Bob is Society and Society is Bob
The English Oxford Dictionary defines philosophy as the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence. In other words, philosophy is to think about life. Fight Club (1999) looks at today’s society and, basically, challenges the idea of our “freedom”. Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) believes that society has created a false sense of freedom by filling our lives with unimportant things as a distraction.
The film Fight Club, directed by David Fincher, is based on the novel Fight Club (1996) which was written by Chuck Palahniuk. The film was ultimately a box office flop. Twentieth Century Fox didn’t quite know how to advertise a movie that was about fighting and criticisms of society, and early reviews of the film did not help bring people into theatres. Both the film and the novel criticize society’s principles of enslavement: consumerism, false sense of masculinity, and how we perceive self-identity.
The film starts off with the narrator (Edward Norton) living a normal life like anyone else in America. He’s a single hard working man who owns an apartment that he fills with his belongings, and struggles silently with personal issues. In his case, he has isnomnia. The one odd thing about the narrator, is that the only way he can cope with his crippling insomnia is to join multiple support groups, including a support group for men who suffer from testicular cancer. This was my first clue that this was no ordinary film.
While at the testicular cancer group meeting, he meets Bob, a man with boobs that cries. This is where the film presents its view of masculinity in today’s society. Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) believes that real men should welcome pain into their lives and dish it out to other men. I don’t totally agree, as I believe this is a very primal way of viewing masculinity and how men should behave. Bob is a symbol of society, in that he has lost everything near and dear to him because of his disease, and now has boobs and cries. Basically, men of today are ranked based on what they have to show off. Without all of this stuff, we are Bob. Helpless and fragile sissy’s who need to cry to feel better about themselves.
This emasculated figure of men is brought on by our false sense of what a man is because of how society ranks men. Consumerism is the culprit. In Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), the main character, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is obsessed with making more money and becoming the best stockbroker there is. His downfall is his thirst for success. He ends up ruining his life and loses everyone around him because his sense of success got to his head. This is a shining example of what Fight Club is pointing out in our world. That becoming rich, sleeping with hot girls, and throwing money around is creates a false sense of freedom. Tyler Durden gives his opinion on things we own, “The things you own, end up owning you”. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character was eventually owned by his “success” and ruins his life.
The narrator’s life in the beginning of the film is similar, but less extreme. Everything he owned and valued was in his apartment. One day, on his way back from a business trip, he sees his entire apartment up in flames. Someone “forgot” to turn the stove off. He then believes his life is over because everything he owned was in that apartment. Without his stuff, he is nobody. This is where the plot begins to formulate into the twisted spiral of terroristic events planned out by Tyler Durden and the narrator.
The difference between how Durden and the narrator are presented throughout the film displays the stark contrasts between society’s conformists and those who rebel society’s enslavement. Durden represents the anti-everything, as it seems. This guy is a symbol of the middle finger for all of America. He dresses in a very bizarre and dazzling way that really creates a sense of “I don’t give a f***”. He lives in a run-down home with minimal electricity, no furniture, and a sketchy foundation. This guy even makes soap out of human fat that he steals from liposuction clinics, and sells it to people. He does whatever he wants.
Our narrator, on the other hand, lives like you and me. He has a well-paying job, lives in an apartment, keeps to himself, and surrounds himself with his personal belongings. He is a conformist of society.
The movie artistically uses Durden’s confident, loud, and careless personality and the narrator’s quiet and reserved personality of a follower to show the distinct contrast between modern society and how people ought to live life outside of society’s “enslavement”.
Even though my knowledge on psychology is limited, it is still easy to find the roots of consumerism in modern society. Tribalism is how people act based on a strong loyalty to a social group. We want to fit in because it is in our DNA. Conforming to our social group was a way of surviving in our species’ earliest beginnings. Today, we also have a constant intrusion of advertisements. No matter where you go, you are at the mercy of some sort of ad. Even now as a college student living in the dorms, I cannot find a single crevice in this building without seeing some sort of endorsement for the Greek life or some other student organization. Even when I go to the bathroom, I am staring at “The Stall Seat Journal” and their latest and greatest ideas about campus life and student involvement.
These ads target our innate quality of tribalism and our feelings of inclusion. They make us feel like an outcast because we don’t have the newest iPhone or the latest pair of Nike Football cleats. We feel the impulse to buy these meaningless objects to make us feel welcome and included by those around us.
Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me (2004) uses the idea that more is better, as their foundation for the film. People will willingly pay extra to be “Super Sized” at a low cost even if they don’t need it. I find myself doing this. If I am ever asked if I would like a large soda at Panda Express for an additional 5 cents, I will take it. Knowing that I will not finish that large Mountain Dew, I take it anyways because, hey, it’s more for less money! I am the narrator from Fight Club, and I am society.
The film’s solution to society’s “enslavement” is exaggerated and way out of the realm of possibility and sanity. The way for men to truly become men is to throw away all of your personal belongings, quit your job, beat people up because pain is good, cause mass mayhem for no reason, and dedicate our lives to the terrorist group of project mayhem. Project mayhem is a mission to eliminate all debt and create an even playing field for all people. Its purpose is to break people free of their enslavement to the consumeristic ideals of society.
I highly recommend this movie to anyone who wants to see a movie like no other, or wants to go on a journey into the mind of a schizophrenic man and his mission to break free from the ball and chain of modern society. This movie may have been a box office flop, but it is definitely a modern classic that you won’t regret watching.