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Fight Club

November 4, 1999

Hollywood correctly says that it’s unfair to blame the dream factory for society’s violence. But is
it right to blame the financial community and Detroit? Apparently so, since that appears to be the message of "Fight
Club," the newest anti-capitalist screed to come out of Hollywood.

In the face of all the heat tinsel town is taking, the film comes off as a cowardly
effort to manipulate public perceptions. This is in keeping with the lack of character displayed by
the picture’s protagonist, played by Edward Norton. At once self-flagellating, self-aggrandizing,
whining and hyper-aggressive, it becomes apparent early in the second reel that there is nowhere
to go with this walking-crawling mess of contradictions than to the kind of role that won Norton
so much deserved recognition in "Primal Fear"—the creation of two distinct personalities.

Determinism as only Hollywood could conceive it is found in "Fight Club." Instead of the more
palatable, though no more proven, scapegoat of childhood brutality as the creator of sadistic
multiple personalities, we are asked to swallow an even larger lump and make an even longer
jump. Corporate America is responsible for squeezing Norton’s alter ego into manifestation from
the goo of his miasmic psyche.

Events such as the Columbine massacre are, according to this film, caused by the financial
community and Detroit, greedy, soulless entities that pander to public desire and create legions of
automata-like consumers. But the industry that is always quick to aim and fire the bullet of
determinism, a leitmotif in every serious auteur’s work, is apparently not accountable
for violence. Neither is it the responsibility of individual consumers who purchase guns,
cars—and movie tickets—in an effort to escape the emptiness and pressure of modern life.

Along with their tub of popcorn, viewers of Fight Club get recipes for explosives and pedantic
rationalizations for anti-social behavior and mass destruction. But it is Detroit, with its never
perfect cars, that is said to be the root of the problem, not Hollywood or the individuals who blow
up buildings and pull triggers. The only gun Norton uses is on himself. Unfortunately, he is a
lousy shot and he fires it too late to stop the heartwarming—to the anti-capitalistic
mentality—multiple explosions in the nation’s financial centers.

The most significant symbol contained in this film is this gun the protagonist aims at his own
head, though that significance is certainly not by intent. It underscores the fact that for all its
anti-industrial rhetoric, movie making is also an industry, a great one, an almost uniquely and
prominently American one in its origins and its virtuosity, like automobile manufacturing or
investment banking.

But the last industries are required to pay a great deal more homage to reality if they are to
succeed. Only Hollywood has the luxury of prospering by ignoring it. It’s too bad this giant of
industry has taken this opportunity to shoot itself in the head with the bullet of megalomaniacal
hypocrisy. It appears, the epithets excessive and greedy can only be applied to automobile
manufacturers, whose product Hollywood wrecks and explodes in gratuitous droves, or to
financial enterprises, like those who provide capital on the scale that filmmakers require.

Neither can the words be applied to the emasculated blue-collar workers so terribly exploited,
again according to this film, by employers and banks, but never by filmmakers. This is
the type of standard which says controls imposed on movie making are censorship, but controls
placed on manufacturers and banks are just good common sense.

Could the cause of it all really be Norton’s inadequacies and resentment for what he
perceives as exterior forces controlling his life? Heaven forbid! Determinism rules the cinematic
universe and every intellectual with a camera knows free will is an illusion of the masses, as he
yells "action" and proceeds to create illusions for the same masses for which he holds such
contempt.

Responsibility for violence is in the insidious forces of the corporate world, not in the
mind of criminal perpetrators or those who fuel their fantasies. But isn’t a producer also a
corporate denizen? Directors and actors, of course, are not accountable, since they are
artistes’ and members of profession that is much older, if not the oldest of all.

Inconsistent with Norton’s commerce bashing is his cottage industry of selling expensive
bars of soap to department stores. Made from the refuse of liposuction clinics, he proclaims the
poetic justice of "…selling the fat butts of America’s women back to them at twenty dollars a
bar." This is a bit confusing. Aren’t women with rear-ends, fat or otherwise, also exploited
consumers? Isn’t selling them the skin off their backs at an exorbitant rate also capitalistic
profiteering and perhaps less than straightforward?

But cinematic artists cannot be troubled with anything as rigid as standards, double or
otherwise. They tend to get in the way of creative expression and economic realities.

There is one behavior of this films’ anti-hero that Hollywood could benefit from
emulating. He punches himself in the face a lot. If the studios are going to throw haymakers at
other industries—-those without similar propaganda powers to defend
themselves—-shouldn’t they also take a few on the chin? After all, haven’t the elite thrown a few accusations of pandering and consumer baiting at the nation’s
filmmakers? Can automakers claim the power to shape anything but a desire for their product?
Certainly not without employing individuals with the same talents as those who made "Fight
Club."

It will be interesting to see just how many acts of violence are justified by the views expressed
in this film. Does Hollywood cause this violence? No, but it does propagate misperceptions and
distortions in the name of entertainment. In this case, it is all about the wickedness of the corporate world. And that message, in the long run, can be just as destructive as a
loaded gun or a can of kerosene in the hands of an angry mediocrity.

* * * * *

Thomas Kelly writes on movies from Encinitas,
California.

Purchase Ludwig von Mises's Anti-Capitalistic Mentality.


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