(This article contains spoilers for Fight Club, you idiot.)
In Fight Club, the unnamed protagonist played by Edward Norton tells us in no uncertain terms who's to blame for everything that went wrong: Marla. The cadaverous interloper (played by Helena Bonham Carter) first intruded on the Narrator's support-group tourism, squelched the emotional catharsis it gave him, then invaded his home by hooking up with Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Like an unwashed Yoko Ono, Marla has infiltrated a boys' club, sullying it with her very presence. Girls ruin everything!
To watch Fight Club now, 15 years after its release, is to be amused at how much the Narrator sounds like today's Men's Rights Activists and #GamerGate numbnuts. It's not that our hero hates women, you understand. Quit saying that! He just doesn't want them around in situations like the support groups, where he feels safe and comfortable and doesn't have to worry about impressing (or being scolded by) girls. And there are women at the support groups, but he's not sexually attracted to them, so they don't affect his enjoyment.
The only way [the narrator] can have sex with [marla]—the only way he can even stand talking to her—is to become his alter ego, Tyler Durden, who acts on all the impulses that the Narrator is too repressed to indulge.
It's not about women with the Narrator. He just doesn't want to be around this particular woman, who's filthy (physically unkempt as well as foul-mouthed) and represents sex, which the Narrator is grossed out by and afraid of. The only way he can have sex with her—the only way he can even stand talking to her—is to become his alter ego, Tyler Durden, who acts on all the impulses that the Narrator is too repressed to indulge.
And why is he so repressed? Because of women, duh. "We're a generation of men raised by women," he says on the topic of marriage. "I'm wondering if another woman is really the answer we need." Modern men have been emasculated, forced to become civilized when it's a man's nature to be wild. Women don't understand. It's a man thing.
You can see how the Narrator's philosophies, plus Tyler Durden's grandiose declarations of injustices committed against men by society, might resonate with young white guys. I was 25 then, and though I didn't exactly relate to the Narrator's sense of repression (I was repressed in other ways), the idea that men in general had been tamped down by society rang true. Not that I was upset about it. As a wuss, I benefit from the wussification of American men. But it was something I'd noticed, and that Fight Club spoke to.
What I didn't fully appreciate at 25 that I do at 40 is that Fight Club doesn't endorse Tyler Durden's nihilism, it mocks it. Tyler is an extremist, taking good ideals too far and losing the moral high ground. Peeing in soups and blowing up buildings isn't rebellion; it's idiotic and pointless. Tyler Durden's followers are too blinded by their perceived wrongs and grievances to see that. Society deserves all this chaos for what it's done to them.
THE INTERNET IS WHERE FIGHT CLUB IS NOW. THAT'S WHERE PEOPLE WITHOUT NAMES WREAK MAYHEM ON PERCEIVED ENEMIES OUT OF A FRUSTRATION THAT THEY'VE CONVINCED THEMSELVES IS HIGH-MINDED.
Fight Club points out that despite the prevalence of fisticuffs in movies and TV, most people in real life will do almost anything to avoid a physical fight. In the olden days, supposedly, men fought all of the time. "Let's take this outside and settle it like gentlemen" seems like something a man would have said, with "like gentlemen" meaning "by punching each other." But now we're tame. Society's expectations of men haven't changed much since 1999. But something we'd only just begun to do then, that we do now, is fight online. Constantly, and with vigor.
The Internet is where Fight Club is now. That's where people without names wreak mayhem on perceived enemies out of a frustration that they've convinced themselves is high-minded. Online is where young men gather to seethe over what has been denied to them. "We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars," Tyler says. "But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off."
The very essence of the notorious Internet cesspool 4chan can be summed up by the Narrator's reason for pummeling Jared Leto: "I felt like destroying something beautiful." Why do these creeps steal, publish, and gloat about nude photos of actresses? Because they can never have sex with those women and IT'S NOT FAIR. While pummeling Leto, the Narrator explains, "I felt like putting a bullet between the eyes of every panda that wouldn't screw to save its species. I wanted to open the dump valves on oil tankers and smother all the French beaches I'd never see." If I can't have it, no one should. Nothing even matters anyway. YOU'RE ALL JERKS!
Anger and frustration vented online can have real-world consequences, which will get worse as the Internet continues to become the real world. But on the whole, if men have to channel their rage somewhere, yelling at strangers online is probably better than Tyler Durden's route of physical violence and property destruction. That's what Fight Club didn't foresee: that we'd never reclaim our manhood by going out and starting fistfights if we could also do it lying on the couch with a laptop.
Eric Snider is a contributing writer. He tweets here.