Sociology of Gender
There Are No Special Snowflakes
Masculine Dissatisfaction in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club
American culture, like all cultures, is based on language, which expresses the values and norms deemed acceptable by society; it is a culture which makes no secret of providing blueprints for gender appropriate behavior, feelings, attitudes, and even goals. In American culture, one is raised according to these gender appropriate guidelines, taught often at an early age that there is a difference between being male or female. American media only further underlines these guidelines, for both men and women. There are many different representations of males and masculinity in the media today. Men are constantly being given different directions from different sources on how they should act, behave, and even appear; they are expected to conform to what is deemed the social norm of their gender. Men must not be feminine or in touch with their emotions; they must be competitive, and willing to take risks. They are often expected to be successful and independent. Refusal to conform often leads to a lack of acceptance by other men. Media frames the masculine experience, and provides role models for men to follow. However, sometimes the media chooses to exploit the flaws in, and dissatisfaction caused by what is commonly accepted as the model of masculinity. There is a dark side to living within a society so affluent in its patriarchal roots that many are apparently too naïve to witness and understand and so these issues come to life within some form of the media. Author Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel Fight Club raises many of these issues.
Palahniuk’s novel follows an anonymous Narrator, who works as a recall specialist for a large unnamed car company. With the stress caused by his job combined with the jet lag brought upon him by frequent business trips, the Narrator begins to suffer from recurring insomnia. Desperate for a medical fix, he seeks treatment, but is turned away; instead, the doctor advises him to visit a support group for testicular cancer victims to see what suffering is really like. The Narrator finds that bearing his soul to complete strangers actually alleviates him of his insomnia. The Narrator’s bizarre form of treatment continues to work until he meets Marla Singer. Marla also visits support groups under false pretenses; the unstable Marla reminds the Narrator that he is also faking and does not belong in these groups. He begins to hate Marla, and after a confrontation, they both agree to split the support groups between them. The truce is uneasy, however, and the Narrator’s insomnia returns.
Unlike in the 1999 David Fincher film, the Narrator does not meet Tyler Durden while on a business flight in the novel, but rather on a nudist beach. Tyler is an outgoing extremist of mysterious means; he gives the Narrator his phone number after the two speak on the beach. After a suspicious gas explosion destroys the Narrator’s apartment, he calls Tyler from a pay phone; the two meet up at a bar, where Tyler agrees to let the Narrator stay with him, but for a price: “I want you to hit me as hard as you can” (Palahniuk, Fight Club, 1999, p. 46). Both men get a thrill from the fistfight that ensues, and after the Narrator moves in with Durden, they begin a “fight club” in the basement of the bar. The two men draw countless men with similar temperaments into bare-knuckle fighting matches, set to the following rules (Palahniuk, pp. 48-50):
“1. You don’t talk about fight club.
2. You don’t talk about fight club.
3. When someone says stop, or goes limp, the fight is over.
4. Only two guys to a fight.
5. One fight at a time.
6. They fight without shirts or shoes.
7. The fights go on as long as they have to.
8. If this is your first night at fight club, you have to fight.”
Soon, Tyler starts an affair with Marla, who is both unaware of fight...