People usually interpret Fight Club1 in two different ways. A reclamation of traditional masculinity, where Tyler Durden, the prophet, rages war against the status quo – associated with the red pill community at large. Alternately, it’s a critique of capitalism and the consumerist culture, the surface-level interpretation of the work. While the former is completely inaccurate and the latter partly true, both fail to recognize the larger point, the meta-point, if you will. Fight Club is a meta-critique of ideology itself.
1. Against Consumerism
The movie makes a Marxian argument on the surface. Tyler Durden, the alter ego, appears because the narrator is living a meaningless life that revolves around excessive consumption. He is visibly against Capital, expressing disdain for it in numerous situations.
You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you’re satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you’ve got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.Fight Club
From a Marxian-Zizekian perspective, the narrator is plagued by ideology. Note that ideology here isn’t referred to in the traditional sense. Rather, it’s a set of false ideals, a faux consciousness, that directs people’s actions. For instance, our protagonist is driven by a need to feel complete, and the concealed ideology of the capitalist culture predicates this on consumption. Every IKEA furniture, for him, is a little step closer to completion.
2. The Mimetic Movement
Rene Girard2, the French polymath, is most famous for creating Mimetic Theory. Briefly, it postulates that human desires are merely a mimetic response to other individuals and their desires. You desire certain things because others desire the same, or precisely because they don’t. In the end, everything boils down to a reaction.
Although I don’t endorse this as a prescriptive, how things ought to be, explanation of human nature, it works quite well as a descriptive, how things are, explanation. The Political Spectrum serves as a clear example. The identities of the opposites, say Liberals and Conservatives, are antagonistic reactions to the other. Such mimesis creates blinded ideologues – ironically all ideologues are blinded.
Something similar happens in the movie. Although the fight club appears to be an independent act of rebellion, it eventually reduces to a mimetic movement. The core of it ends up like consumerism – what it sought to fight. While the consumerists are governed by Capital, members of the fight club remain governed by Durden. Thus, it comes full circle.
3. The Meta-Critique of Ideology
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.Friedrich Nietzsche
The point of Fight Club is not a critique of consumerism, a specific ideology, rather a meta-critique of ideology itself. Like the quote above, it transforms into what it vowed to fight. Near the end, the members resemble robots, subservient to every order of Mr. Durden. Perhaps an explicit, literal visual expression of what happens in consumerism, or any other ideology. To paraphrase Zizek, we are unfree precisely because of our (apparent) freedom.
- Fincher, D. (1999). Fight Club. Twentieth Century Fox.
- René Girard. Wikipedia. (2023, March 24). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ren%C3%A9_Girard