Monday, 4 May 2009

Fight Club - American Disillusionment, subverting the 'Dream' and Masculinity in Crisis

A few goodies to support exploration of The American Dream and masculinity in fight club:

Brilliant thought provoking analysis of thematics:

A very interesting essay that explores both American Beauty and Fight club:

Another credible critique of both films:

Here is a nice extract exploring the subject matter entitled:

Purging the Male Soul: Why Fight Club is no Easy Rider 
Feel free to extract quotations to use in the exam: 

" In this film, the American Dream is corrupted by the addiction to mass-merchandised material goods, the craving to stuff our empty lives with products. And underneath this is a common theme in art - an attack on conformity, its present incarnation being stores like the Gap and Ikea. For Fincher, the American Dream has become not just about having kids, but being able to dress them in leather (this season).

It sounds good on paper. And while I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with asking an audience to question the values it promotes by shopping retail, there is a flawed philosophy behind this film. It's an arrogance that stems from a cynical view of human nature, and it robs the film of achieving real depth, a true portrait of America in the 1990s. The main characters are Tyler Durden, the anti-establishment sadist played by Brad Pitt, and Jack (Edward Norton) the prototypical corporate drone. Tyler believes that the only way to experience the vibrance of life is to break the shackles of your desk job and return to the roots of your nature - for men, that would be experiencing the primal instincts of survival and war.

Jack's life at the start of the film is the quintessential and oft-portrayed existence of urban drudgery. He lives in a cramped apartment ("a filing cabinet for widows and young professionals"), spends his time shopping in mail-order catalogs ("I'd flip through catalogues and wonder what kind of dining set defined me as a person") while his days are filled pushing papers in a menial and grotesque job (evaluating the cost of settling with victims of car malfunctions vs. the cost of ordering a recall). These actions are portrayed with a sense of despair, the type of mind-numbing, robotic behavior that we have seen in earlier films such as Terry Gilliam's Brazil. Jack, under Tyler's influence, abandons his jail-cell job and antiseptic apartment and helps him form an underground fighting society, a place where men can purge their souls. The central argument of the film stems from this juxtaposition: Ikea-Boy (as Tyler calls Jack) breaks his addiction to products and, in doing so, finds redemption. 

This, hypothetically, could be a scathing attack on middle-class values, a critique of our addiction to comfort, a rebuke of the contemporary incarnation of "keeping up with the Joneses." But, in reality, does it really serve any purpose to present day-jobs and shopping at Ikea as morally corrupt ? (As a side note, isn't there something incredibly offensive about a well-paid group of Hollywood hot-shots telling us that we should be buying more distinctive furniture instead of that plain - albeit affordable and dependable! - Ikea product? Hey, Brad, if I could afford an Eames chair, I would buy one.) And really, is there something inherently more noble in living in a dilapidated old house with crummy electricity and dripping water? I don't believe it. Living as a recluse and rejecting society in your ramshackle shack is just as much an affectation as living as a corporate hack in an apartment complex - they're both caricatures. I don't buy either as telling the whole story of how real people feel about their work and lives.

If the artists (and, granted, Fincher has a unique visual style; and Pitt and Norton share some of their best moments) behind Fight Club truly harbor such a disdain for the lifestyle of Americans, I think it behooves them to present a less juvenile alternative than freeing oneself by pummeling your fellow man into a bloody pulp as cathartic release. The fury of the first half of the film is, in an interesting reversal, not earned by the solution of the second. And it is this fury - this palpable sense that Fincher really feels that we are living miserable lives - that turned me off Fight Club. His vision lacks any basis in reality. It's a pretentious, wannabe-artist's view of the world.

Fight Club has conveniently glossed over the details of individuality in its attempt to make a statement. It sounds really good to make a movie saying we are all sucked in by corporate America's evil advertising schemes - but that's just not the way it is. If you walk into the apartments of the "common man,"yes, you may find an Ikea desk, and maybe a Pottery Barn lamp, and probably something from Hold Everything. But you will also see that person's photographs and that cool table he found at a garage sale and a hard to find one-sheet poster of his favorite movie. I don't think anyone in America defines himself by his Ikea barstool. Sure, I have some Gap T-shirts in my closet; but really, would that groovy Grateful Dead concert shirt with the holes and shredded collar really seem so special if it weren't for the dependable, reliable plain Gap T? Probably not. You need the plain to make the extraordinary, well, extraordinary. Like that wonderful scene in Harold and Maude - when Maude says to Harold, in a huge field of identical looking flowers, that all daises are not the same, that they may look to be but some have longer stems than others, some have more petals than others - people may share qualities, but to condemn society based on certain shared home products is both naive and immature."

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