For this assignment, I chose to look at the book Fight Club by Chuck Pahlankiuk as an example of how society is affected by popular culture.
Fight Club is about an unnamed man who has become trapped in a world of consumerism and emasculated to the point where he is defined by the products he buys. The book examines a generation of men who have been raised in a culture which encourages economic growth and buying products, and examines their struggle between reclaiming their manhood and fighting the powers of advertising. In the book Cultural Theory and Popular Culture by John Storey, Storey explains how society is structured in a way which is beneficial towards the elite. “What Marx is suggesting is that the way a society organizes the means of its economic production will have a determining effect on the type of culture that society produces… the cultural products of this so called base/superstructure relationship are deemed ideological to the extent that, as a result of this relationship, they implicitly or explicitly support the interests of the dominant groups…” (Storey 3.) In fight club, this way of structuring society directly results in a popular culture in which men have lost their masculinity and natural way of being. In the book, the narrator goes to see a doctor to discover why he is suffering a serious case of insomnia. The doctor states “Insomnia is just the symptom of something larger. Find out what’s actually wrong. Listen to your body.” (19). As the book is explored, we later learn that what is wrong is the modern crisis of masculinity which the narrator tries to fill with support groups and purchases in an attempt to define himself. Upon meeting Tyler Durden, who is a strong hater of common culture and a nihilist, the narrator and Tyler start a club in which the men masochistically beat each other up after hours in an attempt to regain their masculinity and define themselves in a society which gives them no other way to be men. We later learn that Tyler Durden is actually the narrator’s alter ego, masculine in every way the narrator is not and constructed in response to the narrator’s crisis in identity. In fight club, the men feel empowered despite the nihilistic brainwashing they experience. “You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake, you are the same decaying organic matter as everything else…all part of the same compost heap. You are not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive, the contents of your wallet”. Why is it that by being told god does not love them and coming to terms with that they are accidents of nature make these men feel empowered? Much like in military training, one has to be broken down mentally before they can be made into a fearless warrior. Tyler Durden says “Oh, self-improvement is masturbation. Now self-destruction is the answer.” Implying that to free oneself from the identity society has folded for men, they must be broken down and resurrected to become a man. I would say this also implies manhood is not something you get, but rather something you get at. It means that it is already within ourselves, but we have to peel away the social conditioning that binds us and the forces that would attempt to control us such as consumerism or advertising. The book examines how in the modern age, our identities are shaped by what we own as opposed to who we are, and how what we own affects how we perceive ourselves and how we fit into the world in a way that is both emasculating and unhealthy.
I really appreciated this book since I was not brought up in an environment in which popular culture such as television, gaming, or advertising was very present. As a result, my childhood seems far different in retrospect from many other peoples, and as a kid I never understood how people could be so obsessed with things like clothes, image or fashion, and at the same time judge others based on their particular choices. We live in a world where we judge others based on what they own as opposed to who they actually are, and while this is an extremely unhealthy mindset to have, I do not see it changing anytime soon. I do believe that popular culture will always reflect the interest of dominant societal groups, and as long as there is interest to be found in a culture of consumerism I do not think that these attitudes will change anytime soon. I suppose it is easier to work within this framework than try to reject it, but it is still extremely frustrating.