The problem with the webcomic XKCD is that it is written by a scientist. Usually that’s a great thing and while he often produces superb comment on many things, he fails to show any real understanding of Fight Club. He thinks it has dated badly because its about consumerism.
What he fails to realise is that Fight Club remains as relevant now as it did when it was published in 1998. It isn’t just about consumerism. It’s about the soul-crushing nature of the capitalist system, the problem of absentee fathers, the failure of religion to provide answers, the lack of healthy ways for men to bond with each other and the desperate need to be listened to. Its why the Narrator fakes having a wide variety of diseases, because “people only listen to you, truly listen, when they think you’re dying.”
Though Fight Club might be seen as an incredibly male novel in its spirit and focus, I still feel that it captures the frustration of my generation. We’re left to fix the broken planet, made to feel grateful for the sacrifices others made in wars we cannot understand. Our enemies are multinationals with incredible PR machines, advertising and ourselves. I look at the riots in England, the story of what happens when the young are the victims of government austerity cuts without any access to benefits that might balance out the loss of higher education or upward mobility, and it just seems like a Project Mayhem waiting to happen. That the only way that the young can claim back their power is to take it by force, though they might not know a more constructive way of doing it.
Making things unworkable is often a great way to derail an unjust system. Apartheid was made unworkable through protest and refusal to abide by a system unlawful and unfair. Fight Club, through Project Mayhem seeks to first restore power to each individual before setting them out on small missions designed to rework the current capitalist system one homework assignment at a time.
And without going into the massively complex reasons why Tyler Durden is wrong and right, saviour and nightmare, there is a message in Fight Club that most people miss. What I take from Fight Club, and I think many other people do as well, is that we are not as disempowered as we feel. Sure, maybe blowing up the headquarters of multinationals is not the best way of going about it, but as long as people can trade on our desires for nice things rather than a desire for strength or knowledge, then the things we own, they own us.
I don’t think its a facetious attempt to be Zen or to live an ascetic lifestyle. It is much more likely that we are too obsessed by material wealth rather than intellectual curiosity or strength of morality. Its not too difficult to come to that conclusion, since consumerism still isn’t out of fashion and brands are the equivalent of mindworms and religions. One only has to look at Apple, Xbox and Nike to know that.
So yes, Fight Club is one of the most important books I’ve ever read. I hope that those who have seen the movie get their hands on a copy of this important and brilliant book, if only so that they can understand that Fight Club is about more than guys hitting each other in basements.