Fight Club: Washing its hands of toxic masculinity?

Fight Club fan CHARLIE ROBINSON explains its homoerotic, anti-macho sub-text

'This article contains Fight Club book and film spoilers'

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The first rule of toxic masculinity is do not talk about toxic masculinity. Although the first rule might actually be not to talk about how Fight Club - every misogynist’s favourite film - was based on a satirical book written by a gay man!


Fight Club’s reputation is iconic. The film poster tagline, “mischief, mayhem, soap” and the bright pink soap bar slapped above it, is a familiar sight for those acquainted with the film. To most, it’s a violent anti-capitalistic retelling of the cultural phenomenon, Jekyll and Hyde. In many ways this is true, but many who watch it miss the point of Fight Club all together (see Christian S, Rotten Tomatoes)

“I cannot comprehend the critical naysayers. This is an outstanding film front to back… And I just absolutely love the hardcore punk rock ideologies Durden and Durden created in their mess of an anarchistic social club. It is wild.” Jason S (Rotten Tomatoes)

Jason defiantly understood Tyler was a satirical cautionary tale.


Toxic masculinity

The book is a satirical piece on toxic masculinity. This version of masculinity often expects men to “conform to unrealistic, unhealthy and unsustainable ideals”, as stated by Laura Bates in Men Who Hate Women: From Incels to Pickup Artists (2020, pp.2-3). Much like Fight Club, Bates’ book is an in-depth investigation into the men who have been brainwashed into hating women, and how damaging this system of social rules can be on the male psyche.


Our unnamed main character is convinced that the modern ‘soft’ world has stripped him of his masculinity, and raw male collective violence is the only answer. Tyler Durden, our favourite hallucination and manic pixie dream girl, takes the main character on a whirlwind adventure. In Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel – on which the film is based - the main character says, “deliver me Tyler, from being perfect and complete” (p.46, 2006 edition), a line so rom-com, you could imagine Julia Roberts saying it.

“A very entertaining, stylistic, unrestrained dive into the possible dangers of a modern-day milquetoasts psyche”(Christian S, Rotten Tomatoes).

Yeah milquetoasts, that’s the problem…


Homoerotic soaping

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So why is soap such a prominent motif? This slippery metaphor is used to represent toxic masculinity’s unassuming nature, making you question your own biases, before any repression bubbles to the surface. Ivor Holmes claims Fight Club often uses “exciting, seductive philosophy…making them sympathise with Tyler’s message, despite its underlying misogyny.” Soap is used similarly, an unassuming object thrown around in exciting ways, representative of a harmful hegemonic world. This toxic system of masculinity is intrinsically linked to homoeroticism. In Fight club? In everything! As all the social rules are to avoid any form of femininity, this anti-woman prison means that although men see women as a commodity, they can’t find them appealing. Men take women’s place in attraction. The relationships between the male characters in this book, especially Tyler and the main character’s, is filled with a romantic tension you could cut a soap bar with.


Soap does not deter gents!

Tyler makes soap. This may seem a strangely feminine job to give to a hyper-masculine character but Tyler’s constant assurance of how soap can be used to make bombs, convinces you it’s the manliest of hobbies. It’s made using stolen human fat, mostly from liposuction clinics and never forgets to remind you that you “could blow up the whole world” (p.73) with enough soap. This illegal body horror of stolen fat is how he reclaims a traditionally feminine hobby, implying - to me at least - that all masculinity must include misery and danger. Soap being made from humans is incredibly interesting. To create it you had to cut away pieces of a person. Stripping someone back to skin and bone.


Strip club?

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Toxic masculinity often forces men to strip stereotypically feminine emotions away, like compassion. Having pieces of themselves cut away for a more socially acceptable man, they can become repressed, manifesting in violence. As Tyler states, “you can cry… but every tear that lands in the lye flakes on your skin will burn a cigarette burn scar” (p.76). He says showing emotion will only cause pain, so it’s better to repress it. Tyler himself is repression turned violent, an out-of-control hallucination that feeds on anger the main character has never been taught to express healthily. Much like how soap has the potential to create bombs.


This potential threat is often ignored or unknown. Soap sitting in a suburban house is never treated as easy access explosive. Toxic masculinity and the cycle of male shame, just for having emotions and not fitting an impossible standard, are also treated as everyday language. Tyler is ashamed he’s part of, "a generation of men raised by women" (p.50) and manipulates the other men into thinking they should be too. Talk about biting the hand that washes you!


The anti-woman agenda Tyler represents, brainwashes young boys into removing all signs of societies dubbed, ‘femininity’, till the boy is nothing but a caricature of grotesque ‘manhood’.


“I’m just like him....” (Clyde N. Rotten Tomatoes).

Which one? Nevermind, I don’t want to know!


Punch drunk incel culture

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While soap is harmless, toxic masculinity breeds violence, anger and causes suicide to be the biggest killer of young men in the UK (Schumacher, 2019). Just as we wonder where all their anger comes from, we’re completely unaware high-end soap contains fat. The same soap that funds Project Mayhem, Tyler’s army, was made from cutting away pieces of young boys. Without emotionally mature role models, these boys grow into Incel culture, a terrorist organization masquerading as a household normality. Tyler Durden is just an Elliot Rodger in disguise - the Incel ‘hero’ who murdered six people out of deep misogyny, praised online by commenters claiming, “he could be our next new saint”, according to a 2018 BBC article. Boys who see Tyler Durden as a role model, are misunderstanding Fight Club’s point completely and being further lost down misogynistic radicalization. He’s not God, he just likes getting punched.


Fight Club uses soap, a traditionally feminine product, which is kind of gross if you think about the hygienic effects of that, to show the hyper-masculinity men are bullied into performing. Chuck Palahniuk’s fascinating black comedy of using human fat, separate from the person it came from, highlights how male privilege often allows men to do things without any questioning. Bates believes that the emotional stunting from childhood and crushing gender stereotypes “are damaging to men as individuals, as well as to the society in which they live” (2020, pp.2-3). I believe the way the main character has forced himself to split apart under the pressure of being masculine and how that alter-ego refuses to acknowledge his actions, is a perfect example of how toxic masculinity fails everyone who meets it.


Fight club’s final statement is simply to wash your hands clean of it.


References

Bates, L. (2020). Men who hate women: from incels to pickup artists. Simon & Schuster.

Elliot Rodger: how misogynist killer became ‘incel hero’. (2018, April 26). BBC News.

Fight Club reviews. Rotten Tomatoes.

Holmes, I. (2021, March 3). Interpreting Fight Club: masculinity and homoeroticism. Nouse.

Schumacher, H. (2019, March 18). Why more men than women die by suicide. BBC Future.





Written by Charlie Robinson

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