• June 12, 2024

Fight Club, Consumer Psychology and Redemption

The Fight Club movie was one of those unique movies that help define a generation. The film was preceded by the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, who created such a stir with the book and later the film that people began to treat Chuck as Tyler Durden, often offering to “sit” people at his request. So what was it about the movie about him that moved people so much? Many were simply interested in the entertainment elements of the movies, but upon closer examination, the movie had a much deeper meaning that this review will attempt to explore. Although we started with the idea of ​​an analysis of Tyler Durden, his alter ego, referred to in the film as “Jack”, is also very relevant to this discussion.

The narrator “Jack” begins the film with a raging case of insomnia brought on by an existential crisis. Like Meursault’s character in Albert Camus’s novel The Stranger, who commented that “life had begun to haunt him,” Jack has reached a point in his life that is also completely meaningless, as evidenced by his quote, “this is your life and it ends one minute at a time.” Finally, Jack seems to embrace the Buddhist idea that meaning in life can be achieved by actively meditating on one’s own death. He joins various survivor groups where he gets to see people at the end of life, and this seems to bring him a lot of peace. Perhaps a part of him takes solace in the fact that fate has been cruel to others as he continues to forgive him, and this gives him a sense of peace where he can finally get some sleep.

Everything changes when Jack meets Marla, who is suffering from a similar existential crisis. Marla, though as lost as Jack, has no place in mainstream America and is essentially a bottom feeder in society. Still, Marla and Jack are soul mates, and there’s an immediate attraction that Jack can’t act on, until his subconscious creates Tyler Durden.

So Jack’s spill on Tyler can be partially explained by looking at the fundamentals of dissociation. This occurs when someone’s thoughts become too uncomfortable for them to consciously process and they transition into another state as a psychological defense against these painful feelings. So the question is what was so awkward in Jack’s life that he needed to create an alter ego. The answer can be found by looking at our great American society and how consumerism creates an empty sense of self.

In Adam Curtis’s documentary The Century of the Self, the roots of American consumerism are explored by following the trail of Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays. Bernays had extensively studied the works of his uncle and became convinced that people could be manipulated into buying products based on their instinctive drives toward aggressiveness and sexuality.

To back up a second, Freud postulated that our subconscious is made up of three separate functions known as the id, ego, and superego. The superego assumes the function of what we consider the “conscience” that drives us towards moral and fair conduct. The id, on the other hand, is our drive towards destruction and sexuality that Freud thought was inherent in human nature. The ego acts as a kind of referee between these two forces to create a balance in which people can function successfully according to the rules of society.

Freud believed that we are all inherently aggressive and that identification is the dominant force in our lives, restrained only by the conventions of society. In Civilization and its discontents, Freud affirmed that “men are not kind creatures, who want to be loved, who at most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures whose instinctive gifts include a powerful share of aggressiveness. Consequently, their neighbor is for them not only a potential help or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his ability to work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to dispossess his property, humiliate him, cause him pain, torture him and kill him”.

So, to go back to Edward Bernays, he felt that his uncle’s ideas could be used to exploit the American public and buy things they didn’t need if he could make them feel that these things would make them more sexually powerful or perceived as more aggressive. Consider Tyler’s comment; “Damn, a whole generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves in white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need” in this vein.

A part of Jack has begun to understand that the constant acquisition of furniture and other things for his condo is a mindless pursuit, totally devoid of purpose and satisfaction, and he feels a strong urge to act on this sentiment. Much of Jack’s dissociation has to do with this empty sense of self that he realizes he’s been filling for years by buying things, ie, “What kind of dining set defines me as a person?” Tyler also comments: “We’re the middle children of history, man. With no purpose or place. We don’t have a great war, we don’t have a great depression. Our great war is a spiritual war, and our great depression is our life. We’ve all been raised on TV to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, movie gods and rock stars. But we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact, and we’re very, very angry.” Jack has begun to reject the consumerism to which he has become something of a slave, also evidenced by his comment that “the things you own end up owning you”.

Tyler’s comment is very valid and can be supported historically. Before industrialization in this country, most people lived in rural communities where there was a shared sense of community and the values ​​of hard work and self-sufficiency were emphasized. With the advent of industrialization, people began to flock to the cities, and with this migration, many of the core values ​​of the rural way of life were also left behind. As people began to live in close proximity in the US, a desire to “keep up with the neighbors” soon developed where people wanted to acquire as many possessions as their neighbors to keep up appearances. This mindset was soon exploited by people like Bernays, who worked with companies to create ad campaigns that capitalized on this idea.

However, World War II disrupted the county, and the “sense of purpose” Tyler refers to came from standing up to Adolf Hitler and protecting the world from the spread of fascism. However, after World War II, the consumer machine was reactivated and we soon reverted to the idea of ​​buying new and better things in accordance with our deep-seated subconscious desires. However, the next generation partially rejected this idea, and in the 1960s a series of social causes such as the Women’s Movement, Civil Rights, and ending the Vietnam War energized people and once again created a sense of unified purpose.

Children born after this generation are Tyler’s “middle children of history”. With more media than ever bombarding them constantly, and no political or social causes behind them, “Generation X” became one of the most restless and dissatisfied in history, and this is where we pick up Jack’s story.

An interesting part of Jack’s story comes from his analysis of his ideas about women and sex. At the beginning of the film, we see him holding a catalog that looks like a porn magazine, and instead we see that it’s an Ikea ad. Jack, by fulfilling his psychological desires by buying things, suppressed his sexual urges and he became celibate. When he creates Tyler, he is finally able to release his pent-up sexual frustration and release her id desires. But when Jack lets this genie out of the bottle, sexual conquest is not the least of Tyler’s wishes. Freud also believed that our drive towards destruction would emerge when the conventions of society were stripped away, and this is exactly what happened in the case of Tyler, who wished to destroy the consumerism that has prevented Jack from acting on his natural primitive impulses.

Tyler’s actions suggest that destruction may also be evolutionary, as evidenced by his comment that “only when we lose everything do we have the power to do anything.” By destroying Jack’s possessions, he feels that he has set him free, but it’s also important to understand what Jack can do now. “It’s interesting to consider Tyler’s advice that ‘self-improvement is masturbation, but self-destruction is where it’s at.

So is love Jack’s salvation? This is certainly a hypothesis. At the end of the movie, when Jack destroys Tyler, we see two things. One, the towers of consumerism collapsing, and two, him joining hands with Marla in perhaps her first moment of true intimacy. Perhaps this suggests that Jack has destroyed the power of his addiction to consumerism at the same time that he realizes that there was a drive in human instinct more powerful than simple sex.

So, is that the message of Fight Club? That love can be the redeeming force that frees us from our ties? I think this is a likely explanation. Although as a viewer I particularly enjoyed watching Tyler/Jack break free from the thrall of drug addiction, we still have Jack’s comment that “this all has something to do with a woman named Marla Singer.” The nature of the psyche is such that the ego’s defenses are not removed without being replaced by another force to protect the ego. In Jack’s case, by killing Tyler, he has freed himself from disassociation from him and unified the forces within him on a single front. Tearing down the towers exorcises the demonic forces of consumerism that have been filling Jack’s empty self, and now he is free to live through the redemptive powers of love.

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