David Fincher’s “Fight Club” and Consumerism 20 Years Later

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How is the message of “Fight Club” still relevant today? Is there a way to flee the consumerist system, or are we doomed for brands, logos, and samples?

Puzzled businessman looking at a happy shopper woman
Puzzled businessman looking at a happy shopper woman

In 1999, the film adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club was released in the movie theatres. Twenty years later, it’s still considered a classic. The film is a strong critique of the consumerist society and modern lifestyle. What can Fight Club teach us about our society in 2020? Is it possible to avoid the influence of consumerism nowadays?

SPOILER ALERT: We know that according to the first rule of Fight Club, “you do not talk about Fight Club.” However, for the sake of this article, we are forced to break this rule. If you somehow missed this movie and still haven’t crossed it out from your to-watch list, then beware: This article will refer to key elements of the plot. We recommend you watch Fight Club before reading this article.

 

You Are Not Your Condo

In Fight Club, the Narrator (Edward Norton) and Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) meet after the former sees his condo explode; there’s nothing left to save. They grab a drink in a bar, and the Narrator expresses his worries about the destroyed condo.

With the tragedy at the front of his mind, the Narrator confesses to Tyler that the condo was everything he had: every piece of furniture, every lamp with a funny name, and every table from IKEA. That condo was a part of himself. Tyler confronts him, saying that he is not his condo, and adding: “The things you own end up owning you.”

Today, surrounded by advertisements, brands, and logos, we constantly search for our own identity. Ironically, in this grey reality of convenience food and chain clothing stores, we’re all about individuality. We try to find our own way, looking for a unique style, food preferences, and a way of life.

In one of his voice-over monologues, the Narrator asks himself: “What kind of dining set defines me as a person?” Funny as this question may sound, it perfectly grasps our views on material goods.

If you enter somebody’s house, you can tell a lot about the person. Are they messy or conscientious? Do they tend to lean towards minimalism or extravagant abundance of ornaments? Are their walls covered with pictures of their family or abstract paintings?

Clothing style
Clothing style

Likewise, clothing has become the superficial yardstick of assessing one’s personality. By the way a person is dressed, we can make an educated guess on what kind of music they listen to, what subculture they identify with, and what the nature of their job is. In the consumerist society, we manifest our values and identities through physical goods, just like the Narrator tried to materialize his character through a dining set.

What is more, material goods are a clear index of wealth and status. Billionaires don’t really need the newest phones, the fastest cars, or the biggest houses. Sustaining life takes far less than a Ferrari and a bungalow in California. Yet, the luxurious items are an apparent indicator of one’s position on the social ladder in late capitalism.

What Fight Club tries to tell us, is that despite the imposed consumerist norms, we aren’t our possessions. Looking at other people – and yourself – through the prism of material goods will only warp your perception of reality. The truth is, if you were to lose everything you own, you’d still be you.

 

Everything Is a Copy, of a Copy, of a Copy

In the era of social media and omnipresent advertisements, we’re surrounded by products. We eat the same sample food bought by millions of other people. We wear the same brand clothes that millions of other people have. We seek affluence, trying to manifest our personalities and status through expensive cars, houses, clothes, furniture.

David Fincher / Photo: Shutterstock s bukley
David Fincher / Photo: Shutterstock s bukley

In David Fincher’s Fight Club, the goal of Tyler Durden was to wake people up from the illusion in which they lived. “You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap.”

In our egotistic race for individuality and success, we aren’t aware of the duality of our reality. On one hand, we’re the masters of our own faith and the most important persons in our lives; on the other, we’re but irrelevant components of a global mass oscillating around accumulating wealth.

Another lesson derived from Fight Club is humility. Social media and self-orientedness make us lose touch with what’s real and important. Your dream jacket or pair of shoes was mass-produced on a production line. Yes, you’re you – just like everybody else. In your search for identity, don’t forget that at the same time you’re but a minuscule component of something far bigger.

Fight Club points out to the most pressing problems of consumerism. Two decades passed, and we have only dived deeper into the seemingly unstoppable wheel of striving for possessions and material goods; an issue which has only been intensified by the rise of the global village. But is there any way out of this dim reality?

 

Solution?

Tyler Durden and the Narrator gradually give up on the consumerist life, rejecting the corporations’ ideas of “the IBM stellar sphere, Microsoft galaxy, planet Starbucks.” Living in an abandoned house, they embark on their crusade against consumerism. As more nameless men joined their sect, the Narrator falls deeper and deeper in the shadows of his psyche.

As he tries to uncover the masterplan behind the mysterious Project Mayhem, the Narrator realizes that he and Tyler Durden are the same person. Invoked by insomnia, the Narrator created the persona of Tyler in his head. Tyler was everything he wanted to be – devoid of his monotonous job, self-confident, free-spirited, handsome, careless of the illusion of finding identity in physical objects and material goods.

The Narrator’s willingness to make a change in his life and break out of the consumerist cycle led to his own inner fight. Tyler Durden, his imaginary friend, was the motor behind radical actions to revolutionize the system. Fiction aside, let’s focus on real life.

Inner fight
Inner fight

Just as it was highlighted in Fight Club, we’re surrounded by copies, brands, and logos. We live our lives, sometimes unaware that it could look differently. But could it actually?

How can one wish to choose the path of a bum, live in a decrepit house, wear scruffy clothes, and barely have food to eat? Sure, you can build a house in a secluded place, run a farm of your own, tailor your own clothes, and live sustainably. That would be going back to our hunter-gatherer roots. Think about it for a minute, and ask yourself if that’s how you imagine your perfect life.

Consumerism is simply comfortable for us. It’s a narrow minority that achieves great success under capitalism, yet the standard of life has been improving tremendously fast throughout the last couple of decades.

Our systems have flaws – no doubt about it. Films like Fight Club strive to show us the inconsistencies in our perception of reality, pinpoint the more pressing problems, and change our perspective. It’s true that, after decades, we don’t have concrete solutions to any these issues. Still, opening your mind and trying to look at your life and the lives of people around you is certainly a good start.

The true character development of the Narrator was when he faced both his pitiful, grey life and his careless, anti-social side. How can we interpret this breakthrough, what can we learn?

Humans are extraordinarily complex beings, living in a convoluted society. Only by realizing what went wrong can we amend our own failures. By facing reality and being aware, you can truly progress as an individual, hence benefiting society as a whole.

Next time you go shopping, remember that buying this or that item won’t add anything to your personality. You’re the sole creator of your path, no matter what you own.

Photos: Shutterstock


Check out the series of Youth Time articles on how to overcome consumerism and turn your mind from consumer to creator:

From Consumerism to Creativity (Part II): Ego vs True Ourselves

From Consumerism to Creativity (Part III): Liberation From The Mind

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