Friday, October 29, 2010

Years of Fighting can change a man

Last night I watched the movie Fight Club again. This is probably the movie that has most influenced and affected my life. If you haven't seen this movie before, I encourage you to go watch it before reading further so that you will understand more about what I am referring to here.

This movie had a big role in encouraging me to eventually move out of the safety, security and familiar comfortable sense of "home" that I experienced at Twin Oaks Community, where I was living & working at the time when I first saw this movie in 2000.

This movie also later on in 2003 had a big role in encouraging me to quit my job, leave my gated apartment-home and then-fiance in Phoenix, Arizona and embark on a new unpredictable vagabond lifestyle.

For years after that I would watch this film again for further encouragement in maintaining a kind of insurrectionary anarchist world-view and itinerant personal life.

Interestingly enough, my relationship with this movie and it's influence on my life pre-dated my involvement with Nonviolent Communication. However, even after I was involved with NVC, I was able to draw the connection between the two in that Fight Club emphasizes the importance of emotional intimacy, genuine listening, and real vulnerability & trust. To quote the movie: "When people think you're dying, they really, really listen to you, instead of just waiting for their turn to speak."

For me the experience of being a part of groups of strangers who would vulnerably open themselves up in front of other strangers, cry and hug each-other mirrored what I was experiencing through Nonviolent Communication workshops, retreats, and practice groups. As the quote goes from the movie, "strangers with this kind of honesty make me go a big rubbery one."

This movie is filled with different quotes, lines, and exchanges that I have found quite meaningful, inspiring, and poignant. A lot of them sum up quite well different aspects of my beliefs and world-view, some more than others at different points of my life. Here are a few of them:

"You have to know, not fear, know, that some day you are going to die. Until you know that and embrace that, you are useless."

"You are not your job, you're not how much money you have in the bank, you're not the car you drive, you're not the contents of your wallet, you're not your fucking khakis. You are the all-singing, all-dancing, crap of the world."

"Fuck off with your sofa units and string green stripe patterns, I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let... lets evolve, let the chips fall where they may."

"The things you own end up owning you."

"Hitting bottom isn't a weekend retreat. It's not a goddamn seminar. Stop trying to control everything and just let go!"

And then there is the description of an idealized future utopian society, that especially appealed to me during my anti-civilization phase:

"In the world I see - you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You'll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You'll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you'll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway."

Watching this movie again, now, a few different things stand out to me.

The movie is obviously now out-of-date. The people in it use pay-phones and land-lines throughout the movie, as well as filing cabinets and stacks of notecards. Digital technology is notably absent in the film. Plus, there is this line in the movie that describes "our generation" -

"We're the middle children of history.... no purpose or place. We have no Great War, no Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives."

I would say that the international war against militant radical Islamism is now the "Great War" facing our generation, and the global financial crisis is now the "Great Depression" that our generation is going through. Of course, how we are experiencing and relating to these things seems very different for us now compared to what the people of the 1930's and 1940's were going through. But, that is a separate topic.

What especially stood out for me watching this movie again now is how incredibly male-centric the whole movie is. The story details how a nation-wide underground revolutionary movement of men forms and develops, while the only big female character in the whole movie is this one woman who has a lot of sex with the main character. The men who join and are active in this movement come together through physically fighting each-other, some kind of stereotypical macho-violent instinct is activated in them that gets them involved. This whole thing I find distasteful and disinteresting.

I do see and value how helpful it can be to get in touch with a more fundamental and foundational part of yourself and your base humanity, and fighting & fucking is one way to do that. However this does not seem to me to be that much of a step forward, nor that substantial in & of itself.

I see humanity as having so much untapped potential that can be utilized and drawn from, if we really wanted to do so. This sentiment is also expressed in the movie with this quote:

"Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need."

With that being said, then, how is forming groups of guys fighting each-other and submitting to a kind of top-down authoritarian organization (which is how the underground revolutionary movement is structured) any kind of a positive development? Men beating the crap out of each-other and barking orders at each-other has been the basic structure of society for thousands of years. The "revolutionary" model demonstrated in Fight Club is not really any different from that.

Then there is another aspect of "Fight Club" that I take issue with now. It is elucidated with these quotes: "It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything" and "only after disaster can we be resurrected".

I have an ambivalent relationship with this sentiment because on the one hand I have experienced this as being the case with my life. It has indeed been the moments when I have lost everything, when everything fell apart, failed, when disaster struck, that I found the urge, energy, and ability to really change my life around.

On the other hand, I also recognize that many different resources, things, people, places, and practices exist out there to assist people in radically changing their lives around in more positive and healthy ways. In other words, people can choose to access these avenues of support at any time, without having a personal crisis spurring them on. People can proactively take charge of improving themselves.

This is directly at odds with the sentiment expressed in "Fight Club" - "Self-improvement is masturbation. Now, self-destruction..."

I would like to believe that he is wrong.


Jeanell said...

Well, Happy Birthday! I love this Fight Club Analysis and I so appreciate and can relate to its relationship to your personal development. Thank you for sharing this and so much more with those of us who are far away from your day-to-day life at the moment.

Ian Mayes said...

Here is a response to this blog post that someone posted on my Facebook page:

"I am somewhat surprised that you seem to be ignoring that the movie clearly presents the protagonist as a fundamentally mentally disturbed individual and not as a idealized hero figure, leader, or spiritually enlightened being. The male centric Fight Club and Project Mayhem are results of the fatherless male's longing for a patriarchal context. One is not meant to regard these reactions sympathetically, although they do open one's eyes to a transformative path. At the end when the personality of Tyler Durden is unified and a healthy relationship with a woman becomes possible, one should, I believe, fully recognize the intention of the film to show how far this crazy path of transformation can go if unchecked by some healthy respect for consensual reality and a balanced approach to spiritual activity."

memeticist said...

Clever anaylsis and interesting shifting personal relationship witht he film. Here is what i wrote about it.