Ever since David Fincher’s 1999 film Fight Club was released to the theaters, it had almost instantly attained the status of a cult movie. And, there are many objective reasons to believe that the actual explanation, as to this film’s popularity with movie-goers, has to do with its clearly defined anti-consumerist spirit.
As it was pointed out by Dussere (2006): “The film (Fight Club) suggests that American culture is entirely suffused by commerce; there is no need to go to the supermarket because the supermarket is everywhere” (24). In our paper, we will aim to explore the validity of this suggestion at length, while analyzing the essence of anti-consumerist themes and motives, contained in the movie.
The close watching of Fight Club reveals an undeniable fact that it was namely due to narrator’s continuous exposal to American consumerist culture, that caused him to succumb to depression.
In the memorable scene where, prior to having met Taylor Durden, Jack/Protagonist (later revealed as the actual Tyler Durden) expounds on the particulars of his lifestyle, viewers are being taken for the walk through Jack’s apartment that features pieces of furniture with price tags explicitly displayed above them, as if his apartment was nothing less of a store.
And, as it appears from the context of Jack’s monologue, the fact that he kept on buying ‘trendy’ things for his condo had very little to do with his genuine desire to own them (due to their sheer impracticality), but rather with the fact that he was made to believe that by owning these things, he was proving his ‘sophistication’ in its own eyes: “Like so many others, I had become a slave to the Ikea nesting instinct… If I saw something clever, like a coffee table in the shape of a yin-yang, I had to have it” (00.04.48).
Nevertheless, the harder Jack strived to embrace consumerist spirit, the stronger were becoming his mental anxieties, sublimated in his inability to enjoy healthy sleep.
As Diken and Basse (2002) had put it: “As a spectator of his own life, he (Jack) paradoxically lives in inertia in the midst of a mobile network society. Jack also suffers from insomnia, a typical pathology of the hyper-mobile network society” (349). Apparently, as time went by, Jack was becoming increasingly aware of the fact that his material possessions were endowing him with only superficial sense of identity.
The sheer futility of consumerism, as essentially inhuman money-driven philosophy, is being explored even further in the scene where, as a recall coordinator, Jack explains to the passenger on the plane the actual mechanics of a car-recall procedure. According to protagonist, the considerations of protecting people’s lives affect recall-related corporate decisions the least.
If the cost of a recall is expected to be higher than the cost of dealing with lawsuits, initiated by unsatisfied customers, the car-manufacturing company will not move a finger: “Take the number of vehicles in the field, A. Multiply it by the probable rate of failure, B. Multiply the result by the average out-of-court settlement, C. AxBxC=X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don’t do one” (00.20.25).
Thus, we can only agree with Smith and Lesley (2002), who had rightly pointed out to the fact that the theme of consumerism-driven corporate greed plays a substantial role in defining movie’s semantic subtleties: “The overall framing of the film (Fight Club) seems to revolve around the personal emptiness and appalling greed of corporate America, to which the main characters represent a nihilistic and terroristic response” (129).
Throughout the initial parts of the movie, Jack becomes increasingly discontent with highly mechanistic essence of his professional duties.
Still, it was not until the time when Jack got together for a drink with Durden, after his apartment blew up in rather mysterious manner, that he was beginning to realize the sheer vainness of his existential mode.
There is another memorable scene in the movie, when after having ‘sophisticatedly’ referred to a blanket as duvet, Jacks gets to be lectured by Durden on the sheer irrelevance of utilization of sophisticatedly sounding but essentially consumerist terms, for as long as exploring one’s identity is being concerned: “Why do guys like you and I know what a duvet is? Is this essential to our survival in the hunter-gatherer sense of the word? No. What are we then? Consumers” (00.28.48).
Later in the same conversation, Durden states: “Murder, crime, poverty. These things don’t concern me. What concerns me are celebrity magazines, television with 500 channels” (00.29.06). By coming up with these remarks, Durden implied that people’s consumerist urges deny them a true sense of identity, because despite what advertisers want us to believe, one’s existential identity is not something that is being purchased but something that is being earned.
After all, it matters very little whether a particular individual surrounds itself with ‘brand names’ or not – all that is important is whether he or she can be considered a productive member of society by adopting intellectually honest stance in life. It is specifically one’s ability to see through superficialness, which defines the extent of such person’s ability to live in a dignified manner.
As Durden had put it: “You’re not your job. You’re not how much you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet” (01.21.12). Nevertheless, it would be wrong to suggest that film’s foremost motives are being concerned with director’s intention to promote essentially anarchist agenda.
As the context of Fight Club implies – the evils of consumerism should not be thought of as ‘thing in itself’, but rather as something that undermine consumeristically-minded individuals’ ability to act in socially responsible manner, especially if they happened to be men.
Nowadays, American large cities get to be colonized by legal and illegal immigrants from a Third World, who despite lacking intelligence, are nevertheless being endowed with perceptional manliness – that is, they are not afraid of indulging in violence when circumstances call.
On another hand, many native-born American men appear to be simply deprived of psychological qualities that would allow them adopt an active stance in life, when it comes to protecting their own interests – the fact that consumerism became an integral element of their existence, caused them to become unnaturally effeminate.
In the scene when Durden gives an order to the members of a Fight Club to go out on the street, to pick up a fight with a stranger and to lose that fight, viewers are being shown a virtual impossibility of a task: “Now, this is not as easy as it sounds. Most people, normal people, do just about anything to avoid a fight” (01.12.09).
And yet, it is namely the celebration of masculine virtues that has always been the yardstick of Western civilization. Therefore, in Fight Club director subtly implies that consumerism does only prevent men’s endowment with strongly defined individuality, but it also creates objective preconditions for the integrity of Western civilization to be undermined from within.
Just as we have suggested in Introduction, Fight Club is best referred to as the movie that exposes the counter-productive essence of consumerist spirit.
Even though that, while trying to oppose consumerism, film’s major characters indulge in behavior that can hardly be defined as socially appropriate, they nevertheless do a very good job emphasizing the conceptual fallaciousness of consumerism as something that undermines the integrity of people’s individuality. In its turn, this explains the cult status of Fight Club – the themes and motifs, explored throughout its entirety; reveal consumerism as misleading pathway towards happiness.
Apparently, it is not simply an accident that in one of film’s final scenes, Durden talks about his vision of a perfect world as such, where people would cease being consumerist automatons: “In the world I see, you’re stalking elk through the Grand Canyon forests, around the ruins of Rockefeller Center” (01.37.55).
Obviously enough, Durden’s idea as to what accounts for happiness in this life is being shared by a number citizens, who despite being encouraged to indulge in consumerism on full-time basis, subconsciously strive for something greater than simply attaining the status of ‘settled individuals’.
Therefore, it would only be appropriate, on our part, to conclude this paper by restating its initial thesis – it is namely because themes and motifs, contained in Fight Club, correlate with great many people’s anti-consumerist subconscious anxieties, which explains film’s unwavering popularity.
Diken, Biilent & Laustsen, Carsten “Enjoy Your Fight! – ‘Fight Club’ as a Symptom of the Network Society”. Cultural Values 6.4 (2002): 349-367.
Dussere, Erik “Out of the Past, into the Supermarket: Consuming Film Noir”. Film Quarterly 60.1 (2006):16-27.
Fight Club. Dir. David Fincher. Perfs. Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter. 20th Century Fox, 1999.
Warren, Smith & Leslie, Debbie “Fight Club”. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 4.1 (2002): 129-135.
Wilson, George “Transparency and Twist in Narrative Fiction Film”. Journal of Aesthetics & Art Criticism 64.1 (2006): 81-95.