Sunday, 2 February 2014

How many Tyler Durdens can we afford?

One of my favourite films is Fight Club, starring Edward Norton and Brad Pitt (1999). There are many memorable things in it: jack's notebooks; the dark humor; the biting commentary on human nature and society; etc.

Apparently, the film is based on a 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk with the same title. I haven't read the novel but I'm sure I'll enjoy it tremendously once I get the chance to read it.

The thing that struck me about the film was the complete and utter alienation that the main character feels, and the disillusionment and disappointment that confronts the everyman adrift in the unfulfilled (and, ultimately, unfulfillable) promise of consumerist society. It is an awakening to the drudgery that only dullards and (paradoxically) revolutionaries can blindly believe in - one, to strive to "make a living", and the other, to try and overturn. It is nothing less than a Benjamin Spock world whose only informing values are self-indulgence and mindless solipsism that can find no comfort in its inescapable solitude.

It takes insanity to see the insanity of such an unexamined life:

Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, 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. - Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Wikipedia entry on the film presents the main character (Edward Norton) thus:

The character is a 1990s inverse of The Graduate archetype: "a guy who does not have a world of possibilities in front of him, he has no possibilities, he literally cannot imagine a way to change his life". He is confused and enraged, so he responds to his environment by creating Tyler Durden, a Nietzchean √úbermensch, in his mind. While Tyler is who the narrator would want to be, he is not empathetic and does not help the narrator face decisions in his life "that are complicated and have moral and ethical implications". Fincher explained, "[Tyler] can deal with the concepts of our lives in an idealistic fashion, but does have anything to do with the compromises of real life as modern man knows it. Which is: You're not really necessary to a lot of what's going on. It's built, it just needs to run now". (

The film is really well-crafted. Like a Pink Floyd album, watching it over again always reveals something new. It is an exercise in critical thinking. There are many philosophical ideas invisible in the background, played out by the characters but never explicitly referenced though the arguments are certainly carried to in extremis. All to great effect.

I sometimes watch CBC's Lang &O'Leary Exchange. There is a promo on now where Amanda Lang asks whether it's fair and equitable for CEOs to make so much more than the workers, and Kevin O'Leary chimes that he will not decide, that the markets will decide. He is the markets, he (and his board of directors) decides. Granted, O'Leary is just a cog on a wheel in the machine that "just needs to run now".

The whole irony of the ascendance of extreme right-wing movement to which O'Leary, Harper's gov't and people like Rob Ford have uncritically glommed onto is that the movement, this age of multi-national corporations, renders even them "not really necessary to a lot of what's going on".

Like Norton's analysis brilliantly articulates: [these people do not seem to realize that] "having inherited this value system out of [their own] advertising" it really has nothing but global nihilism to offer because outside the proof of purchase, the tick on a ballot, the fluctuations in the markets, it merely becomes "chasing the dragon" even for those ostensibly running the show, that it turns out (in the words of Pitt): "[they're] rooting for ball teams, but [...] not getting in there to play. [They're] so concerned with failure and success—like these two things are all that's going to sum you up at the end."


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