What if Fight Club, ten years on, is more relevant than ever? Part 1: The Capitalist Body

In honor of Fight Club’s recent release on Blu Ray and ten year anniversary, I will be posting a three-part ode to this class anti-capitalist film.

In honor of Fight Club’s ten year anniversarynt and recent release on Blu Ray, I will be posting a three-part ode to this classic anti-capitalist film.

Here is part 1:

In opposition to the celebratory policing of the body so in vogue in the contemporary USA, Fight Club scorns a society that has allowed the body to become a mere object.  Deriding the very technology that many other films (such as Forrest Gump) celebrate at both the level of content and form, Fight Club refuses to buy into the supposed technological promise of disembodied capitalism where we can project our bodies into the past or future.

Through a contemplation of the pervasiveness of violence, ennui, and lack of affect definitive of the late 90’s, the film meditates on the body as brutalized not only by the self and by other bodies, but by the whole ethos of capitalism.

In contradistinction to Forrest Gump, the film did not celebrate the current state of affairs in America by offering up a bodiless white male hero.  Rather, it introduced us to a dejected and morally bankrupt capitalist everyman who suffers profoundly due to the disembodied and depersonalized capitalist landscape in which he must live.

Most reviews and articles about the film did not consider it in this light though. Instead, they focused on its supposed celebration of violence and virulent masculinity.

Again and again, writers interpreted the film as a sort of call to arms that inveigled viewers to reject ideas about the ‘new man’ and return to ‘traditional masculinity’, complete with bloodthirstiness, aggression, and domination.

For example, Henry Giroux claims the film “locates violence as the privileged vehicle for male community and solidarity.” I myself see it as critique of violent masculinity, rather than a celebration of it.

The film’s critique of consumer capitalism was not lost on most, but the majority of commentators felt this focus was overshadowed by a larger concern with the supposed ‘crisis of masculinity’ occurring in the late 90’s.  Giroux argues the film in fact reduces the crisis of capitalism into a crisis of masculinity arguing that “the crisis lies less in the economic, political, and social conditions of capitalism itself than in the rise of a culture of consumption in which men are allegedly domesticated, rendered passive, soft and emasculated”.

In a sense, Giroux is suggesting that the film serves as a rallying cry to re-masculinize the body, to bring back the brawn and bravado of the Rambo age.  To him, this is a key weakness of the film as it focuses on an individualized politics that waters down real world issues into mere fist fights.  However, Giroux’s reading of the film focuses mainly on the surface images – he spotlights the violence, the quasi-fascism and celebration of militaristic hard bodies that the camera repeatedly captures. Yet his reading fails to address the fact that that the main character Jack ultimately rejects his alter-ego’s violent credo and that Tyler is, in fact, an undesirable double that is destroyed by the film’s end.

What readings such as Giroux’s also fail to consider is the film’s sustained focus on the body – at both the level of form and content.  At the formal level, the camera zooms in on bloodied faces, battered bodies, and black eyes.  The film is also awash in the fluids of the body – blood, sweat, spit, and urine practically ooze from the screen.

The sound editing further accentuates the material factors of embodiment, emphasizing the thud of punches, the thump of bodies hitting the ground, the thwack of fist against bone.

At the level of content, the film contemplates the status of the body within the advanced capitalist American landscape.  This bodily fixation is not quite as apparent in the film as it is in Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, but the movie nevertheless gestures towards broad questions involving what consumer capitalism does to the body. And what it does is not pretty.

Up next: Part 2: (Dis)Embodying Capitalism

12 thoughts on “What if Fight Club, ten years on, is more relevant than ever? Part 1: The Capitalist Body”

  1. Fight Club is in my opinion one of the best movies ever made because of its critique of both passive, emasculating consumerism AND the fascistic pack mentality that those who reject consumerism so often turn to. Both ways of thinking exalt mindless conformity, violence (one in the form of numb acceptance, the other as an active participant), and abolition of individual conciousness.

    I don’t think consumerism and capitalism are synonymous (I believe in the latter myself, albeit not the laizese faire variety) and I’m certainly not a leftist, but it’s nice to see a positive review from someone who actually got the point. Kudos!

    1. Narcopuppy,
      Thanks.
      True that consumerism and capitalism are not the same… And the form of capitalism we are in now is a particular type — corporate!

  2. Yes, there was an element of anti-consumerism in the film, but to call it an “anti-capitalist” work is a laughable reach.

    Somehow, I doubt the majority of viewers who saw the film experienced it as an anti-capitalist work. The anti-consumerist element was used more to express the main character’s generalized alienation from contemporary life.

    This is hardly a new thematic in film.

    1. Lxy,
      Well, I don’t think it’s a “laughable reach” — especially if the book is taken into context.
      I agree the majority of viewers may not have seen it as primarily anti-capitalist, but that doesn’t mean the film doesn’t have an anti-capitalist message. And, this element was used to show WHY the character is so alienated.
      Did I ever claim it was a new thematic? I don’t think so…

  3. this movie, the usual suspects, and a few others are trying to point out deeper issues than capitalism. The kiss on the hand chemical burn being a connection to the kiss that reveals jesus, dig deeper.

      1. Hardly seeing religion in everything, but by the time project mayhem starts you have a modern day cult full men free of identity doing as there leader/martyr (tyler) says.
        And yes he is betrayed by “Jack’s” realization he was going around giving kisses. Up set about economic issues yes, so was jesus, upset about paying to use thier church, so was tyler about lou taking there basement. One woman amongst lots of men.

        Im not seeing this because Im a religous nut, in fact opposite. I believe this movie smacks religion in the face and says jesus could have been an insomniac with problems about his place in the world, and daddy issues because joseph had nothing to do with him, for all they know. After all I heard he was raised in a mental institution, and sleeps only 2 hours a night.

        Theirs more to it then this but Im sure the rest of your article covers those things. Just wanted to add this. Good Work though I enjoyed the fact fight club still causes a stir.

      2. Jandt,
        I had not thought of the film in this way – will have to watch it again with an eye to project mayhem and religious cults! Thanks for adding this new view. And glad you enjoyed reading about Fight Club ten years on!

      1. Paralyzed, nearly 6 yrs now(2004), the year lost started, is it fate or coincidence? I can identify with his personality the most, as well as his history of struggle in life and faith. As he has said, its never been easy.

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