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Fight Club and Identity

In: Social Issues

Submitted By MarrowsAreCool
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Mainstream media is a powerful influence on the construction of an individual’s identity. Use your case study to explore the impact of the media in the construction of identities.

In the original edition of “Media, gender and identity”, David Gauntlett stated that identity in modern culture is more “fluid and transformable”1 than ever. If we look at identity 30 years ago and identity in society now, it is true that modern day individuality and labelling has changed extremely over the years. Media that surround us in society today i.e. film, newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio are the things that shape and construct an individual’s identity, more and more so as time and technology progresses. We look to the media to find examples of small parts of our personalities which we can label and define, taking ideas, opinions and behaviours from 100’s if not 1000’s of places and people over time, creating our own individuality. 20-30 years ago, mainstream media was very different to what it is today. The ideas and stereotypes that were portrayed told us how we should be and how we should act, allowing unrealistic expectations to be expected of everyone. Society was pushing people into defining exactly who they were by putting themselves into one traditional category, very resistant to the idea of change and being unique. Today, it seems that, “within limits, mass media is a force for change.”1 As it being easier to create things for other people with more platforms for the public to release their content, the rules and expectations of society become looser meaning the media’s outlook on who you should be becomes more realistic. Instead of now creating ourselves based on one stereotype, people can change themselves and find out who they are through media as they are given the option.
An example of this change over time is the masculine stereotype in media, specifically in Hollywood cinema. Men were expected to fit into categories, the most desired being the man who is strong, handsome, not afraid of a fight and a sex symbol. Disney films, superhero films, everyday watching films all portrayed this idea of a male and, the truth is, most men weren’t that. This idea of masculinity in crisis is focused on in David Fincher’s 1999 film ‘Fight Club’. At the time of this films release, America’s view of the man was that he had to be this stereotypical non-emotional, independent, aggressive, competitive, self-confident and rebellious male, and most of America’s men didn’t fit this representation at all. They fit more into the feminine male type which was ridiculed by cinema leaving men with an identity crisis. Tyler Durden (played by Brad Pitt) is the male stereotype all white collar, feminised men, represented by the narrator, aimed to be. He was strong, independent, confident and a sex symbol, introduced to the audience wearing a fashionable, daring-to-stand-out outfit and taking risks which the narrator wouldn’t. The narrator however was uniform to the rest of the company he worked in; bored of his life and the routine he had, dull, focused on consumerism and, David Fincher’s main point, just like everybody else. This is shown in the office scene where each person is seen to be drinking coffee and photocopying, all looking the same and also the IKEA scene where consumerism is the main focus. David Fincher created films which discussed America’s problems and issues at the time and Fight Club was no different. This was a problem for all of America and he made sure to point it out by placing American flags in many scenes, one example being during the ‘Remaining Men Together’ scene in which it appears in the background. In this scene, the male stereotype is stripped right down to an over exaggerated feminised male portrayal with all the men in the scene having no balls and crying into one another about it. The motherly figure is also seen in this scene with Bob having ‘bitch tits’, obviously the opposite of the bulky, strong male stereotype.
You could also look at Fight Club in the light of the Queer Theory. The way an audience looks at a text can be many ways, it depends on who the audience is and how the producer wanted the audience to view the text. I feel Fight Club was predominantly aimed at straight, middle class white men who work in office jobs who would look at the idea of a fight club as restoring their masculinity. If we look at Fight Club in terms of the Queer theory however, we see that Fight Club is just a way for men to get man on man contact without it being seen as strange in society or being judged for it. The fact one of the rules of fight club is no shirts and in many scenes throughout the film, men are seen to be rolling around with each other shirtless and, more hugging than fighting, back up this point. Tyler and Jack living together also gives many examples to support this idea. Tyler and Jack are seen to have a lot of parallels in being a couple throughout living together. Tyler bathes in front of Jack whilst he reads a book, not a very masculine act and one many men may find strange, Jack straightens Tyler’s bowtie before heading off to work and they also spend a lot of time together, if not all their free time together after meeting.
The film can be seen as a media text that inspires moral panics, specifically in America. The male audience, if perceived in the correct way, will begin to question their routines and their masculinity feeling the need for change. The film was classed as an 18 for this reason and banned in some part of the USA due to the leaders of society worrying about fight clubs starting up in the underground area of America. Consumerism is also a large topic looked at in the film and it focuses on moving away from big brands and causing a downfall, something that would cause a ripple in the public and possibly an uprising, just like Project Mayhem. These are examples of how media can change and alter identity. Hamley’s “media saturated” world provides us with evidence that no matter where we go, we will be influenced by the media in some way. Just like Jack at the beginning of the film, aren’t we all slaves to this consumerism run, slave-in-the-workplace based world?

1http://www.theoryhead.com/gender/extract.htm

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