Friday, February 4, 2011

This is Our Great Depression

Whenever we're not prognosticating what the world of the future would be like, it's a safe bet that we're looking to the past. It's not very hard to see how this is an universal obsession unless one happens to be unfortunate enough to be so blind that he or she doesn't realize that retrospection is 20/20. While eyes can gaze into the past, ears can hear it from the myriad of Michael Buble reinventions of Bobby Darin and Frank Sinatra classics, necks can wear ties slim enough to make any number of Sterling Cooper secretaries swoon, and hands can exude hipster pretension when they clutch the cheap plastic of LOMO cameras. This fixation on the past is by no means confined to fashion, or music; in fact, it's probably not even a new phenomenon. Just as Hip-Hop producers today find obscure 80th synth pop "dope," I bet Delacroix and the Neoclassicists were similarly entranced by the Greeks and Romans, who in turn probably found the old-school paintings at Lascaux and Altamira "pretty sick." Let me take the chance now to thank the reader for following uber long, convoluted, random and seemingly random train of thought before I continue. I suppose what I should've said far more concisely was my belief that we are consumed by the past simply because it's quaint. These nostalgic feelings thus render the past, for lack of a better word (or my inability to think of one), is "cool." These thoughts about the quaintness of the past and the possibly superfluous references to consumer culture were inspired by nothing other than "Fight Club."

Cult movie status and "ultimate guy movie" accolades aside, Tyler Durden's words in light of the turmoil in the Middle East and the impending 10th anniversary of September 11th, provide a lens into the past, one where we can certainly use to laugh at ourselves for being so naive.

Starting at 1:15 mark, Tyler makes a short speech where he claims that we as the "middle children" of history, we are orphans removed from the great ordeals of the past; thus, in a sense we need to create our own battles so that we can fight our own battles, thereby fulfill the generational rite of passage. His promotion of violence for the sake of violence takes the form of destruction, insubordination, and domestic terrorism that aims to destroy the country so that men can live like uninhibited men and be themselves. I suppose it's a little like telling the modern day bohemians that it is really ok..."you can still look pretty cool sans those fake glasses". While this rationale is indeed "cute," as a citizen of a world now beset by real terrorism, and the threat of real global destabilization, I do indeed find his views quaint.

It's funny to think that the late 90's was such a fantastic time and we were so bored that we actually had to invent terrorism, and commit violence simply because there wasn't any. How naive we were back then that we, through Tyler Durden complained that we had "No Great Depression" of our own. I suppose we haven't JUST gotten more cynical since then, we may have (hopefully) gotten a little wiser by at least recognizing this. Maybe it's just me, but upon watching this video of the violence in Egypt,
I was disturbed by ferocity of the street violence nearly as much as our naviete in the past. Perhaps the universal condemnations of street violence in the media and calls for a peaceful transition of power are signs that we are becoming weary of violence. One can of course say one thing but do another, especially given our recent gravitation toward things similar to but by no means limited to the genocide of the zombies. Perhaps we are still too closely tied to the era of dotcoms and boybands that we inherit much of its gullibility. After all, we seem to assert that violence and its associated collateral damage are fine and dandy as long as we're working to fight greater evils. Just as the ends can justify the means (and the deaths of untold numbers of henchmen in a Schwarzenegger movie) we still believe that the pursuit of justice in the war on terror is important enough to merit trails of civilian blood. In a nutshell, we're close enough to this era that we perhaps also subscribed to the belief that in the presence of boredom brought about by the absence of trying circumstances, violence for its own sake is merited.

As members of the last generation to spend part of our childhood free of the specter violence derived from religious extremism, I am especially curious how future generations would approach this need for a Pearl Harbor/Great Depression/9-11 -esque moment of generational catharsis. Surely it'll involve something more sophisticated than a pair skinny jeans with tweetdeck and youtube open on our browsers. The past does however seem to get free passes more than it should. After all, for all the sartorial brilliance of the 60s, few seem to mention its shortcomings, namely rampant misogynism and racism. Few point out that in the heyday of the Wild West, Native Americans were for all intents and purposes still savages and apparently the Chinese were so threatening that their immigration needed to be stemmed. Judgement is evidently clouded by romantic perceptions, let's hope that our times will someday be deemed equivalently quaint.


  1. I see this movie as a response to the perceived feminization of American society. Some argue that over the past few decades feminine cultural traits have increased relative to masculine cultural traits. The Fight Club movie glorifies masculine standards in society, especially in response to the rules of order and decorum that are perceived as feminine traits.

  2. I agree that Tyler Durden's ideas are quaint, and I think the film as a whole both satirizes and criticizes them. The problem with Fight Club is that Tyler Durden's ideas are so undeniably powerful and resonant, and David Fincher's style so irresistibly slick and seductive in its presentation of those ideas, that many people watch the movie and don't see that it is ultimately a satire of Tyler's anarchic philosophy.
    Still though, I remember first watching this movie when I was in high school and myself too being swept away by Tyler Durden's philosophy, its criticism of empty consumerism, of using violence as a rite of passage for manhood in a society devoid of defined standards of masculinity, its unabashed celebration of manhood in the face of what Andrew pointed out the perceived feminization of American society. Tyler Durden's ideas strike a very real chord of many of the problems men face today which is certainly why the movie resonates so strongly today.
    But after my initial reaction to the movie faded, I started to see the intentional contradictions in Tyler's philosophy. Tyler constantly gives speeches criticizing materialism while at the same time he wears expensive and flashy clothes from obviously name brand fashion labels. Tyler criticizes a banner of a male model, feeling sorry for the model and his vain efforts to keep a perfect physique and snidely stating that "self-improvement is masturbation". In the very next scene, Brad Pitt's own perfectly chiseled physique is on display as he beats up another guy in a fight club. The movie is also filled to the brim with product placements as Tyler pontificates the empty values of consumerism throughout. David Fincher is clearly satirizing Tyler's unrealistic philosophy. In an interview he states,

    "Well, first of all, that movie was sold in such a kind of a retarded, salacious way, so it was already like the context was being abused. Instead of it being satire, it was sold like it was for underground fighting what "Fast and the Furious" was for street racing. It not that we were advocating that... You know, I was very cautious to say that this Nietzschean uberman is a great idea for high school seniors and college sophomores, but it doesn’t really work in the real world beyond that, you know? And that’s kind of what the movie’s talking about."


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