The All-Singing All-Dancing Crap of the World

Remember when every guy in our generation's favorite movie was Fight Club? This was back in '99 through about '03, my freshman year of college. Improvisational fight clubs popped up around the country. Some chumps at Princeton University even tried to start up a beat-down club 'til the cops shut them down. During my freshman orientation at college, 70% of the favorite movie responses were Fight Club.

For a minute there, it seemed like we had some hope. A new generation of anarchists seemed willing to set their parents' duvet covers on fire, blow up their laptops, and feed the closest guy in a suit a knuckle-sandwich. Well, maybe no one was going to go that far (except Luke Helder) but a reaction against McMansions, upper-management, and stock indexes seemed possible. Now we all wear the suits, drink the Starbucks, and fuck each other silly under the hand-me-down duvet covers. What happened?

9/11 didn't help. All the sudden all that shit that Tyler Durden railed against seemed a little too delicate, the duvet covers a little too warm to give up; "In the world I see - you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You'll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You'll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you'll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway."

And we blinked.

But 9/11 is taking the easy way out. It's a part, though - the visceral manifestation of those exploding credit card company buildings in the final scene, but without the safety of end-credits and The Pixies track on top.

We never really had it in us. The schizophrenia that brought Tyler Durden into the world from the contradictions in narrator Ed Norton's brain is a metaphor for how we related to the movie's anti-hero. We admired Durden, he looked "like you want to look, I fuck like you want to fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly: I am free in every way that you are not."

Our relationship was vicarious. But to watch Durden beat the shit out of a priest, make bombs in a bathtub, and wear little more than a perpetual film of sweat, dirt, and blood was cathartic. The farther you were from being "of" Fight Club (Princeton douchebags, I'm looking at you) the more you had to embrace it, keep it close to your chest because you knew it spoke to something in you, but you didn't know what, and you didn't know how to talk back.
Mark Edmundson said of his University of Virginia students in 1997, "they are aware of the fact that a drop that looks more and more like one wall of the Grand Canyon separates the top economic tenth from the rest of the population. There's a sentiment currently abroad that if you step aside for a moment, to write, to travel, to fall too hard in love, you might lose position permanently. We may be on a conveyor belt, but it's worse down there on the filth-strewn floor. So don't sound off, don't blow your chance."
Those Princeton kids, and the rest who started the little fight clubs, missed the point. Throwing meek-muscled punches while pursuing your IA degree at Princeton isn't quite the idea. "Sticking feathers up your butt doesn't make you a chicken," as Durden said. Fight Club was about saying "no" to the inexorable American "yes." And you can't say that from the halls of Princeton, Skidmore, Yale, or the law firms we work for now.

Now we're past it. Some of us have bought our own duvet covers and sent our parents' off to Salvation Army. We have apartments on the 38th floor of buildings on 60th and 11th Ave in Manhattan and we look down from our vantage point atop the Grand Canyon to the filth-strewn floor.

We are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world and we still haven't figured it out.


Michael Highland said...

I don't think the majority of us really 'got' fightclub. the film is not about freshfaced college grads realizing that the options layed out before them will eventually suck their souls dry. It's about our natural deep seated need for purpose.

The members of operation mayhem, didn't get it either, they weren't anarchists proper - they, like us, were mostly followers ready to grasp onto something more meaningful than 3-ring-binders and franchised coffee.

I'd say 90% of people our age (myself included) who place Fight Club near the top of their favorite movie list, really when it boils down to it, just wanted to be Tyler Durden. Fuck, freshman year of highschool I even tried to get my hair cut like him.

The irony is, I think we all love Tyler for the most shallow reasons. We're drawn to him not because of what he symbolizes, but because we want to ridiculously eloquent, good looking, funny, smart and not to mention fucking ripped and apparently waxed. That's why they cast Brad Pitt and hired him a two extra personal trainers.

Ol Mucky said...

i dont think we've ever lacked purpose. it's just always been imposed externally. your purpose was to get good sat scores, good grades, go to a good college, get a good job... we've just never figured out purpose on our own. fight club if anything, suggested defining purpose for yourself. but i think your critique is right both of our admiration of durden and the flaws of project mayhem.