Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Balls it takes to be a Man

One thing I believe this movie, as well as society itself as a whole, relies on is the importance of male genitalia--mainly testicles--to the importance of the male psyche. There are many different references to genitals throughout the movie, and some of the references are very important to the plot of the movie itself. This shows that a man's ego and masculinity are focused and represented by the testicles. The signifier, the testicles, is the symbolic picture of the signified masculinity, and Fight Club uses this sign over and over again.

The first and most obvious reference to testicles is the scene in which the Narrator (hereafter Jack) goes into a meeting for victims of Testicular Cancer. The men there are sulky and sad; they all seem to be "weak" individuals due to their loss of genitals. The first character tells his sad story about wanting kids and his wife having a kid with her new husband. The movie paints the picture that because the character couldn't produce children, his wife left him for someone who could, leaving the man in his time of greatest need. He breaks down and cries, showing a more feminine trait (as defined by traditional social norms). This seems to be connected to his loss of testicles/masculinity. Jack joins this group, surrendering his theoretical testicles, and subsequently begins to cry, seeming more feminine and less virile. He also becomes addicted to support groups. This shows that by giving up the masculinity connected to the testicles, a man also cedes his independence and needs the comfort of other people. (Men typically are more independent, shunning help even when needed, like asking for directions to a destination.)

The next points show more femininity. One of the support groups that Jack attends tries to lead all the victims into a state of well-being. This is done by mentally travelling into a cave. A cave could be a representation of a vagina, and embracing this cave could be a symbol of accepting femininity; adopting a vagina instead of a pair of testicles. Marla Singer, the lead female in the film, enters into the Testicular Cancer group. She is a woman, so she had no testicles. But, by joining the group, she seems to take on a pair of testicles, and thus show more masculinity than Jack or the other victims. She smokes, often a more masculine activity. She's assertive, a masculine trait. She's daring, something that men are supposed to be. She says she has more right to go to the Testicular Cancer support group because she doesn't have "balls." When Jack retorts, she simply questions him, challenging his authority and his masculinity.

Tyler consoles Jack by telling him, "You know it could be worse. A woman could cut off your penis in your sleep and toss it out the window of a moving car." Jack passes it off saying, "Yeah, there's always that..." before going on talking about his furniture. This seems to allude to his furniture and home decor being nearly equivalent to losing one's genitals. This obsession of materialistic consumerism seems to be a disease for Jack's masculinity, robbing him of traditional masculine values. (Knowing a duvet is a blanket or comforter is robbing men of embracing their hunter-gatherer nature.) Tyler's job is a film engineer. Much like his very early appearances in the film, he specializes in the subliminal messaging. But, what the viewer witnesses is "a nice, big cock". Once again, Tyler's freedom is through his assertion of masculine genitals, and this gives him power that he enjoys.

Towards the end, there are two major references to the loss of testicles. Tyler and his men kidnap the politician and threaten to "cut his balls off" if he doesn't call off the investigation. Under the fear of losing his genitals, the politician caves in to their demands. In order to preserve his testicles/masculinity, the politician loses his virility and independence, following orders and going with the "crowd." It is slightly different when Jack, in the police station, is faced with a similar occurrence. Because of Tyler’s orders, Jack is supposed to be castrated. Faced with this fear of losing his actual testicles, Jack gains a wild-eyed bravado that allows him to reassume the aggressive and assertive roles of a man. This danger of the physical testicles seems to awaken the hypothetical or theoretical testicles. This is another close connection of the signifier to the signified that alludes to masculinity being represented by the male genitals.

Unrelated to this thesis, is the line “We’re a generation of men raised by women. I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need.” I like this line. It makes me feel somewhat empowered in my own life, as far as having been raised by a single mother and my older sister. I feel that oftentimes, the importance that has been placed on women in modern culture has caused men to become an undesirable position, where becoming more feminine is needed for success (Jack’s dilemma) or to be married to a woman in order to accommodate the obligated need for femininity. Is this a reversal of the male/female binary where Men are favored by the patriarchal structure of society? Yes. Here, we have Women favored, raising the men, not being oppressed by men. In fact, it’s the women that are oppressing the men in Tyler’s view. Just food for thought.

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