On "Fight Club": Militia Subversion Without Racism

by A. Joe Gregory

Much like Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, David Fincher's "Fight Club" is militantly anti-consumerism, anti-technology, and anti-government. But unlike Kaczynski and his brethren in arms and thought, "Fight Club's" polemic escapes the stigma that has befallen virtually all radical (or perhaps reactionary) 'militia-oriented' works depicting political upheaval and the struggle for a new world order. Despite its similarity in tone, temperament, and climactic consequence to such taboo works as Pierce's The Turner Diaries (the mere possession of which is legal evidence of "anti-social" proclivities and was used against Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh) or Hunter, Jim Goad's The Redneck Manifesto, and even Hitler's incomparably notorious Mein Kampf, "Fight Club" was a mainstream box-office smash featuring top Hollywood talents Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter, and even singer Meatloaf in an unforgettable performance as a militant with a mean set of mushy man-tits. What made this mainstream success possible?

With a simple sleight of the P.C. hand, "Fight Club" sidesteps all issues of race or ethnicity (so prevalent in most commonly known militia propaganda) and targets instead a vacuous consumer-based and materialistic worldview. The yuppie, or more precisely the culture he represents, is the enemy, not the Jew per se. Similarly, "Fight Club" does not peg melanin-rich minority groups as the cause of social decline. Unlike all of the works and figures named above, "Fight Club" does not even appear to address race at all. More important, it does not measure cultural health against the proliferation of crime (as most racist thought and literature does prior to attributing the rising crime to its target group). Rather, "Fight Club" puts crime on a pedestal, elevates it to the level of a spiritually redemptive art form, and views it as a kind of cultural chemotherapy. Crime is a poison not necessarily good in itself but an essential weapon against a malignant consumerism growing out of control, feeding on the human soul and, less romantically, on actual human lives. We are so deeply submerged in "things" that it actually seems revelatory when Pitt reminds us that we are not our khakis.

According to "Fight Club's" anti-consumerism logic, random acts of violence are a way to retrieve your lost humanity, while impulse buying from an Ikea catalogue is the essence of blasphemy, a soulless transgression worthy of death. Indeed, in the moral lexicon of "Fight Club," the phrase "dead Ikea yuppy" is as redundant as would be "criminal black" or "lying Jew" in the more traditionally militant narratives it's modeled after. Ordinary, everyday values of health, safety, family, security, and prosperity are cast as evils to be destroyed insofar as they establish the context in which consumer somnambulism thrives. Revolt against these faceless enemies replaces the race-hatred that presumably renders other similar works commercially unpalatable. Race is a non-issue on the surface of the film. Where race is present in "Fight Club" -- namely detective Andrew, the African-American police detective and Raymond, the Asian-American store clerk -- it is innocuously so; it is barely noticeable. However, these almost invisible representations of race subtly but powerfully ground the chaos in reason and imbue the violence with a kind of justice.

Approaching the climax, just after Norton discovers the crux of the film's mystery, he turns himself in to the police. Detective Andrew, the lead detective, is African-American. In a world of barbarians, he's a professional: rational, patient, and concerned. While the other officers listening to Norton are skeptical and suspiciously silent, he tries to help. He takes Norton seriously and agrees to check some of the facts of his story. As soon as he leaves the interrogation room, the other officers descend on Norton. They are members of "Fight Club" and, according established protocol, must literally castrate Norton for trying to derail the group. Just as their blades are drawn, detective Andrew reappears. His return disrupts the castration, and inadvertently saves Norton. Norton's seemingly insane story checks out, so detective Andrew tries to gather his men to pursue the case. They, however, are committed to killing Norton, and he escapes only after he's able to turn one of their own guns against them. The African-American detective's rational professionalism contrasts the violent fanaticism of the other primarily white officers and emerges as a glint of reason in an increasingly dark and irrational cinemascape. Thematically, African-American detective Andrew is a port in "Fight Club's" anti-yuppie storm.

The other ethnic figure highlighted in the film is Raymond, the Asian-American store clerk. Most traditional pro-militia propaganda/works of art (and most race-based popular art in general, e.g., Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing" or the shamefully pseudo-controversial "American History X," [also starring Norton]) use the subject of Asian-American store clerks as an opportunity to wax philosophic on everything from immigration law to the supposed ease with which small-business loans are granted to all non-African-American minorities. "Fight Club," however, uses this scene to reveal the transnational, race-blind voracity of consumerism.

Forced at gunpoint to his knees, with Pitt behind him holding the barrel to the back of his head, Raymond cries and shakes expecting to be killed execution style. Pitt takes the clerk's wallet, rifles through it and finds an old community college ID card. In an absurd -- or rather, seemingly absurd -- line of questioning, Pitt forces Raymond to tell him what he studied in college before he left school to work at the convenience store. More specifically, Pitt wants to know what this Asian-American wanted to do with his life before assuming his less than heartfelt role as store clerk. The man's answer: he wanted to be a veterinarian. Pitt's response: he tells Raymond he has six weeks to be on his way toward a degree in veterinary medicine or Pitt will find him and finish what he started. College may have been hard, Pitt says -- I'm paraphrasing -- but it's not as hard the bullet I'll put through your head.

Pitt's crime is violence of the most sublime form: he is not robbing the Asian-American of things; he is returning the man to himself; he is threatening the man's life in order to save his soul. By forcing the man to pursue his dream, Pitt's assault aims to rescue the Asian-American from a more insidious metaphysical violence, namely consumerism - a pathological worldview that encourages us to abandon our passions for the necrophilic ease of store-bought consumer comfort.

The message is clear. The struggle to pursue a dream and the emptiness of our 'thing-obsessed' culture (which seems devised to subvert this very struggle) is laid bare against the stark canvas of death. Threat of death, like a red-hot razor fresh off the strop, cuts through existential lard and shaves us to the bone. The Asian-American, therefore, is cast as an innocent victim of consumerism's plague. Unlike characterizations found in some militia propaganda and most race-focused popular media, "Fight Club" does not depict the clerk through the caricatured, largely Jew-created "Hitlerian" lens. Raymond is not cast as a parasite, an immigrant who repays his new country's generosity by advancing its destruction, that is, by poisoning its people and remaining loyal only to his own kind.

"Fight Club" sidesteps all problems involved in wagging an accusatory finger at any given person or group by wagging it over our heads, at something behind or beyond all of us, an evil in the shadow of which we are all victims. To ensure its own economic viability in the very culture it pretends to critique, "Fight Club" must set us all free. It cannot afford -- literally -- to alienate anyone from purchasing the ticket, the soundtrack, the director's cut DVD. For all its radical posturing and aggressive histrionics, when "Fight Club"'s hits the silver screen, everyone is spared. As stylish entertainment it's more than a technical knockout, but as radical politics it's Jew-approved shadow boxing with kid gloves. Even the bloated credit card company CEO in the theater's front row is safe from reproach. While he would seem to be a Satanic figure by the film's surface logic, its deeper logic deems even corporate leaders products -- rather than beneficiaries -- of a ubiquitous consumerism. They are deemed at worst pathetic figures, lost and desperate souls in need of "Fight Club"'s salvation, not the powerful, merciless sharks the recent Enron debacle has shown them to be. Yes, at the end of the day, despite all of its anti-consumerism rhetoric, "Fight Club" is designed to fit nicely on your Ikea video rack.


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