Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Fight Club: A Lopsided Picture of Masculinity

Tyler Durden’s whole purpose as an invented alter-ego was to change what is into what should be. First in the main character’s immediate life, and then much beyond that as well, he sought to radically overturn all the things that were holding people back from being who they were truly meant to be. In our society, how many of us are actually pursuing the things that we really want to pursue? How many of us are gas station attendants instead of veterinarians? But Tyler Durden wasn’t concerned with “people” in general.
For rather than focusing his well-meaning efforts on everyone in society, all of his efforts were geared toward men, and men only. To jump on the scene that Scott brought up last in his argument, there’s a point in the film where Tyler says, “We’re a generation of men raised by women. I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need.” That quote gets right at it. In his view, true men should have very little to do with the influences of women.
Those men in the movie outside of Tyler’s fight club are pictured as wimpy, drab, effeminate boys working uninspiring jobs and leading all-around meaningless lives. I think of the main character’s boss, or the main character’s catalogue-decorated apartment. This portrayal conveys the message that maleness should have nothing to do with femininity; that masculinity is altogether different in purpose than femininity; and that men chasing un-male pursuits are effectively wasting their lives.
Bob, for example, is first introduced to the audience as a blubbering, big-breasted bambi whose manhood has been eliminated by his testicular cancer. He spends his nights crying about the man he used to be. That is, until he is radically transformed by Tyler Durden’s new definition of a man, as someone who uses his life, even in dying, to pursue a cause worthy of his calling as a man. Even without his male parts Bob is able to die a man.
A feminist, however, would with good reason be appalled at Tyler Durden’s version of a “man”. The only relations Tyler has with women are sexual. Marla’s terrible emotional state doesn’t concern him at all. Although she could definitely use his self-improvement practices just as much as anyone else, she’s disposable sex property. It’s only at the movie’s end, when Tyler Durden and his “men” are done away with, that Marla’s other female qualities are accepted by the masculine. When the main character holds her hand and really means it, we see him understanding the bigger picture of his role as a man. Men actually can benefit from relationships with women. It's a novelty of which Tyler Durden was apparently unaware.
The main character gained a lot from Tyler- an identity and an insight into what makes up life-, but from this crazy, ultra-man alter-ego he could never gain an accurate understanding of what a full man really looks like.

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