Fight Club's Cult: Manipulation and Thought Reform

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Andrew Epstein
Professor Powell
English 1A: 3:15 TR
18 February 2010
Fight Club’s Cult: Manipulation & Thought Reform
Dr. Margaret Thaler Singer asks the question, “How many more Jonestowns and Wacos will have to occur before we realize how vulnerable all humans are to influence?”(3) With this, Singer-- a clinical therapist who specialized in brainwashing and coercive persuasion, considered a giant in the field of cult behavior-- brings the normallytaboo topic of cults in our society to the forefront of discussion. People must be informed and understand what a cult is, and how cults use thought-reform as a means to manipulate and control the masses. If people are left uneducated, senseless acts of self and social destruction will continue to be carried out by followers of proclaimed prophets. Shoko Asahara’s cult_ _“Aum Shinrikyo,” which translates to “teaching of the supreme truth” (Wessinger 121), an organized and violent group, has correlating similarities to Tyler Durden’s following. Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club_ _is a book about a man that creates a following in the form of a modern day cult, in which he uses its members to carry out acts of social terrorism, violence, and self-destruction by means of manipulation and thought reform. In order to understand cult behavior in Fight Club, one needs to understand the characteristics of a cult and how they are defined. “Cults are not a unique species of human group; they are the endpoints on a continuum” (Andres 1-7). A common misconception of cults is all cults are religious. Although many are, religious beliefs alone do not dictate the qualification of what a cult is. Singer describes that “cultic relationships” better define the parameters of what qualifies a cult, and that a cult can usually be identified by three factors despite its belief system (7). Of those factors, “Origin of the group and roles of the leader,” insists that most of the time there is one person in charge and in control of the decision making process for the cult and its members (Singer 8). Although cults range from a wide variety of categories and beliefs, cult leaders usually have uniform characteristics: “Cult leaders are self-appointed, persuasive persons who claim to have a special mission in life or to have special knowledge. Cult leaders tend to be determined and domineering and are often described as charismatic. Cult leaders center veneration on themselves” (Singer 8). Tyler was a party of one who had the charisma and ideology that appealed to the impressionable minds of people looking for something more. The followers of Fight Club looked at Tyler and saw everything they wanted but could not be themselves. “I love everything about Tyler Durden, his courage and his smarts. His nerve. Tyler is funny and charming and forceful and independent, and men look up to him and expect him to change their world. Tyler is capable and free, and I am not” (174). Tyler Durden is a leader, he has the ability to shape the minds of his followers through his power of persuasion. Whether it be the Fight Club, Project Mayhem, or one of Project Mayhem’s subdivisions, Tyler’s members abided by core beliefs and rules given by himself, and were eager to progress in Tyler’s self destructive behavior. Tyler believed that in order to gain enlightenment, to know who we really are, “First you must hit bottom” (76). Tyler’s followers want to be him, to think, and act as he acts. There was no questioning Tyler’s logic, his follower’s followed. “The structure or relationship between leader and followers,” states that; “Cults are authoritarian in structure. Cults appear to be innovative and exclusive. Cults tend to have a double set of ethics” (Singer 9). Even though a leader may appoint people to act in higher positions of authority to guide other members, the leader’s authority supersedes all. The cult leader offers its members something unique, something that can only be found through membership,...
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