The Middle Children of History

February 11, 2008 at 12:49 am (Consumerism)

fight-club-0015.jpg

In one of his rousing speeches, Brad Pitt’s character in Fight Club says:

“I see all this potential, and I see squandering. An entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off. ”

 The anti-consumerist refrain that runs through this film is incredibly appealing (though living in a dillapidated tenement is not).

 Maybe Tyler Durden is right. Maybe invention is the mother of necessity. Maybe we Americans spend way too much time living as wage slaves in order to scrape together enough stuff to distract us from the truth we dare not face.

 It may do us some good to remember that the American Dream does not come for free. And no, I’m not referring to our boys in uniform who lay it all on the line to ensure our way of life, but to the thousands of people all over the world who have to endure poverty and squalor in order to enable us to have Blackberrys for ourselves and Barbies for our kids.

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57 Comments

  1. Johnny T said,

    I always thought living in that dilapidated tenement looked quite appealing. That is like my jr. high dream come true.

  2. The Pundit said,

    Mine was to live in a VW Bus.

    What did you think of the post? From what I can gather from your blog, this is the kind of thing that floats your boat.

    How ’bout the Barber giving me a shout out? Help me drum up some traffic?

  3. The Dane said,

    @Johnny – You already lived your dream. Remember Laguna? I guess you weren’t there for the real glory days when the vines began to invade, but it does seem to fit your vision.

    @The Pundit – Despite the rousing bravado of Tyler’s speeches, Tyler-the-imaginary-character is really just a stand-in for aggressive masculinity and the film ultimately mocks him by presenting a feminist solution to the world’s ills and then killing him off. The entire movie is actually a paean to Marla and the aggressive rebuttal to patriarchy she represents—and Jack’s narration is demonstrates this. The movie presents Tyler’s anti-consumerism and neo-neanderthalic ideologies as cute and fun but ultimately trite and unworkable.

    Whether the film is lying or not is another question.

  4. The Pundit said,

    Hi The Dane,

    Welcome to my blog, here’s to hopin’ you like it, and even stick around.

    Interesting take on FC. Refresh my memory: What’s the “feminist solution to the world’s ills”? Surely not the blowing up of buildings, but it has been a while.

    Is Pitt’s character really the butt of a joke? It seems to go out of its way to reinforce how sickening “Rupert’s” life was before he saw the light (or, “fight,” in his case).

    And do you think the film is lying?

  5. Johnny T said,

    Hey The Dane, that is a cool take on FC. Never thought of it that way.

    But, I think Marla’s charachter fits in with Tyler’s anti-consumerism. If anyone fits his model of not letting Ikea and advertising define our identity, it is Marla.

    So I think the anti-consumerism of FC doesn’t fall on just one side of the masculine/feminine divide, but is able to be embraced by both.

  6. The Dane said,

    @The Pundit – Marla, as Jack’s savior (she delivers him from his psychosis), source of strength (she’s his power animal), and anchor to reality (at least in the scope of the film), represents a return to matriarchy. The great danger that Tyler represents and hopes to force upon the the world is patriarchic anarchy, a return to hunter/gatherer reality, in which sex roles return to those classically defined. Tyler is the films antagonist, though we like him).

    Jack keys us in to Marla’s importance with the film’s opening in which he says, “All of this has got something to do with a girl named Marla Singer.” Immediately after, we see Jack nestled between Bob’s boobs, a representation of comfort and safety for him. The film climaxes with Jack’s victory over Tyler’s dream, all the while being prompted and inspired by Marla (whom he loathes but comes to cherish). The denouement, with the building collapsing is a blind. Most will see the destruction of the credit companies as a victory for Tyler, but it’s ultimately hollow. While the scene of destruction plays out, we hear Pixies singing “Where is my mind?” and we look and see that while Jack is certainly taking in the scene of destruction, his mind is on other matters. He has chosen Marla, not Tyler. Tyler states, “We’re a generation of men raised by women. I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need.” Jack affirms that it is.

    And that is why the movie is about her.

    But what is she. She is the ultimate egalitarian woman. Marla inhabits a world in which traditionally female roles have been subsumed by the men. (This is Tyler’s whole problem with consumer culture. Not that it’s driving fruitless needs and wants but that shopping is feminine and real men shouldn’t need consumerism.) In this world in which men encroach on female sex-roles, Marla responds in kind, taking on traditionally masculine aspects to herself. She is the aggressor in the sexual relationship. She is the one with the foul mouth. She is the one who is not fashion-conscious. And she is the one who talks sense while the men in the monkey house are wholly driven by the emotional appeal of Tyler’s message.

    Marla is, in short, the new femininity. She has absorbed all sex-roles, taking what suits her, and begins to rule the world. Or at the least, Jack’s world.

    As far as whether I think the film is lying? I don’t think the film cares about consumerism one way or another. The battle between consumerism and Tyler’s violent anti-consumerism was just a gimmick to express the war of genderization. So, no. I don’t think the film lied, because I don’t really think it said anything about consumerism at all.

    But let’s pretend that we’re to take Tyler’s points seriously. I think the film is right to not take his ideology too seriously. Consuming isn’t bad or wrong or harmful in itself. Thoughtless consumption is the problem. Tyler’s agenda, however, makes no allowances for this. And the big irony is that he is selling his ideology to born consumers. They eat it up. They want what he’s selling because that’s who they are, thoughtless consumers. I’ve talked to (and disagreed with) Johnny T about this before, but consumerism and commodification doesn’t stop with arbitrary economic units (a.k.a. money and money-purchaseable product), but it goes well into all aspects of life—and I can sell an idea or an image or a belief as easily as a car, only the rate of exchange doesn’t involve dollars.

    @Johnny T – Yeah, part of Marla’s bid to absorb all sex-roles is her exchange of the formerly male/female consumer dynamic. In a world of effeminate men, she becomes the ideal not just for women but for men as well.

  7. The Pundit said,

    Wow, and here I just thought it was a cool movie and stuff. That was a really good analysis, The Dane, was that all original and after your first screening? If so, I’m never watching a movie again!

  8. The Dane said,

    No, it wasn’t all original or based on a single screening. My actual initial reaction to the film was me walking out of the theater on opening night, dragging my jaw on the floor, and saying, “Holy crap! That was madness. What did I just see.” I was wholly unprepared for the kind of movie I had just seen. It took me days of thinking and then several more viewings to at all come to grips with what was actually occurring.

    There’s been a bit written on sex roles and genderization in the movie because it’s so overt in Tyler’s promotion of his ideal masculinity—so much so that the film became an anthem of sorts for a friend of mine who had been searching high-and-low for the key to Real Masculinity ™, something he wanted deeply but could never quite figure out. It’s almost natural that it would become a focus for gender studies. I first encountered a reading similar to what I presented around 2001 on a now-defunct film-criticism site called 24 frames per second. The interpretation fit well with how I was already seeing the film and since then that has been the way I’ve continued to read FC and the direction my thoughts about the movie have continued to develop.

    Oh yeah, and my wife reminded me that it helps the reading to remember that Tyler was on the scene before Jack was introduced to Marla—so one cannot read the opening line as a reference to the creation of Tyler (though it would be fascinating if Marla had been the catalyst for the creation of Tyler Durden).

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