Sometimes I hate Chuck Palahniuk. It’s not because of anything personal — I don’t personally know the man. I’m certain that he’s probably a pleasure to be with. I hate Chuck Palahniuk because of these two words: Fight Club.
Yeah, I know. I’m playing with fire here. I know by even daring to utter a remotely negative word about either Chuck Palahniuk or Tyler Durden I’m inviting the wrath of Project Mayhem.
Right now I’m certain that I’ve just booked myself a Raymond K. Hessel moment.
Let me get to brass tacks here. Even though the movie Fight Club is older than most of its current fanbase, every so often the authorities bust up some group of high school kids who, after watching the movie, decide that beating the shit out of each other is a fine way to pass time after school.
Anyone who has either spent a little bit of time in an intro philosophy class or watched television any knows that the Chuck Palahniuk novel Fight Club is an example of nihilism in literature. Philosophically speaking, Nihilism is defined as:
- total rejection of social mores: the general rejection of established social conventions and beliefs, especially of morality and religion
- belief that nothing is worthwhile: a belief that life is pointless and human values are worthless
- disbelief in objective truth: the belief that there is no objective basis for truth
Although the history of nihilism can be traced back to the ancient Greek skeptics, the philosopher most associated with nihilism is the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900).
A lot of Fight Club fans also claim to like Friedrich Nietzsche.
This is where the trouble begins.
Even if you’ve never personally read a single word Nietzsche wrote, if you have eyes or ears, you’ve certainly been exposed to the words of Friedrich Nietzsche. Our cluture is saturated with Nietzsche’s philosophy. See if any of this sounds familiar to you:
- There are no facts, only interpretations.
- What does not kill me makes me stronger (This should ring a bell with Kelly Clarkson fans)
- Master-slave morality
- God is dead
All of these ideas appeal to Fight Club fans. They believe that they are the unwanted “middle children of history”, and that God has not only abandoned them, but in all likelihood, he probably hates them. Fight Club fans believe that Fight Club makes them stronger, society needs to be torn down and rebulit with a whole new set of values, and that beating each other to kingdom come will release their inner ubermensches.
If anyone knows how to do that umlaut thing let me know.
Ok… Uh… there’s really no way to say this delicately… but… well, if any Fight Club-oholic tells you that he’s fulfilling Nietzsche’s nihilistic vision of a transvaluation of values, that Fight Club fan is an idiot. Ok, not an idiot. Calling someone an idiot is a pretty strong accusation. What I will say is this: If you watched (or read) Fight Club and you thought that Tyler Durden and his Project Mayhem are what happens when men realize their inner Nietzschean superman, you’ve got Nietzsche all wrong.
I know, I know, how can I say that Tyler Durden isn’t exactly what Nietzsche was talking about?
Nietzsche wanted society to throw off the old non-life affirming values that force otherwise strong men into lives of lifeless submission and I know that’s exactly what Tyler Durden was up to. Like Friedrich Nietzsche’s criticism of Europe’s decadent and nihilistic culture, Tyler Durden wanted his space monkeys to throw off our soul corrupting popular culture; to be not what society tells them to be (Calvin Klein pretty boy-looking, Ikea catalogue browsing consumer drones), but to be who they are supposed to be. Like Nietzsche, Tyler Durden wants a (what Nietzsche would call) a transvaluation of values and to bring back the long lost ancient strongmen like Caesar, Napoleon, and the Sophists. Friedrich Nietzsche envisions a world where the masters rise above the slavish herd morality; a world that Tyler Durden says men will stalk elk in the ruins of Rockefeller Center and climb the vines that circle the Sears Tower.
So you say, if Tyler and Fred seem to be in complete agreement, how is it that thinking that they are is getting Nietzsche “all wrong”?
The answer is this: Nietzsche wants to transvalue society, but guys like Tyler Durden aren’t the ones who are supposed to do the transvaluating. In the movie Fight Club, Tyler Durden says this:
The people you are after are the people you depend on. We cook your meals. We haul your trash. We connect your calls. We guard you while you sleep. Do not fuck with us.
That sentiment is all fine and dandy, and I’m pretty sure that statements like that are what makes Tyler Durden so appealing. The problem with Tyler Durden’s sentiment and why he’s totally off his Nietzsche is because Tyler Durden’s Project Mayhem is exactly the kind of slave morality that Nietzsche is talking about! Tyler’s space monkeys are busboys, cooks, waiters, garage mechanics, garbage men, and office drones — exactly the kind of low hanging fruit that Nietzsche says is filled with resentment and create “slave” moralities (like Christianity) to overthrow and oppress the master class.
You see, even though Tyler Durden feels very much oppressed by a culture that tells him that the ideal man is one who looks like he just stepped out of a Calvin Klein ad, Tyler Durden is precisely where he is supposed to be. Tyler Durden and his fellow low paid, wage earning pals are not the masters who must reclaim the reins of society but the inferior classes who are to be dominated and exploited by the Ubermensch.
This is why Project Mayhem is enevitably doomed to fail.
We know this because Tyler Knows this.
Now how ’bout some Kelly Clarkson?