Fight Club is often seen as a film about masculinity, and its popularity has led to many theories on what makes men masculine. The movie’s underlying message is that true masculinity can only survive in the absence of traditional concepts of manliness – it requires an understanding of vulnerability while not being afraid of pain.
Fight Club is a 1999 American film directed by David Fincher. The film stars Brad Pitt and Edward Norton as two men who become involved in a physical confrontation that leads to self-destruction. Read more in detail here: how to find a fight club.
“The first rule of fight club is that you do not discuss fight club.”
We’re going to breach the first rule with gusto today. Hey, so does everyone else. Despite the fact that it was released over a decade and a half ago, the film adaptation of Fight Club remains a cultural landmark, particularly in talks about masculinity. Its numerous quotable statements, such as “We’re a generation of guys reared by women,” are often shared on social media. So much so that bringing up Fight Club has become a bit of a cliche, with the danger of eliciting a chorus of “I’ve seen it all before” eye rolls rather than thoughtful consideration.
However, after reading the book on which the film is based for the AoM Book Club last month, I was able to view these timeworn truths with new eyes, and acquire a better appreciation for how true, and profound, they are. Today, I’d want to go further into those observations and consider what Fight Club might teach us about manhood (all quotations are from the book):
1. Memento Mori Will Get Your Gears Turning
“This is your life, and it’s just a minute away from being over.”
Memento Mori has been mentioned many times in AoM, including a dedicated page as well as an article about art influenced by the idea. The Latin phrase Memento Mori means “Remember that you shall die.” It’s the concept of contemplating your own death. Isn’t it depressing?
Until you truly think about it and allow it to motivate you to take action. Even after reading those pieces, it wasn’t until I read Fight Club that the notion struck me like a ton of bricks. It was only when I saw it in the shape of a tale that I realized how true it was and how significant it was.
Your life is one minute closer to coming to an end with each passing minute. It’s a bit frightening to consider, but that’s the purpose. So many of us, particularly when we’re young, go through life completely oblivious to the reality that we won’t live forever. This is a common motif of adolescent ignorance, and it may stifle our progress.
Tyler Durden understands that understanding death is critical to human development: “You will die, and until you understand this, you are worthless to me.”
We’re more inclined to accomplish something significant with our lives once we realize that we’ll die eventually – that our remaining time on Earth is becoming shorter with each passing day.
“What would you wish you’d done before you died?” I asked the AoM Book Club (a question mirrored throughout the book). They all came up with something they’d do differently after thinking about the reality of death for a few minutes, whether it was an active activity (travel/explore more) or just a shift in their mentality or character (be less timid).
So, how about you? Will your life alter in any way if you accept that death is a fact of life? That it’s getting closer by the minute? Instead of waiting until the Grim Reaper arrives at your door, make the change today.
2. The Value of a Clean Life is Exaggerated
“I simply don’t want to die without a few scars on my body,” I explain. It’s no longer enough to have a stunning stock physique. I always think, “What a waste,” when I see automobiles that are fully stock cherry, straight off of a dealer’s showroom in 1955.
We live in a world that is very clean. We use disinfectants, laundry detergent, take daily showers, and wax our cars on a regular basis. We do all we can to make our tiny worlds spotless and scar-free. To conceal these unsightly and permanent scars, we fix holes in our home’s walls, repair dents in our automobile as quickly as possible, and even put anti-scar lotions on ourselves.
These aren’t necessarily negative things, but what if scars were beneficial to our health? What if a little filth, grime, and bruising is good for our health?
The number of children with food allergies has risen dramatically in recent years, with dairy and peanut allergies leading the way. It’s become such an issue that several schools have banned youngsters from even bringing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into the building. What may be the source of this?
While not clear, research is beginning to show that our obsession with cleanliness — both ourselves and our homes — may be contributing to weakened immune systems, particularly in youngsters. It’s critical for us to be exposed to common pathogens while we’re young; in layman’s words, that means dirt, dust, grime…germs. It works similarly to immunizations in that a little amount of exposure helps our bodies fight such things in the future.
The same principle may be applied to our adult life. Our narrator expresses his desire to die with a few scars. A few defects are genuinely appealing to him. Why is this the case?
For one thing, scars indicate that you have lived. You haven’t spent your whole life sitting around munching Cheetos; you’ve been doing things — taking action, taking chances, and following the difficult path in order to live a more fulfilling life. Nobody likes to live in a bubble, and being outside in the real world means getting into a scrape now and again.
Scars, on the other hand, make us stronger. You are punched in the face at fight club, causing a horrible scar that you’ll see in the mirror every day till you die. It also acts as a lesson and a reminder for future fights: keep your hands up, move quickly…duck and weave! You’ve become a better boxer as a result of that scar.
This principle applies not just to your body, but also to your intellect. Psychological scars may help us become cognitively stronger, although being emotionally terrible at the time. If you take the risk of starting a company and it fails after a few years, your confidence and motivation will be affected. However, if you don’t allow your failure destroy you and instead embrace it as a learning opportunity, it might serve as a springboard for future success.
This doesn’t imply you should go out looking for physical or psychological injury, but don’t be afraid to try new things that could leave you with a scar or two. Make it a point to stay in the ring at all times. Pain is just the body’s weakness leaving the body.
3. Trying to keep up with the Joneses is a waste of time.
“And I wasn’t the only one who succumbed to my need to build a nest. People I know who used to sit in the bathroom watching pornography now sit in the bathroom looking at the IKEA furniture catalogue… You go out and purchase furnishings. You convince yourself that this is the only couch you’ll ever need. Purchase the couch, and for the next several years, you’ll be content that no matter what goes wrong, you’ll have solved your sofa problem. Then there’s the proper set of dishes. Then there’s the ideal bed. The drapes, for example. The rug, to be precise. Then you’re locked in your wonderful nest, and the things you used to own have now become your possessions.”
I knew the notion of keeping up with the Joneses throughout high school and college. But it is only as an adult who works and has a house that I completely understand what it means. I’m happy with my vehicle, my house, and my belongings…until I see friends and neighbors with finer cars, larger houses, and more belongings. It’s a phenomena I honestly didn’t expect to experience. I’m already a fairly laid-back and comfortable man, so seeing envy sneak in unintentionally from friends and neighbors was an odd sensation.
Then comes the awareness that things, in the end, bears a heavier load. A finer automobile necessitates more costly maintenance, a larger house necessitates more square footage to clean, and more things necessitates exponentially more clutter and worry. Everything has a cost – it’s not as if the amount and quality of items you possess immediately improves your quality of life.
You get caught up in having the ideal neat little existence, as our narrator points out above. It all begins with the best of intentions: you just want a lovely couch. Then there’s the matching tables and flooring, as well as the pricey art prints to go with it all. As the narrator points out, your stuff eventually owns you rather than the other way around.
We see all that beautiful glittering furniture in the IKEA catalog and believe it will make us happy, but all it does is make us melancholy, not to mention leave us in financial troubles on occasion. There’s a reason God warns his people, “Thou must not covet,” is one of the ten most essential items in the Bible. You wind yourself working your 9-5 job to pay for more items you don’t want or need because you’re obsessed with it.
So, how can we break free from our society’s hegemony of materialism? The startling and straightforward solution comes from our anonymous narrator’s unidentified doorman: “If you don’t know what you want, you wind up having a lot you don’t.”
Knowing what you want can take your attention off the Joneses and on your own objectives if you have a feeling of direction and purpose. It will assist you in achieving a balanced minimalism, in which you have the things you need (and that offer you genuine joy) without the ones you don’t. For example, if your goal in life is to become a writer, you won’t have time to think about whether you should be playing tit-for-tat with your neighbors. Instead, you’ll be focused on perfecting your trade and enjoying your collection of study books.
Take some time to consider what you want your life’s blueprint to be like, and then set concrete objectives. You’ll be less concerned with other people’s worlds if you’re focused on creating your own.
4. We all have a fighter inside us.
Near the conclusion of the novel, when the narrator finds he and Tyler are the same person, one of my favorite sections is:
“I admire Tyler Durden’s bravery and intelligence in equal measure. His audacity. Tyler is witty, charming, assertive, and self-assured, and men look up to him and expect him to improve their lives. Tyler is competent and independent, but I am not. Tyler Durden is not who I am.
Marla responds, ‘But you are, Tyler.’
The whole while, our ostensibly pale, feeble, bashful narrator has been the cool, strong, courageous Tyler. Marla needs to remind him that he is, in fact, Tyler Durden. If I tried, I couldn’t come up with a greater metaphor for today’s condition of manhood.
Each of us has a confident, powerful, tough, and virile guy inside us. I, like you, need to remind myself of this from time to time. It’s all too easy to lose sight of that truth when we work in an office all day, come home, eat dinner, sit on our arses and watch TV, go to bed, and repeat.
Tyler Durden was humorous, engaging, and self-reliant from the start, but the narrator had to progressively recognize these qualities. There is a chasm between the ideal guy (Tyler in the story) and who we are, and it is every man’s responsibility to bridge that chasm. That’s exactly what the narrator did, punch after punch. As it is with us, becoming a man and a warrior is a process that takes time. Fortunately, Brett has already sketched out a rough outline of what that path may entail.
There’s also the psychological aspect of masculinity to consider. Keep in mind that the statement above comes towards the conclusion of the book. He’s gone through fight club, Project Mayhem, and everything else, but he still doesn’t feel he’s capable of being brave. The first step in becoming a man is to believe that you can do so. The paradox is that you must perform male things in order to think you can become manly – you must do so you can feel. Split some wood. Go for an hour of workout. Start writing your book now. Your conviction that you can develop will be fueled by the experience you receive from acting, and you’ll continue to take action that moves you closer to that ideal guy.
You have a fighter within you ready to come out if you let it. Don’t suffocate him with Candy Crush and Family Guy; instead, encourage him to read more, exercise more, and even create your own fight club.
What did the book teach you about being a man? Let me know what you think in the comments!
The “how to be manly” is a quote from the movie Fight Club. The film’s protagonist, Tyler Durden, shares some lessons in manliness with his fellow fighters.
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