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Private Satisfactions and Public Disorders:
Fight Club, Patriarchy, and the Politics of Masculine Violence

By:Henry A. Giroux

The ‘public’ has been emptied of its own separate contents; it has been left with no agenda of its own–it is now but an agglomeration of private troubles, worries and problems.

Zygmunt Bauman1


As the above quotation illustrates, Zygmunt Bauman gives voice to a troubling feature of American society. Amidst the growing privatization of everyday life, the greatest danger to human freedom and democracy no longer appears to come from the power of the over-zealous state eager to stamp out individual freedom and critical inquiry in the interest of loyalty and patriotism. Totalitarianism no longer breeds a contempt for the virtues of individualism, all things private, and the dynamics of self-interest. On the contrary, totalitarianism now resides in a thorough dislike for all things social, public, and collective. Under the growing influence of the politics, ideology, and culture of neoliberalism, "the individual has been set free to construe her or his own fears, to baptize them with privately chosen names and to come with them on her or his own."2 Agency has now been privatized and personal liberty atomized and removed from broader considerations about the ethical and political responsibility of citizens to defend those vital institutions that expand the rights and services central to a meaningful democracy. Stripped of its political possibilities and social underpinnings, freedom finds few opportunities for translating private worries into public concerns or individual discontent into collective struggle. Utopia is now conjured up as the privatized space of the shopping mall, intellectual effort is reduced to an instrument of the entrepreneurial self, and social visions are dismissed as hopelessly out of date. Public space is portrayed exclusively as an investment opportunity, and the public good increasingly becomes a metaphor for public disorder. As the public sphere is consistently removed from social consideration and notions of the public good are replaced by an utterly privatized model of citizenship and the good life, the collapse of public imagination and a vibrant political culture is celebrated by neoliberal warriors rather than perceived as a dangerous state of affairs that Americans should be both contemptuous of and ashamed to support.3

Within the discourse of neoliberalism, issues regarding persistent poverty, inadequate health care, racial apartheid in the inner cities, and the growing inequalities between the rich and the poor have been either removed from the inventory of public discourse and public policy or factored into talk show spectacles that highlight private woes bearing little relationship either to public life or to potential remedies that demand collective action. Within this growing marketization and privatization of everyday life, democratic principles are either scorned as holdovers of an outmoded sixties radicalism or equated entirely with the imperatives of capitalism.4 As Robert W. McChesney points out, Milton Friedman, the reigning guru of neoliberalism, both perfectly captures and legitimates this sentiment in Capitalism and Freedom arguing unabashedly that "because profit-making is the essence of democracy, any government that pursues antimarket policies is being antidemocratic, no matter how much informed popular support they might enjoy. Therefore it is best to restrict governments to the job of protecting private property and enforcing contracts, and to limit political debate to minor issues."5 Within neoliberal discourse, freedom is negatively reduced to the freedom from government restraint and the rights of citizenship translate into the freedom to consume as one chooses. The state, in this instance, becomes a threat to freedom, particularly the freedom of the market, as it’s role as guardian of the public interests is actively disassembled, though its powers are still invoked by dominant interests to insure their own privileges (i.e., free trade agreements, government subsidies for business, and strike `negotiations’).. But as Pierre Bourdieu points out, while neoliberals highlight the threat the state poses to the freedom of the market, the real threat comes from a state, which under the control of neoliberal ideology, is increasingly transformed into a repressive apparatus aimed at those individuals and groups who get caught in its ever-expanding policing interventions. Bourdieu is worth quoting at length on this issue:

  • In the United States, the state is splitting into two, with on the one hand a state which provides social guarantees, but only for the privileged, who are sufficiently well-off to provide themselves with insurance, with guarantees, and a repressive, policing state, for the populace. In California, one of the richest states of the United States...and also one of the most conservative, and which has perhaps the most prestigious university in the world, since 1994 the prison budget has been greater than the budget of all the universities together. The blacks in the Chicago ghetto only know the state through the police officer, the judge, the prison wader and the parole officer. We see there a kind of realization of the dream of the dominant class, a state which, as Loic Wacquant has shown, is increasingly reduced to its policing functions.6
  • As the laws of the market take precedence over the laws of the state as guardians of the public good, politics is increasingly removed from power and the state increasingly offers little help in mediating the interface between the advance of capital and its rapacious commercial interests, on the one hand, and those non-commodified interests and nonmarket spheres that create the political, economic, and social conditions vital for critical citizenship and democratic public life on the other. As the state is hollowed out, forced to abandon its social functions, its dominant concerns support the exercise of police power concerned primarily with surveillance, containment, repression, and control as it increasingly criminalizes social antagonisms.7 Humanitarian concerns are largely impotent against the driving interests of capital and its voracious search for new markets and greater profits. As the welfare state is dismantled, social agencies aimed at providing crucial social provisions and a safety net for society’s most vulnerable are replaced by institutions designed to train rather than educate, punish rather than nurture, and contain rather than serve the public interest. Rationalized self interest goes hand in hand with growing incidents of racial injustice, class injustice, economic downsizing, and the growth of a criminal justice system that incarcerates youth of color at a rate that exceeds the formerly racially apartheid regime of South Africa. As the public good gets eaten up by private gain, public services such as health care, social housing, schools, hospitals, and transportation are transformed from social investments into profit options for the powerful and wealthy. As the novelist, Walter Mosely, reminds us "Capitalism has no humanity. All that exists in the capitalist bible is the margin of profit, the market share, and those quirks of individualism that must be dealt with in much the same manner as a mechanic must deal with a faulty element: removal and replacement."8

    The ascendancy of neoliberalism and corporate culture into every aspect of American life not only consolidates economic power in the hands of the few, it also aggressively attempts to break the power of unions, decouple income from productivity, subordinate the needs of society to the market, and deem public services and amenities an unconscionable luxury. But it does more. It thrives on a culture of cynicism, boredom, and despair. Americans are now convinced that they have little to hope for--and gain from--the government, non-profit public spheres, democratic associations, or other non-governmental social forces. With few exceptions, the project of democratic transformation has fallen into disrepute in the popular imagination as the logic of the market undermines the most basic social solidarities.9Beyond Polemics and Cynicism," Journal of Composition Theory (in press). The consequences include not only a weakened state, but a growing sense of insecurity, cynicism, and political retreat on the part of the general public. As Zygmunt Bauman insightfully argues, the call for self-reliance betrays a weakened state that neither provides adequate safety nets for its populace, especially those who are young, poor, or marginalized, nor gives any indication that it either needs or is willing to care for its citizens. In this scenario, private interests trump social needs, and profit becomes more important than social justice. In Bauman’s words:

  • The more legless is the state, the more its spokesmen spell out the need for, the duty of, its self-reliance, of counting on one’s own resources alone, of making one’s own balances of gains and losses– in short, of standing of one’s own individual legs. [The result is] the brutal tearing up of social solidarities....[as] individuals have been left to lick their wounds and exorcize their fears in solitude and seclusion.10
  • The "brutal tearing up of social solidarities" is mediated through the force of corporate structural power and commercial values that both dominate and weaken those competing public spheres and values systems that are critical to a just society and to democracy itself. The liberal democratic vocabulary of rights, entitlements, social provisions, community, social responsibility, living wage, job security, equality, and justice seem oddly out of place in a country in which the promise of democracy has been replaced by the lure of the lottery and the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, reinforced by a pervasive fear and insecurity about the present, and a deep seated skepticism in the public mind that the future holds nothing beyond a watered down version of the present. Within the prevailing discourse of neoliberalism that has taken hold of the public imagination, there is no vocabulary for political or social transformation, no collective vision, no social agency to challenge the ruthless downsizing of jobs, resist the ongoing liquidation of job security, or spaces from which to struggle against the elimination of benefits for people now hired on a strictly part-time basis. Moreover, against the reality of low wage jobs, the erosion of social provisions for a growing number of people, and the expanding war against young people of color, the market driven consumer juggernaut continues to mobilize desires in the interest of producing market identities and market relationships that ultimately appear as, Theodor Adorno once put it, nothing less than "a prohibition on thinking itself."11

    It is against this ongoing assault on the public, and the growing preponderance of a free market economy and corporate culture that turns everything it touches into an object of consumption that David Fincher’s film, Fight Club, must be critically engaged. Ostensibly, Fight Club appears to offer a critique of late capitalist society and the misfortunes it generates out of its obsessive concern with profits, consumption, and the commercial values that underline its market driven ethos. But Fight Club is less interested in attacking the broader material relations of power and strategies of domination and exploitation associated with neoliberal capitalism than it is in rebelling against a consumerist culture that dissolves the bonds of male sociality and puts into place an enervating notion of male identity and agency. Contrary to the onslaught of reviews accompany the film’s premier that celebrated it as a daring social critique,12 Fight Club has nothing to say about the structural violence of unemployment, job insecurity, cuts in public spending, and the destruction of institutions capable of defending social provisions and the public good. On the contrary, Fight Club defines the violence of capitalism almost exclusively in terms of an attack on traditional (if not to say regressive) notions of masculinity, and in doing so reinscribes white, heterosexuality within a dominant logic of stylized brutality and male bonding that appears predicated on the need to denigrate and wage war against all that is feminine. In this instance, the crisis of capitalism is reduced to the crisis of masculinity, and the nature of the crisis lies less in the economic, political, and social conditions of capitalism itself than in the rise of a culture of consumption in which men are allegedly domesticated, rendered passive, soft and emasculated.

    Fight Club, along with films such as American Beauty, inaugurates a new sub-genre of cult-film that combines a fascination with the spectacle of violence, enlivened through tired narratives about the crisis of masculinity, along with a superficial gesture toward social critique designed to offer the tease of a serious independent/art film. While appearing to address important social issues, these films end up reproducing the very problems they attempt to address. Rather than turning a critical light on crucial social problems, such films often trivialize them within a stylized aesthetics that revels in irony, cynicism, and excessive violence. Violence in these films is reduced to acts of senseless brutality, pathology, and an indifference to human suffering. Reproducing such hackneyed representations of violence (‘senseless,’ ‘random’), they conclude where engaged political commentary should begin. At the same time, I am less interested in moralizing about the politics of Fincher’s film than I am in reading it as a form of public pedagogy that offers an opportunity to engage and understand its politics of representation as part of broader commentary on the intersection of consumerism, masculinity, violence, politics, and gender relations. Moreover, Fight Club signifies the role that Hollywood films play as teaching machines. A far cry from simple entertainment, such films function as public pedagogies by articulating knowledge to effects, purposely attempting to influence how and what knowledge and identities can be produced within a limited range of social relations. At the same time, I recognize that such texts "are radically indeterminate with respect to their meaning, [and] any reading of a text must be determined by factors not prescribed by the text itself."13

    As public pedagogies, texts such as Fight Club attempt to bridge the gap between private and the public discourses, while simultaneously putting into play particular ideologies and values that resonate with broader public conversations regarding how a society views itself and the world of power, events, and politics. Reading a film such as Fight Club, in more specific terms, suggests engaging how it offers up particular notions of agency in which white working class and middle class men are allowed to see themselves as oppressed and lacking because their masculinity has been compromised by and subordinated to those social and economic spheres and needs that constitute the realm of the feminine.

    In taking up these issues, I first analyze the narrative structure of the film, addressing its simultaneous critique of consumerism and its celebration of masculinity. In doing so, I address critically the representational politics that structure Fight Club–especially its deeply conventional views of violence, gender relations, and masculinity–and how such representations work in conjunction with a deeply entrenched culture of cynicism. Finally, I argue that such cynicism far from being innocent works in tandem with broader public discourses to undermine the faith of individuals and groups to engage in the possibility of a politics designed to struggle against the rising tide of anti-democratic forces and movements that threaten the already weakened fabric of democracy. Obviously, I am not arguing that Hollywood films such as Fight Club are a cause of these problems but are symptomatic of a wider symbolic and institutional culture of cynicism and senseless violence that exerts a powerful pedagogical influence on shaping the public imagination. In treating Fight Club as a pedagogical and political text my aim is to reveal its socially constructed premises, demystify its contradictions, and challenge its reactionary views. In part, I want to both ask questions about Fight Club that have not been generally asked in the popular press and engage how dominant public pedagogies prevent us from asking such questions in the first place. In addition, I take up the role that Fight Club and other cultural texts might provide as public pedagogies that can be read against themselves; that is, how such texts can be deconstructed and reworked theoretically within a wider set of associations and meanings that can be both challenged and rearticulated in order to strengthen rather than weaken a public politics, while furthering the promise of democratic transformation.

    Fight Club and the Crisis of Everyday Life

  • In [commercial cinema’s] seeming transformation of violence into entertainment, choreography, and macho ebullience, one could say that the reality of violence has been infantilized. One cannot take it too seriously, And yet, one is compelled to ask if any idiom of violence can be regarded as ‘innocent’, distanced from reality through its apparent autonomy of signs.14
  • White, heterosexual men in America have not fared well in the nineties. Not only have they been attacked by feminists, gays, lesbians, and various subaltern groups for a variety of ideological and material offenses, they have also had to endure a rewriting of the very meaning of masculinity.15 As Homi Bhabha has recently stated, the manifest destiny of masculinity with its hard boiled, tough image of manliness has been disturbed, and its blocked reflexivity has been harshly unsettled.16 Moreover, the shift from a manufacturing base to an information-based economy, from the production of goods to the production of knowledge has offered men, at least according to Susan Faludi, fewer and fewer meaningful occupations.17 Consequently, the male body has been transformed from an agent of production to a receptacle for consumption. A rampant culture of consumption, coupled with a loss of manufacturing and middle-management jobs presents white males with an identity crisis of unparalleled proportions. The male hero of the modern day work force is no longer defined in the image of the tightly hewn worker using his body and labor to create the necessities for everyday life. The new workforce hero is now modeled on the image of the young computer whiz yuppie who defines his life and goals around hot start-up e-commerce companies, day trading and other get rich before I’m twenty-one schemes as well as the conspicuous consumption of expensive products. Moreover, as white, heterosexual working-class and middle-class men face a life of increasing uncertainty and insecurity, they no longer have easy access to those communities in which they can inhabit a form of masculinity that defines itself in opposition to femininity. In simple terms, the new millennium offers white, heterosexual men nothing less than a life in which ennui and domestication define their everyday existence.

    David Fincher’s 1999 film, Fight Club, based on a novel by Chuck Palahniuk, attempts to critically engage the boredom, shallowness, and emptiness of a stifling consumer culture, redefine what it might mean for men to resist compromising their masculinity for the sofa or cappuccino maker that ‘speaks them’, and explore the possibilities for creating a sense of community in which men can reclaim their virility and power. The film opens with an inside shot of Jack’s (played by Edward Norton) brain, tracking a surge of adrenalin that quickly finds an opening in Jack’s mouth and then exits up the barrel of a gun. Jack then proceeds to lead the audience into the nature of his predicament and in doing so narrates his journey out of corporate America and his evolving relationship with Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), who functions as Jack’s alter-ego and significant other. The first section of the film functions primarily as a critique of contemporary consumerism and how corporate culture positions men in jobs and lifestyles that are both an affront to their manhood and male sociality, leaving them to seek refuge in communities of self help/support--portrayed as the dreaded cult of victimhood–which only accentuates the contemporary crisis of masculinity. As the film unfolds, Jack is portrayed as a neoliberal Everyman–an emasculated, repressed corporate drone whose life is simply an extension of a reified and commodified culture.

    As a recall coordinator, Jack travels around the country investigating accidents for a major auto company in order to decide whether it’s cheaper for the corporation to assign recalls or payment to a likely number of lawsuits. Alienated from his job, utterly lacking any sense of drive or future, Jack’s principle relief comes from an unsatiable urge for flipping through and shopping from consumer catalogue. A slave to the ‘IKEA nesting instinct,’ Jack self-consciously offers up rhetorical questions such as "What kind of dining set defines me as a person?" But Jack’s IKEA-designed apartment appears to offer him no respite from the emptiness in his life, and his consumerist urges only seem to reinforce his lack of enthusiasm for packaging himself as a corporate puppet and presenting himself as a Tom Peters up-and-coming "brand name." Tormented by the emptiness of his daily life and suffering from near terminable insomnia, Jack visits his doctor claiming he is in real pain. His thirty- something doctor refuses to give him drugs and tells him that if he really wants to see pain to visit a local testicular cancer survivor group. Jack not only attends the self-help meeting, but discovers that the group offers him a sense of comfort and community and in an ironic twist he becomes a support group junkie. At his first meeting of the Remaining Men Together survival group Jack meets Bob (Meat Loaf Aday), a former weightlifter who has enormous breasts (described as "bitch tits") as a result of hormonal treatments. The group allows Jack to participate in a form of male bonding that offers him an opportunity to release his pent-up emotions and provides a cure for his insomnia. Bob becomes a not too subtle symbol in the film, personifying how masculinity is both degraded (he has breasts like a woman) and used in a culture that relies upon the "feminine" qualities of support and empathy rather than "masculine" attributes of strength and virility to bring men together. When Bob hugs Jack and tells him "You can cry now," Fight Club does more than mock new age therapy for men, it is also satirizing and condemning the "weepy" process of femininization that such therapies sanction and put into place.

    Jack eventually meets Marla (Helena Bonham Carter), a disheveled, chain-smoking, slinky street urchin who is also slumming in the same group therapy sessions as Jack. Jack views Marla is a tourist--addicted only to the spectacle of the meetings. Marla reminds him of his own phoniness and so upsets him that his insomnia returns, and his asylum is shattered. Jack can’t find emotional release with another phony in the same session. In the voice over, Jack claims that "if he had a tumor he would name it Marla." Once again, repressed white masculinity is thrown into a crisis by the eruption of an ultra-conservative version of post-60s femininity that signifies both the antithesis of domestic security, comfort and sexual passivity–offering only neurosis and blame in their place. We now begin to understand Jack’s comment in the beginning of the film, after the gun is pulled from his mouth, that "Marla is at the root of it."

    On the heels of this loss, Jack meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) on an airplane. Tyler is the antithesis of Jack–a bruising, cocky, brash soap salesman, part time waiter, and movie projectionist with a whiff of anarchism shoring up his speech, dress, and body language. If Tyler is a model of packaged conformity and yuppie depthlessness, Tyler is a no-holds-barred charismatic rebel who as a part-time movie projectionist offers his own attack on family values by splicing frames of pornography into kiddie films, or when working as a banquet waiter in a luxurious hotel urinates into the soup to be served to high paying yuppie customers. Tyler also creatively affirms his disgust for women by making high-priced soaps from liposuctioned human fat and proudly telling Jack that he is "selling rich ladies their own fat asses back to them at $20.00 a bar." Jack is immediately taken with Tyler, who taunts him with the appellation IKEA boy, and offers him his personal guide to the pitfalls of consumer culture. Mesmerized by Tyler’s high octane talk and sense of subversion, Jack exchanges phone numbers with him.

    When Jack returns home, he finds that his apartment has been mysteriously blown to bits. He calls Tyler who meets him at a local bar and tells him that things could be worse: "a woman could cut of your penis while you are sleeping and toss it out the window of a moving car." Tyler then launches into a five minute cliche ridden tirade against the pitfalls of bourgeois life, mixing critique with elements of his own philosophical ramblings about the fall of masculinity. He tells Jack that issues such as crime and poverty don’t trouble him. According to Tyler, the real problem men confront is "celebrity magazines, television with five hundred channels, some guys name on my underwear, Rogaine, Viagra, Olestra." And as for the IKEA consumer hype of an idyllic domesticated existence, Tyler indignantly tells Jack "Things you own end up owning you....Fuck Martha Stewart....Fuck off with your sofa units....stop being perfect. Let’s evolve." And evolve they do. As they leave the bar, Tyler offers Jack the opportunity to move in with him in what turns out to be a dilapidated, abandoned house near a toxic dump.

    Then the magic happens. Before they go back to Tyler’s place, Tyler asks Jack to hit him, which Jack does and then Tyler returns the favor. Pain leads to exhilaration and they sit exhausted, bloodied and blissful after their brute encounter. Soon Tyler and Jack start fighting repeatedly in a bar parking lot, eventually drawing a crowd of men who want to participate in brutally pummeling each other. Hence, Fight Club, a new religion and secret society open only to males is born. Groups of men soon afterwards start meeting in the cellar of a local nightclub in order to beat each other’s heads into a bloody mess so as to reclaim their instincts as hunters within a society that has turned them into repressed losers and empty consumers. While Tyler enumerates several rules for the members of Fight Club ( "The first rule of Fight Club is that you don’t talk about Fight Club"), the one that actually captures the driving sentiment of his philosophy is the exhortation that "Self-improvement is masturbation.... self-destruction is the answer." For Tyler, physical violence becomes the necessary foundation for masculinity and collective terrorism the basis for politics itself. In other words, the only way Tyler’s followers can become agents in a society that has deadened them is to get in touch with the primal instincts for competition and violence, and the only way their masculine identity can be reclaimed is through the literal destruction of their present selves--beating each other senseless-- and their only recourse to community is to collectively engage in acts of militia-inspired terrorism aimed at corporate strongholds.

    Eventually Jack has second thoughts about his homoerotic attraction to Tyler as a self-styled anti-hero when Tyler’s narcissism and bravado mutates into an unbridled megalomania that appears more psychotic than anarchistic. Before long Tyler is spending more and more time with Marla who appears to Jack’s chagrin to be screwing him on an almost hourly basis. And Tyler ups the stakes of Fight Club by turning it into Project Mayhem, a nation wide organization of terrorists thugs whose aim is to wage war against the rich and powerful by defacing corporate subsidized art, yuppie coffee bars, and blowing up credit-card companies. Here, the line between giving pain and risking death as part of the redeeming power of "masculine recovery" and the performance of barbaric fantasies worthy of the most ruthless right wing militia movements becomes blurred. Before long one of Operation Mayhem’s terrorist forays is botched and one of their members is killed by the police. The victim is Bob, the oversized testicular cancer survivor who has recently reaffirmed his own manliness by joining Fight Club. Jack is shocked by the killing, which in turn enables him to recognize that Tyler has become a demagogue and that Fight Club has evolved into a fascist para military group more dangerous than the social order it has set out to destroy.

    In a psychic meltdown that is long over-due, Jack realizes that he and Tyler are the same person, signaling a shift in the drama from the realm of the sociological to the psychological. Jack discovers that Tyler has planned a series of bombings around the unmentioned city and goes to the police to turn himself in. But the cops are members of Project Mayhem and attempt to cut off his testicles because of his portrayal. Once more Jack rescues his manhood by escaping and eventually confronting Tyler in a building that has been targeted for demolition by Project Mayhem. Jack fares badly in his fight with Tyler and ends up at the top of the building with a gun in his mouth. Jack finally realizes that he has the power to take control of the gun and has to shoot himself in order to kill Tyler. He puts the gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger. Tyler dies on the spot and Jack mysteriously survives. Marla is brought to the scene by some Project Mayhem members. Jack orders them to leave and he and Marla hold hands and watch as office buildings explode all around them. In an apparent repudiation of all that he/Tyler has been about, Jack turns to Marla and tells her not to worry, "You met me at a weird time in my life," suggesting that life will get better for the both of them in the future.

    Consumerism, Cynicism, and Hollywood Resistance

  • less of an ideological falsification of well-being than a mark that no benefit exterior to the system can be imagined.18
  • As I have attempted to demonstrate, central to Fight Club is the interrelated critique of late capitalism and the politics of masculinity. The central protagonists, Jack and Tyler, represent two opposing registers that link consumerism and masculinity. Jack is representative of a generation of men condemned to corporate peonage whose emotional lives and investments are mediated through the allure of commodities and goods. No longer a producer of goods, Jack exemplifies a form of domesticated masculinity–passive, alienated, and without ambition. On the other hand, Tyler represents an embodied masculinity that refuses the seductions of consumerism, while fetishizing forms production-- from soaps to explosives--the ultimate negative expression of which is chaos and destruction.. Tyler represents the magnetism of the isolated, dauntless anti-hero whose public appeal is based on the attractions of the cult-personality rather than on the strengths of an articulated, democratic notion of political reform. Politics for Tyler is about doing, not thinking. As the embodiment of authoritarian masculinity and hyper individualism, Tyler cannot imagine a politics that connects to democratic movements, and is less a symbol of vision and leadership for the next millennium than a holdover of early-twentieth century fascism. Tyler, played by the Hollywood super star Brad Pitt (a contradiction that cannot be overlooked), seems appropriate as the founding father of Operation Mayhem-- a vanguardist political movement, hierarchically organized through rigid social relations and led by a charismatic cult leader--as the only enabling force to contest the very capitalism of which it is an outgrowth. If Jack represents the crisis of capitalism repackaged as the crisis of a domesticated masculinity, Tyler represents the redemption of masculinity repackaged as the promise of violence in the interests of social and political anarchy.

    While Fight Club registers a form of resistance to the rampant commodification and alienation of contemporary neoliberal society, it ultimately has little to say about those diverse and related aspects of consumer culture and contemporary capitalism structured in iniquitous power relations, material wealth, or hierarchical social formations. Fight Club largely ignores issues surrounding the break up of labor unions, the slashing of the U.S. workforce, extensive plant closings, downsizing, outsourcing, the elimination of the welfare state, the attack on people of color, and the growing disparities between the rich and the poor. All of these issues get factored out of Fight Club’s analysis of consumerism and capitalist exploitation. Hence, it comes as no surprise that class as a critical category is non-existent in this film. When working class people do appear, they are represented primarily as brown shirts, part of the non-thinking herd looking for an opportunity to release their tensions and repressed masculine rage through forms of terrorist violence and self-abuse. Or they appear as people who willingly take up jobs that are dehumanizing, unskilled, and alienating. There is one particularly revealing scene in Fight Club that brings this message home while simultaneously signaling a crucial element of the film’s politics. At one point in the story, Tyler takes Jack into a convenience store. He pulls out a gun and forces the young Indian clerk to get on his knees. Putting the gun to the clerk’s head, Tyler tells him he is going to die. As a kind of parting gesture, he then asks Raymond, the clerk, what he really wanted to be in life. A vetinarian, Raymond replies, but he had to drop out of school for lack of money. Tyler tells him that if he isn’t on his way to becoming a vetinarian in six weeks he is going to come back and kill him. He then lets Raymond go and tells Jack that tomorrow morning will be the most important day in Raymond’s life because he will have to address what it means to do something about his future. Choice for Tyler appears to be an exclusively individual act, a simple matter of personal will that functions outside of existing relations of power, resources, and social formations. As Homi Bhabha points out, this notion of agency "suggests that ‘free choice’ is inherent in the individual [and] based on an unquestioned ‘egalitarianism’ and a utopian notion of individualism that bears no relation to the history of the marginalized, the minoritized, the oppressed."19

    This privatized version of agency and politics is central to understanding Tyler’s character as emblematic of the very market forces he denounces. For Tyler, success is simply a matter of getting off one’s back and forging ahead; individual initiative and the sheer force of will magically cancels out institutional constraints, and critiques of the gravity of dominant relations of oppression are dismissed as either an act of bad faith or the unacceptable whine of victimization. Tyler hates consumerism but he values a "Just Do It" ideology appropriated from the marketing strategists of the Nike corporation. It is not surprising that in linking freedom to the dynamics of individual choice, Fight Club offers up a notion of politics in which oppression breeds contempt rather than compassion, and social change is fueled by totalitarian visions rather than democratic struggles. By defining agency through such a limited (and, curiously republican party )notion of choice, Fight Club reinscribes freedom as an individual desire rather than the "testing of boundaries and limits as part of a communal, collective process." In the end, Fight Club removes choice as a "public demand and duty"20 and in doing so restricts the public spaces people are allowed to inhabit as well as the range of subject positions they are allowed to take up. Hence, it is no wonder that in Fight Club it is not about working men and women who embody a sense of agency and empowerment but largely middle-class heterosexual, white men who are suffering from a blocked hyper-masculinity.

    Consumerism in Fight Club is criticized primarily as an ideological force and existential experience that weakens and domesticates men, robbing them of their primary role as producers whose bodies affirm and legitimate their sense of agency and control. The importance of agency is not lost on director David Fincher, but it is restricted to a narrowly defined notion of masculinity that is as self-absorbed as it is patriarchal.21 Fincher is less interested in fighting oppressive forms of power than he is in exploring the ways in which men yield to it. Freedom in Fight Club is not simply preoccupied with the de-politicized self, it also lacks a language for translating private troubles into public rage, and as such succumbs to the cult of immediate sensations in which freedom degenerates into collective impotence. Given Fincher’s suggestion that men have no enduring qualities outside of their physicality, resistance and affirmation are primarily taken up as part of a politics of embodiment that has little concern for critical consciousness, social critique, or democratic social relations as part of a broader strategy of resistance and struggle. In Fight Club, the body is no longer the privileged space of social citizenship or political agency, but becomes "the location of violence, crime, and [aggression]."22 What changes in Fight Club is the context enabling men to assault each other, but the outside world remains the same, unaffected by the celebration of a hyper masculinity and violence that provides the only basis for solidarity.23

    Fight Clubs critique of consumerism suffers from a number of absences that need to be addressed. First, the film depicts capitalism and the ideology of consumerism as sutured, impenetrable, and totalizing, offering few if any possibilities for resistance or struggle, except by the heroic few. There is no sense of how people critically mediate the power of capitalism and the logic of consumerism, turn it against itself, and in doing so offer up daily possibilities for resistance, survival, and democratic struggles.24 No space exists within Fight Club for appropriations that might offer critical engagements, political understanding, and enlightened forms of social change. Moreover, consumerism, for David Fincher, can only function with the libidinal economy of repression, particularly as it rearticulates the male body away from the visceral experiences of pain, coercion, and violence to the more "feminized" notions of empathy, compassion, and trust. Hence, masculinity is defined in opposition to both femininity and consumerism while simultaneously refusing to take up either in a dialectical and critical way.

    Second, Fight Club functions less as a critique of capitalism than as a defense of authoritarian masculinity wedded to the immediacy of pleasure sustained through violence and abuse. Once again, Fight Club becomes complicitous with the very system of commodification it denounces since both rely upon a notion of agency largely constructed within the immediacy of pleasure, the cult of hyper competitiveness, and the market-driven desire of winning and exercising power over others. Third, Fight Club resurrects a notion of freedom tied to a Hobbesian world in which cynicism replaces hope, and the survival of the fittest becomes the clarion call for legitimating dehumanizing forms of violence as a source of pleasure and sociality. Pleasure in this context has little to do with justice, equality, and freedom than with hyper modes of competition mediated through the fantasy of violence. More specifically, this particular rendering of pleasure is predicated on legitimating the relationship between oppression and misogyny, and masculinity gains its force through a celebration of both brutality and the denigration of the feminine. Hence, Fight Club appears to have no understanding of its own articulation with the very forces of capitalism it appears to be attacking and this is most evident in its linking of violence, masculinity, and gender. In other words, Fight Club’s vision of liberation and politics relies on gendered and sexist hierarchies that flow directly from the consumer culture it claims to be criticizing.

    Violence and the Politics of Masculinity

    Unlike a number of Hollywood films in which violence is largely formulaic and superficially visceral, designed primarily to shock, titillate, and celebrate the sensational, Fight Club uses violence as both a form of voyeuristic identification and a pedagogical tool. Although Fight Club offers up a gruesome and relentless spectacle of bare knuckled brutality, blood curling, and stylistic gore, violence becomes more than ritualistic kitsch, it also provides audiences with an ideologically loaded context and mode of articulation for legitimating a particular understanding of masculinity and its relationship to important issues regarding subjective agency, gender, and politics. Violence in Fight Club is treated as a sport, a crucial component that lets men connect with each other through the overcoming of fear, pain, and fatigue, while reveling in the illusions of a paramilitary culture. For example, in one vivid scene, Tyler initiates Jack into the higher reaches of homoerotically charged sadism by pouring corrosive lye on his hand, watching as the skin bubbles and curls. Violence in this instance signals its crucial function in both affirming the natural "fierceness" of men and in providing them with a concrete experience that allows them to connect at some primal level. As grotesque as this act appears, Fincher does not engage it--or similar representations in the film--as expressions of pathology.25 On the contrary, such senseless brutality becomes crucial to a form of male bonding, glorified for its cathartic and cleansing properties.26 By maximizing the pleasures of bodies, pain, and violence, Fight Club comes dangerously close to giving violence a glamorous and fascist edge.27 As a packaged representation of masculine crisis, Fight Club reduces the body to a receptacle for pain parading as pleasure, and in doing so fails to understand how the very society it attempts to critique uses an affirmative notion of the body and its pleasures to create consuming subjects. Terry Eagleton captures this sentiment:

  • Sensation in such conditions becomes a matter of commodified shock-value regardless of content: everything can now become pleasure, just as the desensitized morphine addict will grab indiscriminately at any drug. To posit the body and its pleasures as an unquestionably affirmative category is a dangerous illusion in a social order which reifies and regulates corporeal pleasure for its own ends just as relentlessly as it colonizes the mind." 28
  • But the violence portrayed in Fight Club is not only reductionistic in its affirmation of physical aggression as a crucial element of male bonding, it also fails to make problematic those forms of violence that individuals, dissidents, and various marginalized groups experience as sheer acts of oppression deployed by the state, racist and homophobic individuals, and a multitude of other oppressive social forces. What are the limits of romanticizing violence in the face of those ongoing instances of abuse and violence that people involuntarily experience everyday because of their sexual orientation, the color of their skin, their gender, or their class status? There is no sense in Fight Club of the complex connections between the operations of power, agency, and violence, or how some forms of violence function to oppress, infantalize, and demean human life.29 Nor is there any incentive–given the way violence is sutured to primal masculinity-to consider how violence can be resisted, alleviated, and challenged through alternative institutional forms and social practices. It is this lack of discrimination among diverse forms of violence and the conditions for their emergence, use, and consequences coupled with a moral indifference to how violence produces human suffering that positions Fight Club as a morally bankrupt and politically reactionary film.30 Representations of violence, masculinity, and gender in Fight Club seem all too willing to mirror the pathology of individual and institutional violence that informs the American landscape, extending from all manner of hate crimes to the far right’s celebration of paramilitary and proto fascist subcultures.

    Fight Club does not rupture conventional ways of thinking about violence in a world in which casual violence and hip nihilism increasingly pose a threat to human life and democracy itself. Violence in this film functions largely through a politics of denial, insulation, and disinterest and is unable to criticize with any self consciousness the very violence that it gleefully represents and celebrates. Fight Club portrays a society in which public space collapses and is filled by middle class white men--disoriented in the pandemonium of conflicting social forces--who end up with a lot of opportunities for violence and little, perhaps none at all, for argument and social engagement.31 Macho ebullience in Fight Club is directly linked to foreclosure of dialogue and critical analysis and moves all to quickly into an absolutist rhetoric which easily lends itself to a geography of violence in which there are no ethical discriminations that matter, no collective forces to engage or stop the numbing brutality and rising tide of violence. While Jack renounces Tyler’s militia-like terrorism at the end of Fight Club, it appears as a meaningless gesture of resistance, as all he can do is stand by and watch as various buildings explode all around him. The message here is entirely consistent with the cynical politics that inform the film--violence is the ultimate language, referent, and state of affairs through which to understand all human events and there is no way of stopping it. This ideology becomes even more disheartening given the film’s attempt to homogenize violence under the mutually determining forces of pleasure and masculine identity formation, as it strategically restricts not only our understanding of the complexity of violence, but also, as Susan Sontag has suggested in another context, "dissolves politics into pathology."32

    The pathology at issue, and one which is central to Fight Club, is its intensely misogynist representation of women, and its intimation that violence is the only means through which men can be cleansed of the dire affect women have on the shaping of their identities. From the first scene of Fight Club to the last, women are cast as the binary opposite of masculinity. Women are both the other and a form of pathology. Jack begins his narrative by claiming that Marla is the cause of all of his problems. Tyler consistently tells Jack that men have lost their manhood because they have been feminized, they are a generation raised by women. And the critical commentary on consumerism presented throughout the film is really not a serious critique of capitalism as much as it is a criticism of the feminization and domestication of men in a society driven by relations of buying and selling. Consumerism is criticized because it is womanish stuff. Moreover, the only primary female character, Marla, appears to exist to simultaneously make men unhappy and to service their sexual needs. Marla has no identity outside of the needs of the warrior mentality, the chest-beating impulses of men who revel in patriarchy and enact all of the violence associated with such traditional, hyper-masculine stereotypes.33 Iron John : a book about men (Reading, Mass. Addison-Wesley, 1990); For a sustained critique of this position, see James William Gibson, Warrior Dreams: Paramilitary Culture in Post-Vietnam America (New York: Hill and Wang, 1994). But representations of masculinity in Fight Club do more than reinscribe forms of male identity within a warrior mentality and space of patriarchical relations. They also work to legitimate unequal relations of power and oppression while condoning "a view of masculinity predicated on the need to wage violence against all that is feminine both within and outside of their lives."34 Masculinity in this film is directly linked to male violence against women by virtue of the way in which it both ignores and thus sanctions hierarchical, gendered divisions and a masculinist psychic economy. By constructing masculinity on an imaginary terrain in which women are foregrounded as the other, the flight from the feminine becomes synonymous with sanctioning violence against women as it works simultaneously to eliminate different and opposing definitions of masculinity. Male violence offers men a performative basis on which to construct masculine identity, and it provides the basis for abusing and battering an increasing number of women. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, an estimated six million women are assaulted by a male partner each year in the United States and of these, 1.8 million are severely assaulted.35 Affirming stereotypical notions of male violence while remaining silent about how such violence works to serve male power in subordinating and abusing women both legitimates and creates the pedagogical conditions for such violence to occur. In short, Fight Club provides no understanding of how gendered hierarchies mediated by a misogynist psychic economy encourages male violence against women. In short, male violence in this film appears directly linked to fostering those ideological conditions that justify abuse towards women by linking masculinity exclusively to expressions of violence and defining male identity against everything that is feminine.

    Fight Club as Public Pedagogy

  • There is a link between epistemology and morality: between how we get to know what we know (through various, including electronic media) and the moral life we aspire to lead....Terrible things, by continuing to be shown, begin to appear matter-of-fact, a natural rather than man-made catastrophe. Zygmunt Bauman has labeled this the ‘production of moral indifference.’36
  • While Fight Club generated a number of critical commentaries, few reviewers addressed the misogynistic nature of the film or the warrior mythology of the 1980s that it so closely resembles ideologically and politically.37 In some cases, high profile critics such as Janet Maslin, writing in the New York Times, not only defended the film as a serious attempt to examine the "lure of violence" in a "dangerously regimented, dehumanized culture, " she also condemned as mindless those critics who might view the film as a nihilistic "all-out assault on society."38 Oddly enough, Twentieth Century Fox, the studio that produced Fight Club, viewed such criticism as dangerous rather than simply mindless, and proceeded to withdraw all of its movie advertising in the trade paper The Hollywood Reporter because it had published two critical reviews of the film. But while such politics are not new to Hollywood, the overt attempts by a major studio to censor the voices of dissent--because some critical reviews speak to the willing use of political power by corporate institutions in the cultural sphere to close down democratic relationships, denigrate women, and celebrate mindless violence--should nevertheless elicit public outrage. Certainly, 20th Century Fox has little to fear from "progressive" critics who largely praised the film. For example, Amy Taubin writing for Sight and Sound extolled the film for "screwing around with your bio-rhythms" and for expressing some "right-on-the zeitgeist ideas about masculinity."39 Taubin, it seems, was also bowled over with Brad Pitt’s new found masculinity, and claims that "Pitt has never been as exquisite as he is with a broken nose and blood streaming down his cut body."40 Susan Faludi made the remarkable statement in Newsweek that Fight Club is a feminist film (my emphasis).41 It seems that the connection between Fight Club’s underlying misogynist premises and its similarity to a number of recent Hollywood films that offer denigrating images of women has been lost on critics such as Maslin, Taubin, and feminist backlash expert Faludi. It gets worse. On-line journal, Slate, argued that veteran rock video director, Fincher, had transformed cinema with his hip digital editing style and that the most "thrilling thing about Fight Club isn’t what it says but how...Fincher pulls you into its narrator’s head and simulates his adrenalin rushes" (my emphasis).42

    Fight Club’s overall success with a large number of critics was also buoyed by an ongoing series of interviews with its stars Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham Carter as well as a number of well-placed interviews with the film’s director David Fincher.43 Norton, for example, argues that the film is about young men having a problem defining their manhood and that it has little to do with fighting: "The fight club is not about fighting; it is a manifestation of a desire to strip away everything and rediscover yourself."44 Norton goes so far as to claim that Fight Club is really a comedy similar to the classic coming-of-age film, The Graduate.

    One of the more incredible, if not entirely inane, comments comes from Helena Bonham Carter who defends the film by claiming that Fincher is a feminist. In describing why she took on the role of Marla, she claims "The script was awfully dark, and in bad hands it could have been immature or possibly even irresponsible. But after meeting him, I could tell that it wasn’t going to be a concern. He’s not just an all-out testost package. He’s got a healthy feminist streak."45

    Fincher appeared at times to be caught on the defensive in having to provide some theoretical explanation and ethical justification for the film. Claiming that Fight Club was a film "that’s downloaded in front of you. It doesn’t wait for you," he seemed to suggest that many critics were tripping over themselves trying to understand the film. He has also argued that while the film is a coming-of-age narrative, he doesn’t "purport for a second to know what a film should be, what entertainment should be, how much it should teach, how much it should titillate. I am just trying to make a good, funny movie."46 And, of course, the implication is that neither should his audience. Fincher’s comments are more than disingenuous, they represent, at the very least, an apologetic discourse for the increasing merger of over-the-top violence, hyper- masculinity, and sexist inscriptions of women in Hollywood films.47

    All of these comments exhibit a cavalier indifference to the ways in which films operate as public pedagogies within a broader set of articulations. That is, they ignore how such films function as public discourses that address or at least resonate with broader issues in the historical and socio-political context in which they are situated. There is no sense of how Fight Club--or films in general--bridge the gap between public and private discourses, playing an important role in placing particular ideologies and values into public conversation while offering a pedagogical space for addressing specific views of how everyday lives are intertwined with politics, social relations, and existing institutional formations. For instance, Fincher seems completely unaware of how his portrayal of violence and hyper- masculinity resonates with the reactionary mythology of warrior culture that reached its heyday during Ronald Reagan’s presidency and found its cultural embodiment in figures such as John Wayne, Oliver North, and a host of Hollywood movies celebrating rogue warriors such as Lethal Weapon, Missing in Action, Robocop, and Rambo.48

    Given the enormous violence, misogyny, aggression, and political indifference that permeates contemporary daily life, it is crucial to understand how representations of male violence, scorn for everything that is feminine, and a proto-fascist politics in a film such as Fight Club resonate with a broader assemblage of historical and contemporary forces to reproduce rather than challenge some of the more oppressive forces in American society. Clearly, many critics of Fight Club as well as Fincher, and the film’s stars appear completely indifferent to the kind of ideological work Fight Club performs in linking masculinity, violence, and politics at a historical moment when public politics is collapsing into privatized discourses and pleasures, and the crisis of masculinity is widely perceived as the most important manifestation of changing economic conditions. While it would be easy to dismiss the comments by Fincher, Norton, and Bonham Carter as nothing more than self-serving publicity--or simply idiotic in light of the representational politics of the film--such comments exemplify a period in which, as Hannah Arendt has pointed out in another context, violence might best be understood less by connecting it to people who are "cold-blooded enough to `think the unthinkable,’ [than to the fact] that they do not think."49 Against the emergence of films such as Fight Club and the refusal on the part of critics and others to link the violence in the film to the violence directed against women, public life, and democracy itself, progressives and others need to question not only the conditions for the production of such films, but also how they work to construct particular definitions of agency. Such questions are crucial if progressives are going to rightfully explore what tools are needed to resist such romanticized notions of violence and masculinity.

    In opposition to films such as Fight Club, progressives need to consider developing pedagogies of disruption that unsettle the commonsensical assumptions and ways of thinking that inform films and other cultural texts, particularly those that construct and legitimate certain subject positions, identities, values, and social relations that both celebrate pathologizing violence and render hyper-masculinity as a space in which to reinscribe the hierarchies of gender, race, sexuality, and politics. James Snead is right in arguing that

  • Mass culture in America today consists of an entirely new set of artifacts--mass visual productions. These new artifacts require new ways of seeing and new ways of thinking about what we are seeing....We have to be ready, as film-goers, not only to see films, but also to see through them; we have to be willing to figure out what the film is claiming to portray, and also to scrutinize what the film is actually showing. Finally, we need to ask from whose social vantage point any film becomes credible or comforting, and ask why?50
  • But this should not suggest that educators, progressives and others simply need to teach students and others the skills of critical literacy in order to demythologize representations of violence, or to engage gendered representations, for instance, in radically new ways. This is an important but inadequate strategy. We need to go beyond questions of literacy and critique to issues of politics, power, and social transformation.

    At the very least, the emergence of films such as Fight Club suggests that progressives need a new civic language and vocabulary to address the relevance of culture, politics, and pedagogy in order to understand not just how to read texts critically, but also to comprehend how knowledge circulates through various circuits of power in order to put into place images, experiences, representations, and discourses that objectify others and create the ideological conditions for individuals to become indifferent to how violence in its diverse expressions promotes human suffering. This suggests developing forms of public pedagogy that not only critically engage how language, images, sounds, codes, and representations work to structure basic assumptions about freedom, citizenship, public memory, and history, but also becoming attentive to how the material relations of power that produce and circulate forms of common sense can be challenged and transformed on both a national and transnational level. In this instance, public pedagogy links knowledge to power in an effort to understand how to affect social change. At stake here is both recognizing and developing a new vision of what we want the future to be, and struggling to acknowledge that the fundamental nature of cultural politics and knowledge production has not only changed dramatically in the last fifty years but that the culture industries and visual culture have become the primary pedagogical/political forces/spaces in shaping consciousness and legitimating dominating social practices. This is not meant to suggest that culture exists in opposition to what some have called a material politics as much as it points to the necessity of recognizing the pedagogical nature of any attempt to both unlearn and to relearn what it might mean to challenge those commonsense assumptions and institutional forms that shape oppressive relations, regardless of how and where they manifest themselves.

    Films such as Fight Club become important as public pedagogies because they play a powerful role in mobilizing meaning, pleasures, and identifications. They produce and reflect important considerations of how human beings should live, engage with others, define themselves, and address how a society should take up questions fundamental to its survival. At the same time, if we are to read films such as Fight Club as social and political allegories articulating deeply- rooted fears, desires, and visions, they have to be understood within a broader network of cultural spheres and institutional formations rather than as isolated texts. The pedagogical and political character of such films resides in the ways in which they align with broader social, sexual, economic, class and institutional configurations.

    Needless to say, Fight Club as well as any other cultural text can be read differently by different audiences, and this suggests the necessity to take up such texts in the specificity of the contexts in which they are received. But at the same time, educators, social critics and others can shed critical light on how such texts work pedagogically to legitimate some meanings, invite particular desires, and exclude others. Acknowledging the educational role of such films requires that educators and others find ways to make the political more pedagogical. One approach would be to develop a pedagogy of disruption that would attempt to make students and others more attentive to visual and popular culture as an important site of political and pedagogical struggle. Such a pedagogy would raise questions regarding how certain meanings under particular historical conditions become more legitimate as representations of the real than others, or how certain meanings take on the force of commonsense assumptions and go relatively unchallenged in shaping a broader set of discourses and social configurations. Such a pedagogy would raise questions about how Fight Club, for instance, resonates with the ongoing social locations and conditions of fear, uncertainty, sexism, and political despair through which many people now live their lives. More specifically, a pedagogy of disruption would engage a film’s attempts to shift the discourse of politics away from issues of justice and equality to a focus on violence and individual freedom as part of a broader neoliberal backlash against equity, social citizenship, and human rights. Such an approach would not only critically engage the dominant ideologies of masculinity, violence, and sexism that give Fight Club so much power in the public imagination, but also work to expose the ideological contradictions and political absences that characterize the film by challenging it as symptomatic of the growing reaction against feminism, the right-wing assault on the welfare state, and the increasing use of violence to keep in check marginalized groups such as young black males who are now viewed as a threat to order and stability.

    Any attempt to critically address Fight Club and the implications its presence suggests for the changing nature of representational politics must also acknowledge that power is never totalizing and that even within an increasingly corporatized social landscape there are always cracks, openings, and spaces for resistance. Fight Club reminds us of the need to reclaim the discourses of ethics, politics, and critical agency as important categories in the struggle against the rising tide of violence, human suffering, and the specter of fascism that threatens all vestiges of democratic public life. Precisely because of its ideological implications, Fight Club posits an important challenge to anyone concerned about the promise of democracy, and what it might mean for critical intellectuals and others to take a stand against the dominant media, while providing opportunities to develop, what Paul Gilroy calls in another context, "minimal ethical principles"51 upon which to accentuate and highlight the tension between the growing threat to public life and the promise of a democracy that both remembers the history of human suffering and works to prevent its reoccurrence.


    1. Zygmunt Bauman, In Search of Politics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), p. 65.

    2. Zygmunt Bauman, In Search of Politics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), p. 63. Robert W. McChesney defines neoliberalism as the "defining political and economic paradigm of our time–it refers to the policies and processes whereby a relative handful of private interests are permitted to control as much as possible of social life in order to maximize their personal profit....[it is characterized by] a massive increase in social and economic inequality, a marked increase in server deprivation fo the poorest nations and peoples of he world, a disastrous global environment, and unstable global economy and an unprecedented bonanza for the wealthy." Cited in Robert W. McChesney, "Introduction" in Noam Chomsky, Profit Over People (New York; Seven Stories Press, 1999), pp. 1, 2.

    3. While this issue is taken up in too many books to cite, some good general introductions to both the neoliberal indifference to social considerations and the growing indifference to democracy itself can be found in: Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman, Corporate Predators: The Hunt for Mega-Profits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999); Richard Sennett, The Corrosion of Character (New York: Norton,1998);William Greider, One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997); Robert W. McChesney, Rich Media, Poor Democracy (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999). Ellen Willis,. Don’t Think, Smile! Notes On a Decade of Denial. Boston: Beacon Press, 1999; for a deeply personal and moving account of the slide into moral indifference and the collapse of the public sphere and its safety nets for children, see Jonathan Kozol, Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope (New York: Crown Publishers, 2000).

    4. For a recent example of this type of analysis, see John Mueller, Capitalism and Democracy & Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999).

    5. Cited in Robert W. McChesney, "Introduction" in Noam Chomsky, Profit Over People (New York; Seven Stories Press, 1999), p. 9.

    6. Pierre Bourdieu, Acts of Resistance (New York: Free Press, 1998), p. 32.

    7. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argue that this is one of the central features of the bold new order of globalization, which they call empire, that now characterizes the 21st century. See Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000).

    8. Walter Mosley, Working on the Chain Gang (New York: Ballantine Publishing Group, 2000), p. 12.

    9. I take this issue up in Henry A. Giroux, "Cultural Studies and the Culture of Politics:


    10. Zygmunt Bauman, In Search of Politics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), p. 40-41.

    11. Theodor W. Adorno, Critical Models (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), p. 290.

    12. See, for example, Janet Maslin, "Such a Very Long Way from Duvets to Danger," The New York Times, (Friday, October 15, 1999), p. B14 and Amy Taubin, "So Good It Hurts," Sight and Sound (November 1999), p. 16.

    13. Eleanor Byrne and Martin McQuillan, Deconstructing Disney (London: Pluto Press, 1999), p. 3-4.

    14. Rustom Bharacuha, "Around Aydohya: Aberrations, Enigmas, and Moments of Violence," Third Text 24 (Autumn 1993), p. 56.

    15. Needless to say, feminist and gay theorists have been analyzing the politics of masculinity for quite some time. For an important series of theoretical analyses on the changing nature of masculinity in Hollywood cinema that draws on many of these traditions, see Stevan Cohan and Ina Rae Hark, eds. Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema (New York: Routledge, 1993).

    16. Homi Bhabha, "Are You a Man or a Mouse," in Maurice Berger, Brian Wallis, an Simon Watson, eds. Constructing Masculinity (New York: Routledge, 1995), pp. 57-65.

    17. Susan Faludi, Stiffed (New York : W. Morrow and Co., 1999).

    18. Bill Readings, The University in Ruins (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), p. 48.

    19. Homi K. Bhabha, "The Enchantment of Art," in Carol Becker and Ann Wiens, eds. The Artist in Society (Chicago: New Art Examiner, 1994), p. 33..

    20. Both of these quotes are from Homi K. Bhabha, "The Enchantment of Art," Ibid., p. 33

    21. For some excellent commentaries on the politics of masculinity, see R.W. Connell, Masculinities (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); Maurice Berger, Brian Wallis, and Simon Watson, eds. Constructing Masculinities (New York: Routledge, 1995); Paul Smith, ed., Boys : Masculinities in Contemporary Culture (Boulder, Colo. Westview Press, 1996).

    22. Paul Gilroy, "`After the Love Has Gone’: Bio-Politics and Ethepoetics in the Black Public Sphere," Public Culture 7:1 (1994), p. 58.

    23. For an interesting commentary on the way in which dominant forms of masculinity work to reproduce particular notions of racism, see Robin D. G. Kelley, "Confessions of a Nice Negro, or Why I Shaved My Head," in Don Belton, ed. (Speak My Name): Black Men On Masculinity and the American Dream (Boston: Beacon Press, 1997), pp. 15-28.

    24. For an interesting analysis of what might be called the dialectic of consumerism, see Robert Miklitsch, From Hegel to Madonna: Towards a General Economy of ‘Commodity Fetishism’ (Albany: SUNY Press, 1998).

    25. Susan Bordo offers a number of critical insights around the relationship between art and its growing tendency to celebrate and "become more sympathetic of the pathologies of our culture than of exposing them." See Susan Bordo, Twilight Zones: The Hidden Life of Cultural Images (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), p. 27.

    26. Dr. Nadine Hoover is on target in arguing "There is something terribly wrong with our society when abuse becomes a means of bonding." Hoover cited in Andrew Jacobs, "Violent Cast of High School Hazing Mirrors society, Experts Say," New York Times (Sunday, March 5, 2000), p. NE 27-28.

    27. The classic work on the relationship between fascism, male violence, and hatred of women is Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies, Vol. 1 and 2 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987, 1989).

    28. Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Cambridge: Basil Blackwell, 1990), p. 344.

    29. Commenting on what the kinds of violence that is often ignored in films such as Fight Club, Holly Sklar writes "Imagine [films such as Fight Club giving] sustained national attention to the violence waged on the mind, body, and spirit of crumbling schools, [or to] low teacher expectations, employment and housing discrimination, racist dragnets, and everyday looks of hate by people finding you guilty by suspicion."Holly Sklar, "Young and Guilty by Stereotype," Z Magazine (July/August 1993), p. 53.

    30. For a masterful analysis of the complexities of theorizing violence as well as a critique of its romanticization, see John Keane, Reflections on Violence (New York: Verso, 1996).

    31. This theme is take up in a number of recent books, see Jeffrey C. Goldfarb, The Cynical Society: The Culture of Politics and the Politics of Culture in American Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991); Joseph N. Capella and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Spiral of Cynicism: The Press and the Public Good (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Russell Jacoby, The End of Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1999); William Chaloupka, Everybody Knows: Cynicism in America (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999; Zygmunt Bauman, In Search of Politics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999); Carl Boggs, The End of Politics: Corporate Power and the Decline of the Public Sphere (New York: Guilford Press, 2000).

    32. Cited in Carol Becker, "The Art of Testimony," Sculpture (March 1997), p. 28.

    33. For one of the most popular celebrations of this warrior mentality, see Robert. Bly,


    34. Tania Modleski, Feminism Without Women (Routldege 1991).

    35. Cited from the National Center Victims of Crime website. See:

    36. Geoffrey Hartman, "Public Memory and Its Discontents," Raritan 8:4 (Spring 1994), pp. 28, 26.

    37. On the cult of the warrior mythology and its relationship to male violence, see the exceptionally important work done on this subject, see James William Gibson, Warrior Dreams: Paramilitary Culture in Post-Vietnam America (New York: Hill and Wang, 1994).

    38. Janet Maslin, "Such a Very Long Way from Duvets to Danger," The New York Times, (Friday, October 15, 1999), p. B14.

    39. Amy Taubin, "So Good It Hurts," Sight and Sound (November 1999), p. 16.

    40. Taubin, Ibid., p. 17.

    41. Susan Faludi, "It’s `Thelma and Louise’ for Guys," Newsweek (October 25, 1999), p. 89.

    42. David Edelstein, "Boys Do Bleed," Slate (Posted on Friday, October 15, 1999 at, p. 4.

    43. See, for example, Bob Strauss, "Actors Defend Ultra Violent Film," The Arizona Republic (October 15, 1999), p. D1; Gavin Smith, "Inside-Out-on-One With David Fincher," Film Comment (Sept/October 1999), pp. 58-67.

    44. Edward Norton cited in Barry Koltnow, "Club’s Call to Arms is Not Call to Violence," Centre Daily Times (October 19, 1999), p. 11C.

    45. Cited in Benjamin Svtkey, "Blood Sweat and Fears," Entertainment Weekly (October 15, 1999), p. 28.

    46. Both quotes come from, Svtkey, Ibid., pp. 26, 31.

    47. I take up this issue in Henry A. Giroux, Fugitive Cultures (New York: Routledge, 1996), and in Henry A. Giroux, Channel Surfing: Racism, the Media and the Destruction of Today’s Youth (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998).

    48. This issue is taken up brilliantly in Susan Jeffords, Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era (New York: Rutgers University Press, 1994). Of course, this type of representation is ongoing and can be found in recent films such as Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, and Three Kings.

    49. Hannah Arendt, "On Violence," in Crisis of the Republic (New York: A Harvest Book, 1969), p. 108.

    50. James Snead, White Screens/Black Images (New York: Routledge, 1994), pp. 131, 142.

    51. Paul Gilory, Against Race (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), p.5.