Fight Club

Thursday, May 10, 2001


Kenneth Turan's Fight Club review reads like something The Man told him to say. It is a very culturally inappropriate film for all the right reasons: it does, as Turan claims, suggest that violence isn't so bad. But KT never considers this as a plausible option. Of course Waco and Columbine were bleak moments in our world, but this is not mutually exclusive to the concept that a primal scream, a yawp of desperation, is a valid action, reaction, and if two men want to fight because they feel, without my blaming them, that modern life is rough and stale, they may have found something valuable. To dismiss the fights as "violence" is blind - we must draw a line between two consenting adults practicing violence and Columbine as clearly as between consensual sex and rape.

I won't suggest that Fight Clubs should exist or speculate that copycat FCs will ever spring up. Most of us won't join for the same reason we didn't fight much before seeing the movie: we don't want to be beaten up. But if the characters have found a way out of their computer jobs, without - in a looser sense - hurting anyone, for their harm to each other is as willingly accepted as the masochists (and in fact the FC may be more masochism than sadism, for the prevailing desperation is not to inflict pain, but to feel sensation, the reward not a broken hand but a black eye, not the idea of burning someone but the enlightenment that comes with the scar) - why not?

There is a primal uncivilized way of looking at everything. Baseball, somewhere beneath the surface, below the double switch and infield fly rule, is about being afraid to be hit by a 90 mph baseball. Somewhere in modern society, beneath IKEA catalogs and Nielsen ratings, is the feat that someone will punch you very hard. FC - the club, not the movie - and thus the movie as well - is a removal of the infield fly rule, the rules of dating, and competing long-distance carriers, until what you have is FC versus instinct. The FC represents the desire to feel pain and snap out of it (life rut), and at the root of the movement is a glorious contradiction: wanting pain against the biological, social and personal need not to be beaten severely.

It is a daring act to fight instead of flee, a step of declaring the courage and ability to stand stronger than fear - less about fighting than about not running, and less about proving mettle in the fight than proving mettle to yourself.


The reviewers thinking it's sexual, and least Turan didn't fall into this trap, are sick, sick people. Why do they assume that physical roughness between two people is sexual? Because they think it's more natural than violence? If they think sexual activity means conflict, fury, cracked ribs, and that violent behavior is a stand-in, a signifier for sex, well, they need to get some [help].


Christopher Nash wrote in Culture of Narcissism of the social irresponsibility of the New Age movement - not the Enya style but the primal style, the men-screaming-in-a-forest style, and in fact Dargis' review suggests that FC satirizes the men's self-help movement. Nash points out that [not so much] the self-help movement [as the urge to scream], representing as it does in some way the modern man casting off "modern" and longing to skydive, for instance. Nash implicitly suggests that the desire to risk limb(/life) for a rush is an immaturity, a shirking of social duties. There's nothing wrong with feeling but the singleminded quest, the Fight Club, casts off the mandate of ancestors. Follow Nash's suggestion a little more and notice that this lofty mandate of distant ancestors is rephrased in the familiar, practical mandate of nearby ancestors like parents: Get a job.

FC has no shame for this. It is liberated from Nash's accusation by its assertion that modern society's mandate, its best suggestion for picking up the gauntlet thrown by human ancestry, is isolation and IKEA. FC - remarkably true to the novel by Chuck Palahniuk - has little to say about accepting the challenge of one's species. The isolation exists not only horizontally between members of society, but vertically through time. A generation of men raised by women, at the risk of vast sexism, feel no tie to ancestry, the ancient dark strength of patriarchal centuries. Tyler Durden wants to fight his father, and here is another kind of violence Turan fails to differentiate from any other. The violence Tyler feels towards his father (which is one aspect, no more, no less, of any brutal beating he dishes out) can't be blamed on video games, which have their faults, an ongoing war between digital and analog control, but are probably not responsible for modern man's alienation from history [and the dilemma of whether to consider history personal or statistical]. You'd need to blame a lot more culprits, and Turan shrugs that off, but FC helps by throwing at least passing shots at MTV, Wall Street, Starbucks, absent fathers, present mothers, and women (Marla) which [not who - it's "women," not actual or individual women], whether this assertion strikes you as sexist or feminist, are not entirely uninvolved with the predicament of modern man.

The love story of Fight Club, like the political system of A Clockwork Orange, could disappear, and the movie would stand alone. Once there, though, it becomes apparent that each would be a film lacking some motivation, events taking place in a circle, never directly connected through the empty space in the center. Yeah, love is the heart of everything. Or, if you've seen A Clockwork Orange more recently than Fight Club, politics.

Reviewed by Matthew Abrams
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