Wine-ing About Fight Club
I have a confession to make. I like Fight Club.
It's not fashionable to say anymore especially as someone who liked it as an angry young man. I should have grown out of such things by now, but I haven't. I love it.
But it's not fashionable. In fact for the 20th anniversary of the movie release last year, it seemed that a lot of writers were falling over themselves to call out this cult classic for everything from toxic masculinity, to glorifying terrorism to just being a pretentious piece of bullshit.
It didn't sit well with me. So I endeavored to re-read the book and re-watch the movie and write a piece about how it holds up and why it holds up after all these years. When I described this idea to one of my partners-in-crime, who also has a bookish nature and a penchant for rebellion, she wanted to help with the project.
So we read the book together and watched the movie as Fight Club was truely meant to be enjoyed. Namely with a cheese board and high quality wine.
After that we adjurned to the writing cave for more wine and a half-drunken lengthy discussion about live, love, rebellion and, of course, Fight Club.
Below is a transcript of the conversation. It has been edited for length and coherency. Especially toward the end.
There was a lot of wine.
Jeremy: We just finished Fight Club the movie after we both read fight club the book. Last year it was the 20th anniversary of the movie as you know. And it became very fashionable for writers my age who grew up liking the movie when it came out, and then it became fashionable to say that it hadn’t aged well. They liked to watch the movie with our modern sensibilities and things that have changed in the past couple of decades.
I still love the movie, and I believe you do as well.
Jeremy: [The writers] mostly talked about the movie, but I would like to talk about the book as well. Which was a better representation of the themes, ideas, and satire that Chuck Palahniuk was trying to convey. I’m going to toss it over to you. Where do you think the criticism comes from, and what is your defense of the work?
Erika: All of my notes come down to gender/identity politics vs. class warfare and how people are focusing on the wrong thing. One of my main notes is, ‘Is it really Fight Club’s fault that men's rights activists couldn’t see that this was about class and not about sex and gender?’ This is a classic case of something getting bogged down in identity politics instead of class warfare. Capitalism is too good at getting people to fight with each other and ague in the context of race or gender when they should be coming together as workers against the people who hold all the wealth and do none of the actual labor.
The issue of women is brought up so much less than the anti-consumerism message is, yet that is what people seem to cling to. They cherry-picked parts of the book to fit into their dogma, and I don’t see how that blame should be put on Fincher or Palahniuk.
Jeremy: All Chuck Palahniuk’s works have a cadence, and the more often a line is repeated, the more important it is. All the critics cling to one particular line in the book, “We are a generation of men raised by women, I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need,” which is used once.
It’s a line that many picked and clung to, but it’s not an important line in the book.
Erika: I think it's a case of misinterpreting. Now is that the art’s fault or is that the people cherry-picking the art’s fault?
Jeremy: Tell me about the first time you saw Fight Club and read the book and the feelings associated therewith.
Erika: I think I always, without maybe having the words to express it, always clung on to the anti-capitalist, anti-consumerism part of it. Which is why I think it’s held up so well. I think it’s really sad that people are clinging to the wrong things. I just remember that, well #1, that was going to be the start of my love affair with David Fincher as a director because it's an amazing movie. It’s gorgeous and dark and weird and horrible all at the same time.
And reading Palahniuk, I started a love affair with him. I think he has really interesting thoughts, sometimes really horrible and grotesque things to say, but it’s all beautiful in its own weird way?
Jeremy: I’ve fallen in and out of love with Palahniuk a few times. There is only so much nihilism that one can take!
Jeremy: It does wear down on you after a while, and you go, ‘I kinda wanna read a book about people that believe in something. But I do keep coming back to it because there is something beautiful in his writing. It has that cadence, the themes are very poignant, the descriptions are… vivid.
Erika: There is a reason he has a book called ‘Haunted.’ It’s haunting.
Jeremy: Fun fact, this is actually his second book. His first book was actually Invisible Monsters.
Erika: Oh… damn.
Jeremy: …which he didn’t get published until later because he would send that off to publishers, and they would look at it and say, ‘What the fuck is wrong with you?’ So then he wrote Fight Club and sent that off, and they said, ‘This is fine!’
Erika: My copy [of the book] is a reissue from a couple of years ago, 2018, and it has an afterword written by the author. And in it, it sounds like he’s trying to make people understand that Fight Club was going to kinda happen no matter what, it just happened to be him that wrote this story. But it was always going to happen, can I read you a part of this?
Erika: “Now this is the first rule of Fight Club. There is nothing that a blue-collar nobody in Oregon with a public school education can imagine that a million, billion people haven’t already done. In the mountains of Bolivia, in one place the book has yet to be published, thousands of miles from this drunk cowboy and his haunted tunnel tour, every year thousands gather in the high Andes villages to celebrate the festival of Tincu. There, men beat the crap out of each other. Drunk and bloody, they pound one another with just their bare fists chanting ‘we are men, we are men, we are men.’
“The men fight the men. Sometimes the women fight one another. They fight the way they have for centuries, in their world with little income or wealth, few possessions, and no education or opportunity. It’s a festival they look forward to all year long. And then, when they are exhausted, the men and women go to church.
“Being tired isn’t the same as being rich. But most of the time, it is close enough.”
Jeremy: So bringing it back to where we started, I found an especially irritating clip from a modern review of the movie; it actually came from Esquire by Matt Miller, “Perhaps its the clunky, unsubtle source material, but Fight Club is, for the most part, a joyless, 2-hour mansplaining of modern capitalist America. It’s long stretches of a white dude moaning in self-pity, punctuated by lengthy sequences of intense violence and abuse.”
This came to mind when we were watching the movie, and I wrote this down. It was during the Raymond K Hessel scene, which so many reviews come back and talk about and completely lose what that scene is about. They always say something like, ‘Oh my God! They terrorized this guy!’
Which, okay, yes, they did. For the record, Jeremy and Erika don’t think you should take a gun, force someone out of a convenience store, and try to make their dream come true at gunpoint.
Erika: Absolutely not because, as the movie shows you, the gun is not loaded.
Jeremy: They so miss the point over. One writer even referred to the scene when they said, ‘And they send one guy away with PTSD,’ which they might have. What I noted was those kinds of reactions were the weepy ‘snowflake’ mentality that the left is derided for.
Erika: They lose the essence of what that scene is. They are too focused on what is going on, and they are not focusing on the words he is saying. He is asking him questions and trying to make him realize that he wanted a better life at one point and what made him give up! If you died tomorrow, why wouldn’t you have wanted to go after all the things you wanted at one point! Would you rather be working at a liquor store, or would you rather be a veterinarian? Pick one!
Jeremy: And I think it's a testament to some of these writer’s lack of imagination that they can’t see how a traumatic event can inspire great things.
Erika: So many people have gone through trauma, but so many great things have happened. Do you think those are mutually exclusive? You think those people are walled off completely because they have PTSD? That’s ridiculous.
Jeremy: What it made me think about is J. R. R. Tolkien. He was in WWI. I can imagine he suffered some horrific shit. I don’t know if he was at any of the big battles, The Somme, Ypres, or anyplace like that. But he saw enough to inspire Mordor. And he always said that the war was one of the great adventures of his life. So to say that trauma can’t inspire great things is nonsense.
One of the things that keeps me coming back and that I still feel while reading the book and watching the movie is the idea that every person has power, for good or ill. They have the power to change their life if they only realize it.
One of the constant defenses of Fight Club is that everyone missed the point that it’s supposed to be satire. But I do think that quality gets lost easier in the movie than it does in the book. In the movie, there is a kind of doctrine. It’s, as you say, beautifully shot, it’s very stylized you got… fucking Brad Pitt. You have any thoughts on that?
Erika: Well, I wondered about that. A lot of those articles they do actually interview Chuck Palahniuk; he said that Brad Pitt was the only person who could play Tyler Durden. But I do wonder if that takes away from the satire a little. And I don’t know who the decision-maker on this was, but where they try to turn the whole climax of the movie and turn it into a more philanthropic… erase the debt, everyone goes back to zero.
Jeremy: Let’s actually take a moment here to talk about the different endings. I saw the movie before the book, and even now, the ending of the movie gives me chills. You got Norton and Carter standing hand in hand, and the credit card buildings come down, and the Pixie’s song, ‘Where is my mind’ comes up, and I’m like YES! WE CAN BREAK THE ESTABLISHMENT!
Erika: 100 percent!
Jeremy: The book is different. In the book, the narrator is on top of the Parker Morris Building, and the idea is to topple one building on top of the National History Museum. And then all the people from the support groups show up and essentially try and talk him down, which doesn’t go well, the bomb doesn’t go off, he ends up shooting himself, and he wakes up in the hospital.
When I first read the book, I was thinking, well, that’s kind of a stupid ending. But looking at them now, I prefer the way the book ends. What do you think?
Erika: Well, it’s interesting that you say hospital because…
Jeremy: Well, it’s a mental institution.
Erika: No, it’s supposed to be heaven. There is a bright white light, and he meets God. I don’t know if you're just putting in that he wakes up in a hospital.
Jeremy: It’s a hospital or mental institution because there is this moment when he’s talking with, I think, a therapist that he interprets as being God.
Erika: But he never actually says that; that’s my point.
Jeremy: The fun thing about this story is that you have a totally unreliable narrator who is, at least, suffering from dissociative disorder and maybe more.
Erika: A lot of things are linked to that. Dissociative disorder stems from so many things. In fact, one of the things that can make you start to dissociate is not to bring it back but post-traumatic stress disorder.
Jeremy: You sent me an article either today or yesterday about a bunch of additional theories. Some were interesting. Some were kinda stupid, but, at the end of the day, I realized that one could say that all of this, if a fever dream of his, nothing is real, almost like Jacob’s Ladder.
Erika: One of the theories I had was to ask, what if this is the one guy with many personalities going to therapy and dealing with his shit and having a complete psychotic break-down, and that’s why he ends up in the hospital. It’s all these personalities working through and coming out.
Jeremy: And there’s no way to disprove that.
Erika: I saw an interview with Palahniuk, where he said that he thought the book was more about trying to save one person, not trying to save society. So what if it is about one person’s struggle with mental illness?
Jeremy: One thing I do love is that all these articles try to reach out to Palahniuk and, I love the guy, and, in true artist fashion, he says, “Listen, this is art. People are going to interpret it how they will. People will ask, ‘What did you mean?’ But that’s not important.”
Erika: I like the interview where he compares it to a Rorschach test, like the person giving the test holding up a picture and saying, “Tell me what this picture of a vampire bat looks like to you.” Why would you do that? And, taking it back to the men’s rights, incel crowd, it’s not [Palahniuk’s] fault that some people are going to take it and run with it in directions that he never intended.
Jeremy: We keep touching on it, but let’s take a minute and talk about it. A lot of the criticism comes from the fact that the incel, red pill crowd, and even pick-up artists gravitate toward the idea of Tyler Durden.
First of all, my latest theory, having sat down and read the book and watched the movie again, will really upset those people.
Second: Those people have so completely missed the point. It tells you right off the bat in both the book and the movie that all of this has ‘something to do with a girl named Marla Singer.’
My theory is that Tyler Durden is the man the narrator creates, and he thinks Marla would like. And if Tyler is the ultimate man, then, hence, the ultimate man is created by a woman.
The movie doesn’t do as good a job giving Marla agency. In the movie, especially, she’s there, but she’s not there. But I think Marla is the person that inspires all of Project Mayhem because, in the book, before they decide to burn their hands with lye, they find her poking a cigarette into her arms saying something like, ‘burn human butt-wipe.’
And Marla is not afraid to die. In the book and movie where she says that ‘This isn’t a real suicide thing, this is a cry for help thing.’ In the movie, she runs into traffic with little to no fear. The book is a little confusing because it comes to a moment where she has breast cancer, but, toward the end, they say she doesn’t have it. So it’s almost as if she pretends that she has breast cancer because she likes the fact that she is going to die. She’s obsessed with the idea of death, and that is what inspires Tyler to…
Erika: … Do his whole thing. I had this thought as well. I read a lot of the same articles you did, and I wrote down, ‘Why do none of the articles point out that Tyler, who is supposedly this alpha male, dies at the hands of the beta. In the movie, it is only after that has happened that the narrator and Marla can be together. In the end, what Marla wanted was the narrator’s beta characteristics, not Tyler’s macho bullshit.
Jeremy: In the movie, she even says, ‘You fuck me, you snub me, you love me, you hate me, you show me a sensitive side, and then you turn into a complete asshole.’
Erika: It’s clear that the parts that she likes are more consistently the parts of the narrator. Not Tyler.
Jeremy: Which is interesting because he thinks those are the things that are going to win her over. There is a component of the playground ‘I don’t know how to relate to a woman, so I’m going to pull her pigtails and rub dirt in her face to show her that I like her.’
As we get deeper, it’s pretty easy to pick apart that interpretation of the art. If you think that this movie is all about macho male domination, no, no, no. Half the time, both Tyler and the narrator are getting the crap kicked out of them. It’s not about the domination; it’s about the pain.
Erika: And more about how people say that it’s so violent and brutal, except for the homework assignment where they have to go fight a random stranger —and lose by the way!— all the fighting is consensual. It’s about knowing when to stop; it’s regimented, there are rules. It’s controlled chaos. It’s not violent for violence’s sake. It’s very cathartic.
Jeremy: The men hug each other after.
Erika: They hug each other, they cry, there’s stuff going on underneath, and if you can’t see that, then that’s kinda your fault.
Jeremy: I find it funny that the same writer who was absolutely shredding this film because of its ‘toxic masculinity’ and then called the scene with Tyler and the narrator together in the bathroom ‘homoerotic.’ And that shaming is against this idea that men in our society should be free to be close to each other.
Erika: I think we read the same four or five articles, and I don’t want to be this person, but it was the only article written by a woman, and it was overly-performative. She talked about how she had to pirate the movie because that’s what Tyler Durden would do. And she poured herself a stiff drink and opened a pack of cigarettes because that’s what Tyler Durden would do, and then she proceeded to rip this movie a new asshole. I wrote down was, ‘Where are the articles about Fight Club talking about how it’s a scathing inditement of American mental health, especially in regards to men. Or that men don’t have any outlets to talk about their feelings or seek help or encourage them to have these close male relationships. Why does it have to be one or the other, and why not both?
Jeremy: That’s very interesting. What sends this whole thing cascading because what we have is a guy who, on the surface, has all the advantages. He’s a white dude with a good white-collar job, probably making a lot of money given his condo and amount of shit he’s able to buy, and he is dying inside, and he doesn’t feel like there is anywhere he can go to complain about his life. In the movie and, I think, in the book, he tells his doctor because he can’t sleep, ‘I’m in pain.’
And his doctor basically says, ‘You want to see pain, go to this place at this time, you have everything, these people have nothing.’
Palahniuk mentioned in an interview during the shooting of this movie that when one of the actors figured out that the point of this scene was that there was a guy sitting in a support group for cancer survivors while pretending to be one, got up and walked off the job because he didn’t want to be a part of something he saw as disgusting. But, on the other hand, he is finding therapy in these groups. Like he says, ‘I’m the bright center the life of this world crowds around.’
Erika: Especially in a world that says that ‘you can’t go to therapy.’ Man, you gotta toughen up and deal with your bullshit.
I also think it’s interesting that when we are talking about the male relationships; the homoerotic vs. toxic masculinity, as early as page 60, the minute that Tyler and Marla start hooking up that the narrator is instantly worried that he’s losing his relationship with Tyler. He needs all of Tyler's attention, or it’s a total loss. How does that fit in with your vision of this being about ‘toxic masculinity?’ It’s a bro, bro relationship, and the minute he starts sleeping with someone; he’s all like ‘Where? Where did you go??!”
Jeremy: I didn’t see anything new in this regard, but I also realize that this is the first time that I read the book knowing that Palahniuk is gay. Now, I don’t know if he knew he was gay when he wrote this book. I do know he came out long after this book was out, so I have no idea where he was mentally. And there’s something very interesting here when you look at this as a critique of masculinity as seen by a gay man.
And it does accentuate this love triangle. Like it says in the beginning, ‘Tyler loves Marla. Marla wants me. I want Tyler, and he wants nothing to do with me.” Or something. I’m butchering the exact quote.
Erika: Well, and Palahniuk, in the afterword, wonders why nobody sees this as a love story.
Jeremy: Which it is!
Jeremy: Now, I was paying more attention to Marla during the book and the movie because I felt like that was the angle I was missing and that a lot of other people were missing as well. And we have an unreliable narrator who keeps acting like he doesn’t like Marla. But I think, right from the get-go, he saw something in Marla that attracted him. He sees her and recognizes her as a ‘faker’ in his words. But at the same time, I think he sees someone there that is also in pain.
Erika: Another thing they changed in the movie that they probably shouldn’t have was that I think Marla’s reasons for going in the novel were way more similar to the narrator’s reasons. In the movie, she says, ‘It’s cheaper than a movie, and there’s free coffee.’ But in the book, she just says that it makes her feel like people are actually paying attention to her and not just waiting to say the next, then that comes up in their head.
She talks about how she used to go to funerals. So a part of it goes around this ‘death drive’ idea. There’s a lot of interpretations of Fight Club around Feud’s death drive: how there’s this drive towards violence and destruction through aggression and self-destructiveness. And that is in complete opposition toward the sexual and the life. And it’s interesting that every single character has some version of that conflict.
Jeremy: I think it was around chapter 6 where the Narrator just becomes infuriatingly ‘enlightened.’ That’s where they haikus start coming out and, as a reader, I’m thinking, ‘I kinda wanna smack this guy in the face.’ Because we know that he’s not there yet. As Tyler says, ‘You have to know, not fear, know that someday you are going to die.’
And that brings me back to the idea that Marla is leading this because, as Tyler points out in the movie, at least she’s trying to hit bottom. Hitting bottom, in this case, being the idea that you have no fear of death, you have nothing to lose and, therefore, you can do anything.
Erika: It can be argued that part of the reason we are caught up in this consumerist culture is because we spend all that time fostering the belief that we are never going to die.
Jeremy: Or, at least, the idea that the person who dies with the most money wins.
Erika: Or some version of that.
Jeremy: And, actually, I think I want to turn you loose on that concept. That is always the thing that attracted me to this story. Not so much male domination as becoming free of the consumerist culture.
Erika: Well, for a start, that Esquire article you mentioned, I made a note that said that it was blatantly pro-capitalist. I thought the article by that woman was bad, but this was pretty scathing too. I asked, ‘Is the book and movie actually misleading and confusing and ineffective? Are we living in a time where nothing can be left open for interpretation?! Are you actually just mad because it doesn’t spoon-feed everything to you??” That was the question I wanted to ask that writer.
And also this note. I don’t know what article this was in response to. Maybe all of them in a way. ‘Men aren’t being emasculated. The work we do under capitalism is hollow, and very little of the work we do is worthwhile. We don’t see the fruits of our labors. Very few of us know how to articulate this, so our frustration is being pointed toward and taken out on the wrong things and the wrong people, and that’s how it becomes a gender issue.’
Jeremy: It hit upon an anger that was there. And what that means is up to the individual person.
Erika: Yeah, and it seems to me that a lot of criticism came from the idea that the characters were just pissed off. But why are you mad that it’s mad? It’s also a story about becoming. It’s a process as you can see if you pay attention to the movie. But the first step in the process is anger. That should be okay. One article said that ‘anarchy is not a viable solution.’ Yeah! It’s not the end-all-be-all, but it’s a stage! It’s a solution but not at the end. It can be part of the process.
Get ready for anarchy, y’all!
Jeremy: Let me ask you this. A lot of the book centered around what the book calls little acts of rebellion. The book and movie both glorify little things to subvert the system, from Tyler splicing pornography into family films —which horrified at least one reviewer with no sense of humor—
Erika: First of all, I used to work in a movie theater back when there was film that had to be put together. Let me tell you, splicing a single frame? Nobody would have seen that.
Jeremy: True, and I think the book does a much better job of describing what would actually happen in that instance. But also doing horrible things to food and bashing cars in—
Erika: Actually, I want to bring this up. I made a note that says, “I wonder if the people who hate Fight Club are also the ‘What about the businesses/property people during the riots.”
Jeremy: My take on this aspect of the book is kind of my take on the book itself. They are using the only power they have. They are not allowed to go to the stockholder meeting and say, “Hey, guys. Please stop poisoning us, please stop ripping us off, and maybe give us a fair wage.” They can’t do that, so the only thing they can do is destroy property.
Erika: It hurts big business, their bottom line… It hurts the corporate ladder people. When I watch fight club, I wonder how many people who criticize its message are watching the [BLM] protests and saying, ‘what about the property?’
Jeremy: Well, a lot of these writers are so blinded by race, gender, and identity politics that they would do a one-eighty and not see the blatant hypocrisy. I would ask, “You know, you decry this film's depiction of rebellion, and yet you support it in this stage? What is your actual philosophy? And they would probably look at you blankly.”
Erika: I agree with you. [In the film], they are using what they have at hand like anyone would do in times of revolution. What are you supposed to do besides the one thing that you can do? If you don’t have the ear of those in power, you have to make them pay attention somehow. That’s what all these protests and demonstrations are all about, and there are little glimpses of that in this book. I think the critics are clinging to the wrong things, and it’s really, really frustrating!! I read this book in 2020 and found it very empowering! Yes, it’s through a male gaze, but it’s also about class. Look at it through the eyes of your class.
Jeremy: The story is told through a male point of view, but that doesn’t make it invalid. It’s not fashionable, but it’s not invalid. That being said, I would love to see Fight Club for women, in fact, I think he wrote that; it’s called Invisible Monsters, check it out. It’s amazing! I want someone to make that movie!
I feel like the themes and ideas set forth are more important now than they were twenty-some-odd years ago when the book was written. What are your thoughts there?
Erika: We started to talk about it, but I don’t know if we got all the way through it, but the book does a better job than the movie does. The movie, more than the book, is a product of its times. Because… you know, Brad Pitt. Palahniuk said it himself that nobody but he could play this person.
Jeremy: You need this ideal male figure, so who are you gonna get in 1999 besides Brad Pitt?
Erika: But in that way, it gets lost how scary and psychotic and unhinged Tyler Durden really is. Because they don’t do the part where they kill the narrator's boss. It’s that car scene where Tyler is asking, ‘What do you wish you would have done before you died?”
And the narrator says, “I wish I would have quit my job.”
And so they kill his boss. Tyler is a murderer. That’s what is kinda lost from the book to the movie. Yes, there are these fun acts of stirring up the status quo and getting people’s attention. He’s also a straight-up psychopath. And it gets lost in the movie.
At the end, when they are blowing up, the credit card companies were kind of a misstep from the book to the movie.
Jeremy: I wrote this down because they completely lost that moral switch. I wrote down, “Why did they lose what the boss meant to him.” The boss character is really a version of his father. And when the narrator finds out that Tyler killed him —and by the way, Marla witnessed this—
Erika: Yes! They lose opportunities to tie Marla into the whole thing. Like the fact that the first thing they make soap out of is Marla’s mom!
Jeremy: I love that scene in the book where they are sitting in an old Chevy Impala, and Tyler is going over all these things that could be worse.
Now I kinda understand why because the whole idea behind why Marla was keeping bags of her mother’s fat is weird. But, at the same time, that adds something to her character that we obviously lose. That she was storing her mother’s fat for lip injections.
Erika: Also, the murder mystery party. And the 50 fights that happen, which are clearly an attempt to get rid of Tyler.
Jeremy: The first time that Jack tries to commit suicide is kinda suicide by fight club.
Erika: Those things where they didn’t make it obvious that, no, this is a bad personality that, at some point, he tries to reject. Because it’s toxic and horrible. He created this person with the idea of getting Marla, and it’s not working. And also, if she wants to be with me, [Tyler] is now in the way.
Jeremy: There’s a scene in the book that chokes me up a little, and there’s nothing like it in the movie. In the book, it’s like a Denny’s or something. And she’s chowing down on free food because… well, she’s Marla.
Erika: She’s starving…
Jeremy: Well, yes, that, but she also just has more agency in the book. Her character is better developed, and she is totally the type of person to say, “Wait, I can get free food? I’m not going to ask too many questions about this.”
Erika: It’s interesting that they got Helena Bonham Carter and did almost nothing with her.
Jeremy: You know what scene I would have liked to see. That scene in the book where Marla is trying to keep the narrator awake, which is a total role reversal from earlier.
Erika: “You’re gonna have to keep me up allll nighhht!”
Jeremy: She’s keeping him awake and telling him all about the terrible ex-boyfriends, and he’s thinking, “Oh god, I’m going to become just another one of Marla’s stories. ‘I once dated this guy who had a split personality!’”
Erika: I actually wrote that down that, in a way, we are all just a version of ourselves in other people’s stories.
Jeremy: The thing I noticed that makes this more important now and will keep making it more important until something drastically changes in our society is all the problems that they point out in the book are still there. And they are getting worse.
The reason we have a fucking dumpster fire for a president, and the reason that we have a completely divided country is because of the anger that is central to Fight Club. This dissatisfaction is key to understanding why a guy who’s in the middle of a complete mental breakdown is able to convince a bunch of guys to go down into a basement and pummel each other in order to feel something, anything besides this consumer culture that they are trapped in. This leads to him being able to put together an army of men who are willing to strip themselves of their very identity and literally sacrifice themselves, literally call themselves ‘space monkeys’ in order to bring down society and try and create something better.
The reason that is plausible to us is because— let’s face it, in a society that’s going well, you and I probably read this book and decide that this is completely implausible. And that’s my point. None of the criticisms of this book even question why a group of people would follow Tyler Durden into this.
Erika: I think that’s what makes them so upset. They know that this is totally possible and can lead to terrible ends. And, arguably, yeah, sure that can happen. But the point is that all of these reviews talk about how it’s nothing but people being angry. And…. yeah! That’s the first step! Are you assuming that this is every step toward the revolution? No, of course not! But the first step is being angry!
We’re pissed off! And we’re allowed to be pissed off! And the critiques claim there is no resolution, and my point is you have to start somewhere, man. This is where it begins!
Jeremy: One of my favorite history / political commentators, Dan Carlin, has a mantra. And that is, ‘Anger is energy.’ And that can be for good or ill, of course. I feel like the end result in the book, and the movie are obviously bad —well, maybe not the movie because the thought of blowing up credit card companies has a certain appeal, to be honest.
But anger is energy, and the more that energy keeps being denied, the more it’s going to grow and going to go on to cause some really weird shit!
Erika: I think it's interesting… the movie has this kind of universal ending. They are blowing up the credit card companies for everybody, you blow them up, and everything goes back to zero. And in the book, they are going to blow up this building that will fall on a museum because….
Jeremy: Tyler’s idea for doing that was, ‘This is our world now. Those old people are dead.”
Erika: Well, and there's something else to that because let’s be honest, most of the things in a museum are looting.
Jeremy: Depends on the museum. The British Museum. Absolutely. Our little natural history museum in Idaho… not so much!
Erika: But the book makes a better point, and maybe it's because Palahniuk wrote it, but it’s more about saving one person. So it ran closer to one person’s vanity and one person’s narcissism. Which is why it kinda goes wrong. In the end, he is still mentally ill so, yes, while he has some good core ideas, the execution turns out to be fucking terrible, and part of the reason is because it comes from somebody with some serious diagnosable mental illnesses who should be searching for help. And not building armies.
Jeremy: And can’t find it, by the way. So he goes looking for support groups and finds Marla Singer, who creates Tyler Durden…
Erika: Right because men are not encouraged to seek the help that you need. And even if you were encouraged, good luck actually finding it.
Jeremy: I think we covered about everything I wanted to. One last question. On this latest viewing and reading of Fight Club, did you see anything you didn’t notice before?
Erika: Huh.. might need to flip through my notes for that.
Jeremy: While you are looking for that, I came up with another theory. And that is not only is Tyler Durden, one of the narrator’s personalities, but also the doorman of his condo. And also the Fight Club mechanic.
Now neither of those characters gets any screen time. But the mechanic weirdly replaces Tyler Durden about three-fourths into the book when Tyler disappears, and he starts speaking like Tyler.
And the doorman of his condo after it’s blown up starts speaking like Tyler in a really weird way. It’s one of the most powerful passages of the book that’s never really replicated in the movie.
Imagine this, you have a guy walking up to the charred husk of his home, and the doorman says, “‘A lot of young people try to impress the world and buy too many things,’ the doorman said.
I called Tyler
The phone rang in Tyler’s rented house on Paper Street.
Oh, Tyler, please deliver me.
And the phone rang.
The doorman leaned into my shoulder and said, “A lot of young people knot’s know what they really want.”
Oh, Tyler, please rescue me.
And the phone rang.
“Young people, they think they want the whole world.”
Deliver me from Swedish furniture.
Deliver me from clever art.
And the phone rang, and Tyler answered.
“If you don’t know what you want,” the doorman said, “You end up with a lot you don’t.”
May I never be complete.
May I never be content.
May I never be perfect.
Deliver me, Tyler, from being perfect and complete.
Tyler agreed to meet me at a bar.”
I call that the Fight Club prayer. It’s almost like the summoning of Tyler!
Erika: Oh yeah! Very interesting. Even in the movie, it's the doorman who asks if there is anyone he can call. And maybe he set him on that path while he was in this fog of just having all his stuff destroyed, he’s wandering around going… who can I call.
Jeremy: A person I met once! That part doesn’t make sense in the film, but it makes sense in the book.
Erika: That’s one thing that we didn’t talk about. How different the meeting between Tyler and the narrator are. The whole nude beach and sitting in a moment of perfection thing…
Jeremy: Again, slightly homoerotic. Tyler is sitting out naked and bronzed, and his ‘all blonde way’ as Palahniuk describes him. And he’s sitting in this weird sculpture he created.
Erika: And his moment of perfection. The narrator is asking, “What are you doing.” And he said, wait, in one second it's going to be perfect. That’s all you can expect from perfection is one moment.
Jeremy: If there is one over-arching theme that Palahniuk has, it’s this idea of a ‘moment of perfection.’ He’s also brought up the idea of the Buddhist sand artists who make this beautiful art out of sand then immediately destroy it. And in Lullaby, he brings up this idea of perfection being a fleeting experience.
Take Ken Kesey. If his body of work had one theme, it was the idea of the weak vs. the powerful. If I had to distill all of Palahniuk’s work down to one idea, it would be ‘perfection lasts a moment.’
Erika: One last thing I did want to talk about is the very concept of [Dissociative Identity Disorder]. It’s kind of… not an additional reading, but ‘if you like this, check this out.’
And the thing is that the people who wrote those articles did not look at DID because they make the actions of the personalities the charge of the host person when, really, the host person has absolutely no say whatsoever. Because it all comes out of trauma.
And I had a question that comes out of that, and that is, what do you think caused the narrator to dissociate? I think, for how much they talk about father figures, it’s something to do with the father. I think it might come out of abuse and neglect.
Jeremy: Both in the movie and in the book —a little more in the book— obviously, Jack’s father is an absent father who, as Tyler said, is ‘setting up franchises.’ So there is absolutely an element of an absent father.
Erika: It’s abandonment, and there is this moment that is like a bedtime story where Tyler is telling the narrator about the collapse of civilization. That part where ‘your pounding corn’ and ‘your laying strips of venison on the highway.’ Then he says, “Feel better, Champ,” and then abandons him. And that’s the moment he starts realizing all that stuff about Project Mayhem. And that’s a resurgence of the things that caused his DID.
Jeremy: That’s interesting because the portrayal of the disappearance of Tyler is different in the book vs. the movie. In the movie, there is this moment where they say, “And then Tyler was gone.”
But the book is more gradual. He picks it up from the fight club mechanic and asking Marla about their relationship. He’s going about his daily life traveling for his job, and he sees clues everywhere he goes. And actually, the way he figures out that he is Tyler Durden —and this is for all the incels out there who think a woman isn’t strong enough— she has Tyler’s kiss on her hand. The narrator asks how she got it, and she says, “You. You kissed my hand.”
Erika: So if you’re interested in DID, there’s a series called the United States of Tara. It’s probably one of the best-done things about DID. It’s about a woman seeking help and having a family and navigating all of that. One woman plays at least six different characters. It’s fantastic, so there’s that.
The second thing, and it's a line from the book. It’s not in the movie, but the line is that there are a lot of things we don’t want to know about the people we love. And I wanted to get your thoughts on that. Do you think it’s true, or do you think it’s bullshit?
Jeremy: I think it’s true.
Look, I think everyone has inner thoughts, inner ideas, and inner drives that we recognize as horrible. They are not the proudest part of ourselves. They are… sometimes inconsequential but also not something we share even with the most intimate people in our lives. I think if you could see in everyone’s head, you would realize one of two things. Either you’d be horrified, or you’d go, “Oh. Everyone is as horrible as me. That’s strangely comforting.”
For example, I’ve had this idea I’ve always wanted to adapt into a comedy routine. On Pornhub, they have a function where you can share what you are watching on Twitter. I don’t know if you know that…”
Erika: Oh sure, you happen to be on the Internet, and you click on something accidentally…
Jeremy: And that’s how I know about it, Erika! I always looked at that and thought, ‘who the fuck would want to let the world know what they are jerking it to?’ But then I think how beautiful would the world be if everyone did it! If you could look at your Twitter feed and see all your friends’ kinks.
Erika: I mean, there’s something to be said there about the way we treat sex vs. the way we treat violence.
Jeremy: It would be interesting to see your best friend’s porn history and saying, “Well, that makes sense. That’s weird. That’s… unsettling. I never even heard of that. I didn’t know that would even fit in there.”
Erika: I do wonder if that’s one of the things that people glom onto about toxic masculinity.
Jeremy: Well, it is a love story. I don’t know if you see it that way, but I always have.
Erika: For sure. I get kinda bogged down in the anti-consumerism of it all, but still. And also, one more thought. And this was from the scene in the car where Tyler asks what would you have wished you done before you die. So, Jeremy, what will you wish you have done before you die?
Jeremy: I don’t know…huh, I would be a little dumbstruck in that situation.
Erika: That’s interesting. And maybe it’s not something you can truthfully answer without actually being in that situation—
Jeremy: I wish I would have traveled more. Come to think of it that would be my answer.
Erika: That’s fair, but do you think we will even know what we truly want from ourselves during a near-death experience?
Jeremy: I don’t know. I guess that’s one of the things that makes this movie such a thrill ride. That reminder that we are all going to die. There was some writer who said that if you have a job you hate, you are basically making a bet with yourself that you will enjoy the fruits of your labor. And I’ve had jobs I hated. I can’t show up day in and day out doing something I despise; I’ve proven myself incapable of doing that. That’s one of my better personality traits.
Erika: Yeah, how can you make that bet? Especially right now. There are no guarantees, so what are you doing?
I think that’s one of the reasons that this has aged incredibly well. Because you have to wake up and realize, man, I might only have five years left. What am I doing?
Jeremy: While we are throwing out ideas, that bit about being the ‘middle children of history’ might be strangely prophetic. I was born in ’81, so I’m still waiting to hear if I’m GenX or Millennial.
Erika: I’m pretty squarely in Millennial.
Jeremy: I think I’m currently GenX, according to the Pew Research Center but, regardless. If you take the idea of generation groups, which is a flawed way of looking at things but whatever, we are approaching something cataclysmic, I feel. And if you take the bookends as the Great Wars and whatever is coming, we are, indeed, the middle children of history.
Erika: Back to the reviews of the movie who complained about the line, “We thought we all would be movie gods and rock stars…” I’m sorry, but weren’t we all told we could be whatever we wanted to be yet not given the basic roadmap to being a human being.
Jeremy: We were mostly raised by Baby Boomers or the Silent Generation, and there was very much this idea of encouraging your kids to be whatever—
Erika: And don’t prepare them for the real world. Don’t give them any actual life skills; just tell them to shoot for the moon! Which is a completely bullshit abstract concept, by the way!!
Jeremy: Add to that the idea from the book, “We’ve got the smartest most talented people who’ve ever lived pumping gas, waiting tables… Talking about underemployment there.
Erika: Exactly! Like Tyler was describing, “My father never went to college, so it was really important that I go.” It was important that everyone went to college, but when they got out, there weren’t any jobs! We’re in the age of the genius waitress.
Jeremy: A waitress who could hold a conversation about… 19th-century abstract painting because that was what her focus was. And back in 1970… whatever you could get that degree and go out and get a job kinda wherever…
Erika: Now we don’t have that. Now you get out, and they look and say, “Wow, your diploma applies to literally nothing! Best apply at a gas station! Guess you should go work at a movie theater for seven years!
Jeremy: And our response to that has been an emphasis in science and math and engineering and similar disciplines that have real concrete applications. Which is fine, but I feel we are losing a lot of people in the arts.
When I was a kid, there was this spirit of ‘Follow your passion! Go! What do you want to do!”
Now there’s a restraint. Now there's this idea of, yes, well I know you want to try drama, but there’s no future for you there.
Erika: And there’s an argument for universal health care and universal basic income. If you had those things and didn’t have to worry about shit, you shouldn’t have to pay for anyway; one could go into the arts. And yeah, not make a lot of money, but if you have money to take care of your basic human needs, you can do whatever you want to do. It’s insane the amount of pressure we put on people to make the bare minimum of money just to keep ourselves alive, and that shouldn’t be what we are worried about.
Jeremy: And we’re losing the philosophers. We’re losing the artists. We’re losing the dreamers. Well, not losing them because you don’t lose those people.
Erika: But losing them in the economic sense of the word.
Very very few of us are doing the things we wanted to do when we were kids. The things we do in our free time or the things we dream about.
Jeremy: And that’s the thing I like most about Fight Club. This sense of empowerment.
This is why it pisses me off the way the reviewers misinterpret the Randle K. Hessel scene. It’s about doing what you want to do with this life. I wish I would have traveled more, Erika, what do you wish you would have done before you died?
Erika: I guess… I would have been more proactive about finding a way to help… humanity.
Jeremy: You wish you would have done something for humanity. And that’s the empowering thing I feel about this scene. We can start today. And you can start with little things. I could start saving money and making plans to go places.
And that’s what the Raymond K. Hessel scene is talking about. Where Tyler says, “If you’re not on your way to becoming a veterinarian in six months, you will be dead.” And I always interpreted that as ‘if I come back here in six months’—
Erika: And you’re still working at this liquor store—
Jeremy: Well, not even that. If I come back in six months and you’ve haven’t even filled out an application or something, I’m going to shoot you in the head because you're worthless to me.
Also, don’t shoot anyone in the head just because they aren’t working toward their dream.
The point is that this movie reminds people of the power that they have. There is power inside everybody. For good or ill. Every day is a new possibility. You can continue to do the same shit you did every day, or… you can try to change it. You might be successful. You might fail. But you can try to change it.
And I just wanted to end this with a thought. I found this article from someone bashing the movie. It was in the Indie Wire by Max O’Connel, and he said, “For those who hate it. Here’s a silver lining. The film was made by 20th Century Fox, owned by Rupert Murdock, who loathed the film. Personally, I take any time that Rupert Murdock has to pay for something he hates as a win.”