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Today, media represents men and masculinity in different ways. Different sources point at how men are required to behave and present themselves in order to appear like male. With time, the different aspects that would associate with masculinity are gradually fading and new ideas quickly emerging to define masculinity. In the past, people used masculinity to identify with one’s gender (Clark “Fight Club” 411).
Nevertheless, the onset of equality in the contemporary society is gradually making it hard to see the distinction between femininity and masculinity. In the United States and other developed countries, capitalism is putting immense pressure on masculinity. In her chef-d’oeuvre article, Ta laments how capitalism, through the aspect of creating and accumulating profits, has affected masculinity in the American society (265).
Moreover, increase in advertisement programs is making people change their views regarding masculinity. It is becoming hard for modern men to achieve definite ideals attributed to masculinity (Clark “Fight Club” 413-419).
In trying to assert his masculinity, today, the contemporary man portrays his masculinity through addressing his pain and fears, as well as through violence. This paper seeks to bring out the theme of masculinity in the masterpiece, Fight Club.
Nature of masculinity
Fight Club is one of the narratives that effectively bring out the state of masculinity as well as the nature of masculinity in the modern western culture. In addition, the novel brings out the level of crisis in masculinity, which is prevalent in the current capitalist culture. It would be imperative to note that masculinity does not necessarily portray in an individual’s physiological attributes.
Instead, one’s behaviors portray masculinity. Both men and women may display masculinity based on their behaviors. Consequently, masculinity is not entirely an exclusive male attribute. In Fight Club, numerous scenes portray the theme of masculinity.
For instance, in one of the scenes, Jack opts to attend the meetings held by the “remaining men together” as a way of helping him retain his masculinity (Fight Club). This group consists of men who have lost their testicles due to cancer.
Nevertheless, their association helps them retain their masculinity. Being together allows them to engage in activities that are mostly associated with masculinity, thus regaining their masculinity.
In her article, Ta posits that Jack endures a false emasculative fear, which borders on the baseless belief that all things are terrifying to his priapic abilities (270). The only way to overcome this suffering is by ensuring that he associates with other men and partakes in games or fights that are attributed to masculinity.
Women may portray masculine features, while men may exhibit feminine features. Normally, attributes like autonomy, affluence, and strength represents masculinity. Nevertheless, traditions dictate that females should not exhibit masculine characteristics (Faludi 547-551). With time, changes in the Western culture have resulted in male victimization.
The emergence of consumerism and capitalistic culture has given way to a crisis in masculinity. In her book, Susan Faludi shows how consumerism has led to male victimization. She posits, “After World War II, manhood signified the guarantee of novel borders for their lads to surmount a culture where historical inherent qualities of masculinity could be carried on” (Faludi 597).
According to Faludi, the consumerism culture led to men embarking on the business of enriching themselves, and in the process, they abandoned activities that once portrayed their masculinity (599). Initially, features like scars, muscles, and courage portrayed masculinity. Nevertheless, capitalism has substituted these features with affluence and power (Foucault 123).
More and more women have become wealthier than men have, thus leading to male victimization. In Fight Club, male victimization has affected Jack mentally, eventually forcing him to come up with a fight club. He establishes the fight club as a consolation since it gives him an opportunity to meet with other men and engage in activities that assure them of their masculinity.
Masculinity and identity
One of the roles of masculinity is that it helps in establishing one’s identity especially in men. In Fight Club, Jack struggles to establish his identity. He ends up attending numerous support groups and tries to associate with them in the name of seeking self-identity. He ultimately joins the fight club after realizing that he could only establish his identity in such a place (Fight Club).
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In her well-researched book, Men and Masculinity, Sweetman, “Identity only becomes an issue when it is in crisis, when something assumed to be fixed, coherent, and stable is displaced by the experience of doubt and uncertainty” (14).
In Fight Club, Jack perceives this uncertainty and qualm as a change in masculinity. In the past, features like endurance, strength, power, and knack to tolerate pain were regarded as some of the masculine traits (Palahniuk 65).
However, since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, technology has significantly substituted these traits. Faludi posits that the industrial revolution led to a transition from creation of goods to the creation of knowledge (487). Consequently, industrial revolution took away most activities that satisfied men’s masculinity, thus leaving them with limited activities. Currently, men enjoy “ornamental” masculinity.
Men like Jack were confined in rooms to work with phones and computers. The masculine rebirth that Jack and Tyler are going through compels them to establish the fight club (Palahniuk 65).
The fight club gives Jack and other men an opportunity to engage on physical combat, which that reinvigorates their masculinity. In one of the scenes Tyler posits, “We have no great war, no great depression… our great war is a spiritual war…our great depression is our lives” (Fight Club).
This assertion confirms Tyler’s belief that men can only regain their masculinity through violence. When Bob meets other men in the “remaining men together”, he reminds them “We’re still men” (Fight Club). Bob goes on to apply some masculine techniques during his fight in the club. He uses these techniques as a way of showing others that despite losing their testicles they are still men and thus have all it takes to be men.
One of the factors that make Jack join the “remaining men together” group is that it allows him release his emotions as a man (Palahniuk 68). Some activities can lower one’s masculinity if done in public; for instance, if a man cries in public, it would show that he is not mature enough.
Hence, at times, men suffer emotionally in the name of preserving their masculinity. Therefore, joining the “remaining men together” group gives Jack an opportunity to release his emotions through crying.
Media and masculinity
In the Fight Club film, Tyler makes numerous comments regarding consumerism and identity. For instance, when travelling in a bus, he makes a comment on a Calvin Klein advertisement. Tyler uses the advertisement to bring out his perception on what men ought to look like. In his elaborative book, Masculinity and Culture, Beynon goes ahead to coin a new word, viz. “mediated masculinity” (64).
He shows the different ways that media portrays masculinity. Today, media has a significant influence on masculinity. Different media presentations and advertisements portray masculinity in different ways making it hard for people to identify the real and ideal masculinity. For instance, in a bid to come up with a mental representation of Tyler, Jack almost buys to the masculine ideas brought out by media.
According to Jack, Tyler carries all the ideal qualities that he believes a real man ought to portray. He has everything that entails masculinity and that Jack lacks (Lee 418-421). It would be correct to assert that Tyler is a super-masculinized replica of Jack. At the end of the film, Tyler returns in a more advanced masculine state. His muscles are well pronounced and he has shaved his head as a symbol of asserting his masculinity.
Castration and masculinity
Fight Club refers to castration as one of the aspects that kill male identity. In the later scenes of the film, Tyler makes some remarks on Jack’s house after it is destroyed. He tells Jack to relax and be thankful that nothing worse happened like a woman cutting off his manhood and disgracefully tossing it out of a speeding vehicle (Fight Club).
According to this remark, Tyler shows that material things do not necessarily portray masculinity. In spite of Jack losing his house, he still has his masculinity. Losing manhood is one of the ways through which men may lose their masculinity. Throughout the film, Tyler shows how castration is a major threat to masculinity by threatening to chop off the manhood of those men opposes his policies of the project mayhem.
Tyler feels that people in the higher echelon of capitalism are responsible for the rampant emasculation witnessed in the society. Therefore, to ensure that he overcomes this emasculation, he threatens the perpetrators with castration. Later in the film, Jack kills himself as away of eliminating Tyler (Fight Club).
In a way, this move symbolizes castration. Tyler possesses numerous masculine qualities that Jack lacks. Hence, to do away with these qualities, Jack opts to kill himself as an avenue to eliminate the masculinity attributes in Tyler.
Fight club brings out numerous insights into the elements that underscore the current mode of bonding amongst men. Throughout the film, men relate with one another by shunning what they perceive to be feminine. In one instance, Tyler and Jack discuss their fathers and the responsibilities bestowed on them as men.
Jack claims that his father abdicated his responsibility as a parent by leaving him in the hands of his mother for upbringing. Rather than taking care of Jack, the father went out to marry numerous women.
On the other side, Tyler goes on to claim, “We’re a generation of men raised by women; I’m not sure if another woman is what we need” (Fight Club). This aspect signifies the level to which men in the capitalistic society are trying to do away with issues to do with feminism as a way of retracing their masculinity. They feel that associating with women would make it hard for them to regain their masculinity.
Capitalism has made it hard for men to have a father figure that acts as their role model. Hence, the modern man is turning to media in pursuit for a male role model. Throughout his early life, Jack lacked a father to look upon as his role model. Hence, he did not develop a burly male bond. Therefore, to ensure that he develops a male bond, Jack opts to only associate with fellow men and do away with women.
Tyler goes on to claim that he has not managed to achieve all the expectations bestowed on him by his father (Palahniuk 67). He posits that at different stages in his life, he is expected to complete his college education, get a job, and marry. Nevertheless, he asserts that he is not ready to get married since he still feels immature.
Due to lack of proper fatherly upbringing, Jack and Tyler are incapable of assuming their responsibilities as men. Fight Club shows how capitalism is leading to the emergence of a generation made up of “eternal adolescents” (Palahniuk 69). There is no paternal bond between fathers and their sonnies.
The overriding bond between the two protagonists underscores another type of attachment in the film. Prior to learning that Tyler is a replica of Jack, one may treat the two as different personalities. At the beginning, jack views Tyler as the exact opposite of himself. Later, he develops interests in Tyler’s entire viewpoint on life and perceives him as his chance to snub capitalism and its weakening effects (Palahniuk 45).
Another male bond stands out conspicuously in the fight club. Jack is strongly attached to the cohorts of the project mayhem. Initially, the bond between Jack and Bob is emotional, but later it becomes violent upon the establishment of the fighting club. The establishment of the fighting club brings together men from different backgrounds that are tied together by their desire to surmount the emasculation caused by consumerism.
As the film progresses, the fight club transforms into project mayhem, that is, a group established with the sole objective of fighting capitalism, which the group members perceive as the main cause of their emasculation.
Fight Club brings out the current level of emasculation caused by capitalism as well as the possible risks posed by the current crisis. Capitalism and its effects receive a vehement condemnation throughout the book as well as the film. The film blames capitalism for the prevailing meagerness of the contemporary masculinity.
Michael Clark warns that violence would do little to help in curbing the current level of emasculation that men are experiencing. Rather than resulting to violence and discrimination, Clark assets that the way out is probably “not to battle consumerism, but to abandon it, to begin increasingly making other, non-consumerist kinds of choices, within the web of relationships that constitute our…communities of life” (“Faludi, Fight Club” 74).
According to Clark, men ought to come up with solutions that involves all the stakeholders rather than excluding women in their struggle (“Faludi, Fight Club” 76). This move would help in bringing together the two genders to solve a common problem.
It would help men to shun from engaging in self-destructive activities like the establishment of fight clubs. Instead, both men and women would come up with strategies to reignite the sense of social efficacy, thus encouraging cooperation and somehow convince men that their masculinity is not under threat.
Beynon, John. Masculinity and Culture. London: Loutledge, 2003. Print.
Clark, Michael. “Faludi, Fight Club, and phallic masculinity: Exploring the emasculating economics of patriarchy.” Journal of Men’s Studies 11.1 (2002): 65-76. Print.
Clark, Suzanne. “Fight Club: Historicizing the rhetoric of masculinity, violence, and sentimentality.” Journal of Advanced Composition 21.2 (2001): 411-420. Print.
Faludi, Susan. Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man. New York: William Marrow and Company Inc., 1999. Print.
Fight Club. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham Carter. Twentieth Century Fox, 2002. DVD.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish. New York: Random House Inc., 1995. Print.
Lee, Terry. “Virtual Violence in Fight Club: This is what transformation of masculine ego feels like.” Journal of American & Comparative Cultures 25.4 (2002): 418-423. Print.
Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2005. Print.
Sweetman, Caroline. Men and Masculinity. New York: Oxfam, 1997, Print.
Ta, Lynn. “Hurt so good: Fight Club, masculine violence, and the crisis of capitalism.” The Journal of American Culture 29.3 (2006): 265-277. Print.