Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Fight Club

            The first rule of reading this book blog is that you tell everyone you know about it. The second rule of reading this book blog is that you tell everyone you know about it.

            Sound familiar? I know that it’s Fight Club* and we’re not supposed to discuss it, but this is a group hell-bent on defying the rules so I think they’ll honor an exception. If you’ve been living in a hole and haven’t read Chuck Palahniuk’s debut novel or seen David Fincher’s 1999 film, here’s a brief rundown for you without giving anything major away:

A run-of-the-mill man (unnamed narrator--Edward Norton) encounters a charismatic man (Tyler Durden--Brad Pitt) who offers him a new perspective on life. Both men are caught in a love triangle with an unstable, adventurous woman (Marla Singer--Helena Bonham Carter).  The unnamed man feels dissatisfied despite the fact that he’s accumulated a near-perfect furniture set in his apartment. And don’t even get him started on his refrigerator! He’s “collected shelves full of different mustards, some stone-ground, some English pub style. There were fourteen different flavors of fat-free salad dressing, and seven kinds of capers” (Palahniuk, 45). But he’s treading water. He’s experiencing life in such a dull, zombified way that he actually craves death as an event that would liberate him. Tyler swoops in just in time as his deliverance. He doesn’t come bearing Buddha’s recommendation to strip yourself of your possessions and discard your mustard collection in order to reach nirvana. Instead, he insists on total anarchy. Destroy everything in the current system and rebuild! Society has devolved such that everyone is a slave to their job and their bank accounts just so that they can make a bunch of money to buy shit that they don’t need. Maybe the only way to truly feel alive is to take back our own dominance and dignity by emancipating ourselves from the institutions that control us and abolishing the rulebooks of our generation.

So, Tyler gives the narrator a new set of rules in the form of Fight Club. Men come together, rip off their shirts, and beat the living daylights out of each other. A microcosm for how Tyler thinks we should be reacting to our present fates and a chance to taste the sweetness of death so that the fighter might really live. When Fight Club stops fully scratching the morbid fascination itch, he ups the salvation ante with Project Mayhem—an organization designed to wreak havoc on the world. He states, “the goal [is] to teach each man in the project that he [has] the power to control history” (Palahniuk, 122).

Project Mayhem geeks me out. Members tag cars with “Drunk Drivers Against Mothers” bumper stickers (Palahniuk, 144). Tyler leaves the following note: “I have passed an amount of urine into at least one of your many elegant fragrances” next to a table holding a hundred perfume bottles that belong to some rich prick (Palahniuk, 82). And indeed, the novel and the film are very funny, even while brutally preoccupied with mortality. After all, it’s a satirical work and Palahniuk is as comically inventive as he is candidly dark. What started out as just a seven-page short story unfurled into a two hundred-page masterpiece that leaves you laughing, angry, disturbed, and depressed.

Fight Club takes the sentiments of Office Space and hands them to a deranged insomniac. We’re somewhat accustomed to the representation of this kind of daring and disastrous defiance of conventions in film today, but audiences were less prepared back in 1999. Many reviewers balked at the film, which rarely deviates from the text and more often than not uses direct quotes. The impassioned, polarized responses matched the intensity of the message in the film, with some viewers concerned by its potential promotion of violence. But the enormous cultural impact eventually overshadowed the film’s box-office disappointment. It’s a cult classic that struck a nerve with many Americans steeped in consumerism and frustration.

I watched the movie prior to reading the book. When I first saw it, I loved it because I was 18—I didn’t know anything about anything and Fight Club posed some edgy questions that appealed to my desire to be *different*. I had zero reason to feel deeply dissatisfied with the current order, but I admired the film because it was raw, in-your-face, and incredibly entertaining. I still think those things, but now I appreciate the satire. The book and the movie are so similar in execution that they’re practically inseparable in my mind. They both provoke an urgency to confront an important issue: you are definitely going to die, so how are you going to live? Not to mention the impeccable casting. Edward Norton perfectly resembles the punk ass bitch you imagine the narrator to be, Brad Pitt is an obvious idealized version of manhood and strength, and Helena Bonham Carter is, as always, believable in her quirky sensuality. In fact, Palahniuk insists that the novel is a romance.

I’m sure that the book + film are upsetting to some, but if life isn’t always rainbows and Chili’s, then our media shouldn’t be either. I respect Chuck Palahniuk for not backing down at all in the narrator’s quest to control his own life and redefine the concepts of completeness and perfection. It doesn’t hurt that there’s a disturbing twist and a constant thread of dark comedy. As such, Fight Club (the novel and the movie) each receive 5 out of 5 camel humps.

*Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1996. Print.

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