Men often use some specific ways in order to state and prove their masculinity. Without doubt, they need other men’s participation for this purpose. In such way, the proving of masculinity requires some social conditions and institutions due to its constant importance and generality. At the same time, present social forms of men’s self-realization in the masculine aspect are very different from those of the previous epochs due to some social and economic changes. Thus, the film Fight Club demonstrates specific problems of the todays’ society connected with the specifics of social transformations’ processes. The main characters of the film, Tyler and Jack (both are different sides of the same person’s psychics), embody the typical today’s men who need to change the society in accordance to their masculine purposes. Jack and Tyler, as well as other members of their fight club, try to outperform each other in order to prove their masculinity in contemporary conditions. At the same time, it is important that In Michael Kimmel’s Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, the author states that masculinity is a performance guys put on for other guys. Both characters are in a “between stage,” discovering who they are, similar to Kimmel’s guys. In this way, the analysis of both Tyler and Jack through the prism of Kimmel’s book may help understand these characters’ sociological roles. I argue Jack embodies cultural homogenization, the culture of protection, and liminal space better than Tyler.
Jack embodies cultural homogenization better than Tyler. Michael Kimmel defines cultural homogenization by suggesting it is “a flattening of cultures” (Kimmel 26). It means the absence of any cultural alternative for the guys except the guyland to realize and prove their masculinity. It is the result of guys’ consumerism: they do not want to leave in the civilization that allows them consume, and, in this way, they always remain limited by its restrictions and rules. The situation is very contradictory because in both cases guys have to sacrifice some of their purposes. Nevertheless, most of them choose to combine masculinity with civilization. The scene from Fight Club when Jack tells about the importance of consumerism in his life, and demonstrates it through the unstoppable buying of different goods he does not need serves as a good example of it. In comparison, Tyler serves as a person who struggles against the society of consumerism, lives in an abandoned house etc. This is significant because the consumerist aspect is the most important for today’s civilization, as well as for the realization of masculinity in general. In such way, Jack embodies cultural homogenization better than Tyler.
Tyler does not perform cultural homogenization, as well as Jack. In J. Michael Clark’s article, “Faludi, Fight Club, and Phallic Masculinity: Exploring the Emasculating Economics of Patriarchy,” he claims that the cultural homogenization is the effect of patriarchal economy, and contraposes it to green and feminist ways of developing society. Consequently, according to Clark, cultural homogenization oppresses the world cultural diversity and makes all people similar. When I say ‘diversity’, I mean that different groups of people have the same possibilities to coexist in the world instead of situation when some group makes others to obey its rules due to some advantages of the first one. There is a scene in Fight Club that demonstrates Tyler’s higher respect to others in comparison with Jack. Thus, Tyler is shocked after Jacks’ brutal fight with Jared Leto’s character, when Jack comments it with a cynic phrase: “I felt like destroying something beautiful” (Fight Club). Consequently, Tyler does not perform cultural homogenization better than Jack.
Nevertheless, Jack performs the culture of protection better than Tyler. Kimmel discusses the culture of protection and says that it deals with a situation when a community protects those guys who perpetrate because they look familiar.
To be sure, administrators are often hamstrung between complicitous silencer and indigent bribery from the alumni from whom the administrators depend. But perhaps they also believe in the hazing and the binging and the rest of it. They may even identify with these guys. (Kimmel 119)
The above statement is significant to Fight Club because the guys in the club not only ‘identify with these guys,’ but they also are these guys. For instance, the film opens with the narration concerning Jack’s average life, and it is clear that other members of the fight club are as average as Jack is (Fight Club). Tyler’s proclamation underlines it: “We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t” (Fight Club).
This detail is significant to the culture of protection because it demonstrates the results of Kimmel’s researches in the fictional characters. It is also important that the film itself is a phenomenon of the consumerist culture, which is criticized in it. Thus, it becomes obvious that Jack, in contrast to Tyler, belongs to the men mentioned, and protects masculinity through the belonging to the social group, which embodies it.
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Another important detail that shows Jack’s bigger concern to the culture of protection is related to Westerfelhaus’ commentary to the quote from the film mentioned before. Thus, according to the author, Tyler’s speech demonstrates “desire to escape the emasculating effects of contemporary society, and anger directed toward the primal father, who is the author of that society” (311). Here, the researcher makes a reference to the Oedipal complex that means a boy’s desire to possess his mother through the struggle against his father. The struggle against father bears the fear of castration embodied in different social phenomena (Westerfelhaus 311). Without doubt, this difficult psychological phenomenon has many meanings and possible interpretations. Besides, the most important thing in this context is that Tyler possessed Marla as a women, and in such way he realized his masculinity in relation with an embodiment of his mother. On the other hand, Jack had no relations of such a kind, and thus he always was in the state of unfinished struggle against his symbolic father. Tyler represents Jack’s father: it becomes obvious when Jack comments Tyler’s relations with Marla: “My parents pulled this exact same act for years” (Fight Club). In this way, Jack performs the culture of protection more than Tyler.
Tyler performs the culture of protection less than Jack. Tyler’s participation in the fight club is crucial, but, at the same time, he embodies a totally destructive power that provides no constructive position. The following Tyler’s statement may serve as an illustration of it: “Self-improvement is masturbation. Now, self-destruction” (Fight Club). In contrast to him, despite particular radical acts as in the case with Jared Leto’s character, Jack wants to destroy the capitalist system in order to free all men of the fight club from the system’s dictate. When I use word ‘capitalism’, I mean the today’s economic system that provides the development of different sides of society through the technological progress. Nevertheless, it makes people obedient to some stable plan and defined norms of behavior in exchange. Jack’s constructive approach (in comparison to that of Tyler) is evident through the final scenes when Jack kills Tyler and becomes free from his totally destructive influence. Thus, it was Tyler, who organized the terrorist acts against the capitalist system embodied by the banks, when Jack tried to stop it. In such way, Tyler expresses the culture of protection less than Jack.
On the other hand, Jack represents the liminal space better than Tyler. When I use the term ‘liminal space’, I mean the separating space that does not allow some individuals or groups to contact, as well as the period between boys and men. It is seen through Clark’s article, that patriarchal society separates different groups instead of allowing them to coexist in accordance to the principles of diversity. At the same time, as for Kimmel’s interpretation of the liminal space, it is similar to the symbolic term ‘guyland’. Kimmel claims that “guys gather to be guys with each other, unhassled by the demands of parents, girlfriends, jobs, kids, and the other nuisances of adult life” (6). The liminal space as a period of a person’s development, means the individual’s irresponsibility connected to the infantile need to be well-cared (by the civilization, for example). In this way, Jack, who has a well-paid job, tries to have some social prestige and acts in accordance with his social stereotypes, is in the liminal space. Nevertheless, he cannot become a man completely, at the same time, as he tells Tyler when they discuss their fathers (Fight Club). Through the analysis provided, it is seen that Jack represents the liminal space better than Tyler.
Tyler embodies the liminal space less than Jack. Tyler’s relation with other people is more open compared to Jack. At the same time, Tyler is more masculine and less dependent on the civilization of consumerism. Such details make Tyler more dominant and allow him perform the role of Jack’s symbolic father. Thus, Jack transforms the American widespread expression ‘in God we trust’ when says: “In Tyler we trusted” (Fight Club). Tyler represents the symbolic father of Jack, and it is clear that Tyler agrees to perform this function because he has a dominant paternal position since the beginning of their relationships. Such behavior demonstrates that Tyler is more responsible than Jack, and performs different social roles with more pleasure. Under social role, I mean the behavioral strategy that corresponds to the social expectations and depends on individual relations with other people. The same statement concerns Tyler’s relationships with other members of the fight club and Marla. In comparison with Tyler, Jack is more infantile. In such way, it becomes evident that Tyler embodies the liminal space less than Jack.
Consequently, Jack represents cultural homogenization, the culture of protection, and the liminal space much better than Tyler. It is obvious that the three phenomena are closely interrelated, and the prevalence of Jack’s representative behavior over Tyler in one of them automatically means the same for two others. At the same time, the prevalence of Jack is the result of his reality in contrast to Tyler who is just his alter-ego. It is very important to understand that such fictive person as Tyler was more alive and masculine than Jack, who is real. Such contradictory situation demonstrates the difference between guys and their ideals types. Through the analysis provided, it can be stated that Tyler and Jack embody actual types of men that exist in the today’s society.