it contains are metonymic of his personality: recall the scene depicting his apartment, complete with descriptive captions and moody music, as if it were an advertisement. This is a visual implementation of Baudrillard's theory of hyperreality, defined as the kind of reality that results from an ideology that no longer represents real conditions of existence because there are no longer any real objective truths to represent (b 6, 25). More broadly, Jack's personality is a piecemeal construct of these superficial objects: “I loved this apartment. I loved every furniture stick. It wasn't just a bunch of stuff getting destroyed; It was me."
After destroying Jack's apartment, Tyler (Brad Pitt) confronts Jack with a critique of the consumerist ideology he's lived his life by. Tyler confuses distrust of women with contempt for consumerism, suggesting things "could be worse. A woman could cut off your penis while you sleep and throw it out the window of a moving car,” before launching an attack on Jack's consumerist lifestyle and asking why
Is a duvet essential for survival in the hunter-gatherer sense of the word... We're consumers, we're by-products of the lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty: these things are none of my business: celebrity magazines, television with five hundred channels, a man's name on my underwear... I say, "Never be complete." I say, "Stop being perfect. ' I say, 'Let's move on.'(Video) You
It's odd that Tyler would carry out this tirade while consuming mass-produced beer and cigarettes. Fight Club openly criticizes "feminine" consumerism - agonizing over which ruffled flounce to buy; be proud of your own household goods and condiments. However, this is undermined by its complicity with more "masculine" modes of consumption - smoking and drinking - which depend on the robust kind of masculinity it promotes. Fight Club not only shows postmodern subjectivity in general as in crisis; rather, it is suggested that in the postmodern era, male subjectivity in particular is in trouble.
Jack's struggle to regain a sense of authentic male identity involves two distinct types of conflict: physical and political. Through physical violence, we see combat in its crudest sense: hyper-real violence with no coherent goal. Political conflicts in this film include physical brutality, propaganda, and acts of terrorism, among others. The two different types of combat in this film are under the auspices of Fight Club and Project Mayhem, respectively. On the surface, it appears that Fight Club and Project Mayhem are two different things: Fight Club serves the sole purpose of men who indulge in physical violence and a resulting sense of abandonment, while Project Mayhem is a strictly regimented organization dedicated to resistance and Attack dedicates to the Capitalist System and Consumer Culture. While considering the two distinct types of conflict in isolation would make it easier to unpack the complex set of ideas vehicled by the narrative device of combat in this film, it would mean ignoring the fact that, according to Fight Club, combat is an authentic subjectivity In late capitalism, a dubious goal is initially "that it may be a mistake to believe in the existence of things, persons or subjects" (Deleuze 26).
Fight Club is presented as a way for Jack to subvert the ideology of late capitalism and the inherent consumerism that has defined its subjectivity up to that point. Fight club potentially undermines the ideology of late capitalism in two ways: first, it provides a space where class hierarchy does not apply, and allows lower-class workers to be temporarily "like gods" (this reversal, however, turns out to be a hierarchical structure) . Second, the evidence of physical violence can be read as undermining the ideology of respectable presentation in the bureaucratic workplace. As Jack explains, “I jumped in everyone's faces in hostility. Yes, those are bruises from the fight. Yes, I'm comfortable with that. I'm enlightened.” Exactly what's revealing about the fight in this film is worth considering. In the Face magazine article "Fuck You Hero," Edward Norton describes the purpose of Fight Club as "needing that slap in the face to wake you up." I think there's more to it than that. Notice that Jack continues to attend Fight Club long after he proclaims, "I'm enlightened." So it's safe to say there's more to it than just " wake yourself up".
Jack describes how fighting saves him from the emptiness of his life that "it's not about words." An understanding of the explicit physical violence depicted in Fight Club can be enhanced by considering it in relation to John Fiske's Offensive Bodies and Carnival Pleasures (1989). Fiske develops Michel de Certeau's thesis that "there is no law which is not inscribed in the body" (139) and asserts the primacy of the body in ideological struggles by arguing that "the body is the place where the social is most convincingly represented as the individual and where politics can best disguise itself as human nature” (70). Actively damaging the outer facade of their bodies, Fight Club members reject the conservative politics inscribed on the neatly presented bodies of obedient workers. Fiske also refers to the psychoanalytic concept of jouissance, defined as "a moment of joy when the body frees itself from social control" (94). Given that Jack describes the Fight Club experience as defiant, fighting could be read as an experience of enjoying, allowing members to escape the prevailing system of meaning and bringing these men momentarily, if not closer, together the "truth" brings further away from social constraints.
While Fight Club implicates other factors as responsible for the current decline in masculinity -- including the breakdown of the family unit and absent fathers -- Tyler's address to Fight Club announcing Project Mayhem is perhaps Fight Club's clearest articulation of the discontent these men feel and its supposed cause:
I see at Fight Club the strongest and smartest men who ever lived - a whole generation pumping and serving tables; or they're white-collar slaves... In advertising they chase cars and clothes, work jobs they hate so they can buy shit they don't need. We are the middle children of history, with no purpose or place. We don't have a big war or a big depression. The great war is a spiritual war. The Great Depression is our life. We were raised by television to believe that we would be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars - but we won't. And we learn that fact. And we're very, very angry.
After this speech, Tyler hands out homework. Responsibilities include inciting violence in the wider community and calculated vandalism of billboards, truck stops, and public art. Tyler does his own homework and threatens to kill a grocery store clerk if he doesn't take immediate steps to return to college and pursue his dream. This scene exemplifies the "follow your dream" ideology, a perversion of the capitalist ethos that permeates fight club. While threatening to pull the car they are both in into oncoming traffic, Tyler urges Jack to decide what he wants to accomplish before he dies. This appeal to individual fulfillment goes against Project Mayhem's hyper-collective mentality, which dictates that members renounce their names, shave their heads, wear identical black clothing, and dwell on dogma: "You're nothing special. You're not a beautiful and unique snowflake.” Tyler's appeal to Jack to “stop trying to control everything and just let go” is at odds with Project Mayhem's strictly regimented structure, complete with teams and committees.
The notion of pain as a portal to "your true self" is recalled when Tyler gives Jack a chemical burn. Tyler explains:
Without pain...we would have nothing...what you are feeling is premature enlightenment. This is the greatest moment of your life... Only after you lose everything can we do anything.
This "lose it all" ideology is belied throughout Fight Club by Tyler's reliance on rules and structure alike. Furthermore, Jack's description of the feelings he experienced after the fight—"when the fight was over, nothing resolved but nothing mattered"—seems to encompass the opposite: when nothing resolved and nothing mattered, "finding oneself" is certain not important. Slavoj Zizek's view of the postmodern individual can be used as a summary of the depiction of subjectivity in Fight Club. Zizek posits a subjectivity that knows no bounds as to when
[t]The inherent downside of "Be your true self!" is...the call for the cultivation of permanent transformation, in keeping with the postmodern postulate of the indefinite plasticity of the subject...in short, extreme individualism reverts to its opposite and leads to the ultimate Identity Crisis: Subjects experience themselves as radically insecure, without 'real face', shifting from one imposed mask to another, since behind that mask there is ultimately nothing, a horrifying void that they are desperately trying to fill with their compulsive activity... ( 373)
In this sense, the narrative of subjectivity in Fight Club becomes extremely complicated, mixing extreme individualism ("Follow your dream"), extreme collectivism ("You're nothing special"), and an endless shift from mask to mask to mask (Cornelius - Jack— Tyler…), where no mask is considered more authentic than another.
Fight Club is fundamentally ambivalent about any subject it would explore. It encourages a discourse of "finding yourself" while insisting "you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake". Does it all simply dissolve into postmodern irony, or does a core meaning remain? Among the contradictions, the message regarding subjectivity seems to be this: The only "authentic" thing about contemporary subjectivity is that there is an emptiness at its heart. Embracing that emptiness while facing a bleak prospect, rather than frantically trying to compensate for its absence, is the only authentic gesture that remains.
- Baudrillard, Jean. "The Ecstasy of Communication". 1983. Trans. John Johnston. postmodern culture. Ed. Hal Foster. London: Pluto Press, 1990.
- . simulations. Trans. Paul Foss, Paul Patton and Philip Beichman. New York:
- DeCerteau, Michel. The practice of everyday life. 1984. Trans. Stephen Renall. London: University of California Press, 1988.
- Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. 1987. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.
- Deleuze, Giles. Negotiations: 1972-1990. New York: Columbia UP, 1995.
- Fight Club. Dir. David Fincher. Twentieth Century Fox, 1999.
- Fiske, John. "Attacking Bodies and Carnival Pleasures". understand folk culture. 1989. London: Routledge, 1996.
- McLean, Craig. "Fuck you hero." Face. No. 35, December 1999.
- Zizek, Slavoj. The delicate subject: the absent center of political ontology. London: Verso, 1999.
Citation for this article
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- Greenwood, Kate. "You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake" M/C: A Journal of Media and Culture 6.1 (2003). Dn month year <http://www.media-culture.org.au/0302/09-snowflake.php>.
- Greenwood, K., (2003, February 26). "You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake". M/C: Magazine for Media and Culture, 6, (1). Retrieved Month Dn, Year from http://www.media-culture.org.au/0302/09-snowflake.html
What does snowflake mean from Fight Club? ›
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|Founders||Benoît Dageville Thierry Cruanes Marcin Żukowski|
|Headquarters||Bozeman, Montana, U.S.|
You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile.
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