Us pacifists who love Fight Club

So what are all us Christian pacifists who love the film Fight Club to make of the alleged fight club at John Forrest High School in Perth? (Chris Summerfield, you must have some thoughts!) The film seemed to sum up our anger at the Ikea world, at the triumph of the corporate world, and our hope that we might resist it. What better way than an underground fight club which morphs into an anarchist movement of anti-corporate terrorists?

It’s one of my favourite films, and for a time I tried to develop a theology of how it manifested my faith convictions. I still kind of think that, but I’m not as evangelistic about it as I once was. And then I see on the news these fifteen year olds taking it all very literally and belting each other bare chested, just like Brad Pitt. And I think oh gee, what have I done?

You kids – why do you have to take it so literally? Us twenty and thirtysomethings just take it metaphorically for some kind of inner defiance, an authenticity which is symbolised by bare chested fighting but not manifested as it.

Yeah, you’re right, we look like hypocrites.

The context is difference, though. In the film we have a bunch of aging Gen Xers who have lost touch with passion, with anything primal, and who beat each other up to experience life deeply once again. I know it’s flawed, but there’s something in it. In the John Forrest situation, there’s bullying and pressure to fight each other and not ageing paunchy office workers but teenagers who spend their school days in macho displays of hostility.

In the end, Fight Club is ambivalent about violence, that’s what I reckon. It keeps leading to these sickening moments of inhumanity, like where ‘Cornelius’ (Edward Norton) is caught up in bloodlust and beats Orlando Bloom to a pulp. Everyone goes quiet. And like when Bob (Meatloaf) is killed and no-one cares because the goal of mayhem has become more important than the people.

My new novel, House of Zealots (not yet published) deals with Fight Club quite a bit. Here’s the first mention.

Love is coming over Leo like influenza. He first felt it when he met Phoebe at Samantha’s New Year’s Eve party, the quiet girl in a tartan skirt drinking red wine in the corner. Since then, whenever he’s seen her aches and pains have troubled his heart for days. Now that he’s moving into the same house as her, the aches and pains have turned into a full fever of love and she is filling up his thoughts and feelings.
His mind is buzzing, trying to think of strategies to impress her. When she’s in the kitchen, he brings in the only thing he has to add to that room – a Fight Club blockmount to hang on the picture hook. Tyler Durden and Cornelius smile viciously at the consumer world of Ikea porn they are about to demolish. Leo wants his life to hum with the same anarchic cool.
‘What do you think?’ he asks Phoebe.
‘Phoebe’s a pacifist, Leo,’ Samantha interrupts. ‘Films called Fight Club don’t go down well with pacifists.’
‘No – I liked it,’ Phoebe says. ‘It was inspiring, and sort of ambivalent about violence.’
‘It’s fucking awesome!’ Leo says, a tower of feeling inside him he wishes he had the words to convey.
Phoebe smiles. ‘I guess it was that too.’
Her restraint humiliates him. He wonders what sort of guy she would go for.

5 thoughts on “Us pacifists who love Fight Club

  1. Mmm interesting,

    This line from the ABC article…

    “It is claimed teenage boys are selected to fight days before, whether they want to or not, and are pushed and taunted until they agree.”

    makes it sound to me like it’s anything possibly the antithesis of a Chuck Paulanick (Fight club author) type Fight Club.

    See for more on the Gospel of Fight Club 😉

    Part of the reason why the book Fight Club may resonate with someone of a pacifist nature is that no one is forced to join and no one is there to watch. Part of the ethos of Fight Club is to take down the current social order by sacrificing / causing violence to yourself. Participates disturb those around them not by threatening them or intimidating them but by hurting themselves. The only time participants go and fight someone who is unwilling is with the strict instruction that they are to loose the fight. An exercise in empowering the other person rather than intimidating them.

    Sounds like it might be a fighting club rather than a “Fight Club” in the Chuck Paulanick sense of the phrase.

  2. I found both the book and the movie to be unimpressive. The powerful messages that I’m told are contained in the story are better told in other places. Certainly the message of Christian pacifism must have a better source than a movie that features a shirtless Brad Pitt and Meatloaf.

    I am not so clear the message of the story can be so easily separated from the fact that its characters beat each other bloody. The fact that many of reviews of the film I have read and viewers I have spoken with stress the entertainment value of the violence makes it seem that deeper values of the story are available only to those who already know where to find them.

    Fight Club may be an effective introduction to this discourse. It may make accessible a whole range of ideas to an audience that would not otherwise not be exposed to it. I prefer to think of the flip side of this – it’s just some dumbed down great literature packaged so that people will buy it.

  3. Hey Nathan November 11 2009 is the 10 year anniversay of the release of Fight Club. Would Vose Seminary Library be up for a screening and round table discussion? Perhaps we could start promotion of the meeky men conference then too?

  4. So is Vose Library free on November 11th or a date near that I think the Us release date was October 15th. And would they be up for that kind of thing?

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