Comparisson of Masculinity and the Psychoanalytic Theories Using the Example of the Fight Club
Film and Music
Submitted By m3lting3y3
Comparisson of Masculinity and the Psychoanalytic theories using the example of the Fight Club. Introduction. Fight club is an interesting film to be reflected through psychoanalytic and masculinity theories. In this essay I will attempt to present the number of elements of narrative that can be explained by these theories. I intend to use citations from Marc A. Price's essay The Fight for Self: The Language of the Unconscious in Fight club regarding psychoanalytical concepts such as ego, super-ego and the id as well as Lynn M. Ta's dissertation Hurt So Good: Fight Club, Masculine Violence, and the Crisis of Capitalism (regarding masulinity in the film), as these works were the main sources of my research. Then I'll try to come to the conclusion on which of two theories have more strength at being applied to films (primarily Fight Club). Application of theories and analysis. The connection that we shall draw between psychoanalytic theory and the film Fight Club is simple and is this; the narrator is a representation of the ego, for Tyler Durden we can substitute the id. In the Freudian psychic model the ego is the civilized part of consciousness. The ego is that part of the psychic apparatus that is modified so that a being can interact safely with other beings and thus remain accepted within the social group. It is important for identity formation that the individual is accepted by the group (that is wider society) therefore, a controlled id is of paramount importance, as we will see later. For Freud the ego/id relationship is “...like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse; with this difference, that the rider tries to do so with his own strength while the ego uses borrowed forces.”8 For him the ego was central to his model.(Marc A Price)
The film is a commentary on the alienation and struggle for the search for self , and the dependence on consumer products that give the false feel of self, therefore perverting the definition of self-identity. The narrator to whom I'll be refering as Jack is a product of a consumer driven society and is used to indentify himself with his Swedish furniture. As a result of having that sort of distorted identity and developing an insomnia he begins to suffer from the actual medical disability, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). DID (previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder—MPD) is a psychological condition often found to be the result of severe childhood trauma (which I will discuss in the next paragraph) and/or extreme and repeated physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse (which is the repression by the society standards, which also will be looked further).
Jack’s father failed his role of an authority figure, depriving Jack from another example of a successfully formed identity and a masculine ego. He was also the reason why Jack couldn’t fully overcome the Oedipal crisis and as a result Tyler doesn’t recognize any authority, especially society driven. This leads us to the conclusion that the third element of the Freudian psychic model – super-ego, the consciousness, that controls the ego to withstand the primal instincts of the id – is the society and its norms, which at the end force Jack to eliminate Tyler and conform back to the system-driven morality.
The other crucial element of that crisis - Jack’s mother is episodically represented by Marla Singer, who with her instable psyche, in addition represents a female version of Jack. Even though Jack, due to his undeveloped masculinity is not interested in her as in a sex object, overly-masculine Tyler takes it as a challenge (contradicting his previous statement "We're a generation raised by women, I wonder if another woman is what we really need"), hence empowering himself towards Jack even further. As a result Jack as an ego is being restrained even more, Tyler as an id is emphasizing Jacks inability of desire to control a female. This also accents that Marla as the only female in the film plays a traditional role of an object which needs a male to restore control over it. The fact that she doesn’t play any significant role in the development of the narrative nulls the chance for her to be considered as a noir-style femme fatale.
Here is another reason for Jack’s masculinity to be undeveloped. The scene where Jack is sitting on the toilet with a magazine and talks on the phone may resemble the scene of masturbation and using phone sex, but Jack is actually ordering furniture. Jack himself says, ‘‘We use to read pornography, now it’s the Horcha collection.’’(Fincher, 1999)This indication of substitution of sex by consumerism demonstrates the primary reason why the Fight Club as an institution for reacquiring masculinity is necessary. Jack and other members of the Fight Club literally fight each other to obtain their masculinity that have been compromised by the modern western lifestyle, and in turn find a sense of self that has not been premeditated and sold to them by a corporation. Bob, previously bodybuilder, with his amputated testicles and female breasts is the ultimate symbol of the masculinity, traded for the traditionalization and confirmation to the consumerist society’s norms, visual norms in this case. Susan Faludi writes:
Nonetheless the [ornamental] culture reshapes [man’s] most basic sense of manhood by tell- ing him . . . that masculinity is something to drape over the body, not draw from inner re- sources; that it is personal, not societal; that manhood is displayed, not demonstrated. The internal qualities once said to embody man- hood—surefootedness, inner strength, confi- dence of purpose—are merchandised to men to enhance their manliness.
According to Faludi, post-World War II man- hood held the promise of new frontiers for their sons to conquer and a culture in which traditional internal qualities of masculinity could be exercised. But in their rush to embrace the good life after the torments of a Great Depression and World Wars, these fathers bequeathed to their sons not a utilitarian world, but a commercial-ruled, image-based culture that has essentially reduced masculinity to a mere accessory that can increase a man’s manliness as long as he literally buys into that market.
In Fight Club the means to reassert one’s masculinity are often self –contradictory. The solution of fighting is indeed brutal, but feminizing at the same time. By fighting himself or deriving pleasure from taking a hit, he [Jack ]enjoys a masochistic satisfaction that has been traditionally associated with the feminine, for to be the aggressor is to be masculine and to receive is to be female. Through self-violence, Jack is able to play both these roles, demonstrating that modern white masculinities are deeply contradictory, eroticizing submission and victimization while trying to retain a certain aggressively virile edge, offering subjects positions that have been marked historically as being both masculine and feminine.(In addition to that Jack and Tyler adopt roles that are usually inherent by sexually driven couples. During their conversation in the bar they consume alcohol that, according to Tyler should have let Jack loose enough to ask him to stay at his place. Situation climaxes in the consensual act of physical violence, followed by the post-act beer and cigarette.
On an unrelated note, Jean-Louis Baudry drew connections between Plato’s cave, the cinematic apparatus and the ‘maternal womb’. He argued that ‘the cinematographic apparatus brings about a state of ‘artificial regression’ that leads the spectator back to an anterior phase of his development. Thus, while Jack was trying to regress himself in a safe cave (which is a heavily overdone version of the Plato’s cave, perhaps closer to the conception of a womb) during his meditations, Tyler was trying to invade others’ intimate space by editing frames of porn films into the movie reels in cinemas.
To conclude, I think it’s wrong to draw a contrast between masculinity and the psychoanalytic theories, as one appears to be an essential integral part of the other. There are films that can’t be analyzed through the masculinity theory (because of lack of male characters for example), but absolutely every film can be analyzed psychologically, regardless of its genre. To divide the two theories means to forget that the theory of masculinity came from the advancement and development of the psychoanalytic theory in the mid-seventies. It has been considered biased towards men and their essentially implied dominance, that was questions by theorists like Laura Mulvey. In her daring essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’(1975) she contradicted Freudian and Lacanian theory that the female is a castrated male and is essentially jealous of her father (and in some cases is threatening to castrate him, or the male that’ll try to replace him) for having a penis and in constant confrontation with her mother for not endowing her with one. Mulvey argued that “the paradox of phallocentrism in all its manifestations is that it depends on the image of the castrated woman to give order and meaning to its world. An idea of woman stands as lynch pin to the system: it is her lack that produces the phallus as a symbolic presence. it is her desire to make good the lack that the phallus signifies. writing about psychoanalysis and the cinema has not sufficiently brought out the importance of the representation of the female form in a symbolic order in which, in the last resort, it speaks castration and nothing else”(Mulvey, 1975, p.23) and that “the paradox of phallocentrism in all its manifestations is that it depends on the image of the castrated woman to give order and meaning to its world. An idea of woman stands as lynch pin to the system: it is her lack that produces the phallus as a symbolic presence. It is her desire to make good the lack that the phallus signifies. …writing about psychoanalysis and the cinema has not sufficiently brought out the importance of the representation of the female form in a symbolic order in which, in the last resort, it speaks castration and nothing else.”(Mulvey, 1975, pp.1-2) Her research also showed that a necessary path of successfully executed argument lies through the use of multiple theories. She indirectly marked the beginning of masculinity theory through theory of feminism, using multiple psychoanalytic theories to prove her point. Thereby, I would assume that anyone that would try to contrast psychoanalytic theory with any other theory will inevitably fail, as it is universally useful while analyzing any given film.