In 2005, when this site was very new, I wrote an article about Fight Club that talked about… to be honest, it rambled. It’s mostly about how the system men created has betrayed them, but there’s a lot of other stuff in there. More than a few MRA forums linked to the article as a great read on why women suck so much and it’s perfectly right for men to hate and abuse them. I’ve wanted to write a follow-up piece clarifying article for some time, and this is it.
From the original article:
“A generation of men raised by women. I’m wondering if another woman is the answer we really need.”
This is the finish to a conversation about the rather underwhelming guidance the two main male characters had gotten from their fathers: go to college, get a job, “I don’t know – get married”. In other words, follow the formula.
But the point of the whole movie is that the system is breaking down…
…and Jack has been left out in the cold. This is the part of the movie MRAs and other misogynists interpret as a criticism of women and the toxic effect they have on the men and boys. But is that what Tyler Durden’s saying?
Consider the conversation leading up to that line. Jack and Tyler have just discovered they had very similar fathers. These fathers:
- Gave them meaningless crap instead of guidance.
- Moved to a new city and started a new family every 6 years or so, like a franchise.
That’s a pretty damn good example of not being there for your kids, isn’t it? Of a father’s absolute selfishness and entitlement to move on whenever he’s bored, regardless of the damage he leaves in his wake. He doesn’t care. Once the kids aren’t interesting to him anymore, they might as well cease to exist. As Tyler says later in the movie:
Our fathers were our models for God. And, if our fathers bailed, what does that tell us about God? Listen to me. You have to consider the possibility that God doesn’t like you, He never wanted you. In all probability, He hates you. This is not the worst thing that can happen… we don’t need him. Fuck damnation. Fuck redemption. We are God’s unwanted children, with no special place and no special attention, and so be it.
What this is, is a thorough condemnation of patriarchy: God and ours fathers have abandoned us. The people we put in charge and worshiped and gave special treatment have gotten bored with wiping their feet on our backs and moved on to another challenge. They couldn’t care less what happens to us. That’s what Tyler’s talking about: God and fathers letting men down.
And let’s not forget what Jack does for a living: he works for an auto manufacturer. When a problem is found with a car model, it’s his job to determine which will cost more: a recall, or a class action suit. If the recall’s more expensive, the company just waits around to get sued. If people are fried alive in the car in the meantime – like one entire family whose car Jack has to examine – that’s okay. The scene is played for comedy, but don’t miss the gravity: why do you think Jack loses it and develops the Tyler personality? He’s basically an accountant, but because corporations are structured to function like psychopaths, the corporation can experience causing lives to end violently and prematurely as a mere pile of stats on a computer screen viewed over a nice hot latte. But Jack’s the one who has to look at the remains, and he’s unable to harden himself to the violence like the jackasses in the scene who make jokes about human fat cooked into the seat upholstery. (Not long after this scene, Jack “meets” Tyler for the first time, and guess what Tyler does for a living? Makes human fat into soap and sells it back to the corporate bullshit world from whence it came.)
Tyler, Jack’s shadow self, comes along to help Jack tear down the corporate world that enables God and our fathers to kill, torture and oppress in the name of “Hey, we’re just chasing the dollar, sorry” and “It was a good business decision.” Tyler is Jack’s solution to living in a system that rewards the sort of callousness, selfishness and egotism Jack’s father demonstrated when he dumped his son for a newer model.
But in the end, it’s not society Jack wants to destroy, but himself – or at least, the part of him that’s Tyler. This suggests a few possible interpretations, but we have an intriguing quote from author Chuck Palahniuk: “The whole story is about a man reaching the point where he can commit to a woman.” Combining this with everything else, what do we get?
Tyler is Jack’s fantasy self – a rebel with a cause who doesn’t need Ikea furnishings. Or civilization, for that matter. Tyler is an island. He’s enlightened. He can endure anything and he can do anything. He’s Jack’s superman, and after spending the whole movie wanting to become Tyler, Jack destroys him because Superman isn’t the answer. Bombing civilization isn’t the answer. Fights that get you back to your primal urges aren’t the answer. What is?
Self-acceptance. That’s what you need before you can seriously commit yourself to someone else, and that’s what Jack doesn’t have. Committing to a cause is easy – you just have to love the cause. Committing to others – spouses, children, friends, whatever – is best done by people who have first committed to love themselves, warts and all. Jack, like so many people, needs to accept that he’s human and imperfect and that’s okay. (This is almost surely what made it impossible for Jack’s father to stay committed to a spouse and children – deep down, he probably figured they’d leave him if he didn’t leave them first.)
This is what Fight Club is really about: learning to love yourself, a prerequisite to loving anyone else. Everything Tyler criticizes – consumer culture, wimpiness, lack of discipline – is stuff we’ve substituted for healthy self-love in this society. Feeling empty and dead inside? You just need to own the new iPiddle!
Who’s offered men this crap as a solution for unhappiness? Not women: other men. It wasn’t being raised by a woman that hurt Jack; it was being abandoned by his male role model that did the damage.
The message of Fight Club seems to be, through most of the film, that men need to get in touch with their inner animals and shrug off the trappings of civilization. But in the end, what Jack needs is to get over the idea that if he’d been perfect enough, his father would have loved him.