Sunday, August 16, 2009

Culture War: Atlas Drugged!

At first glance, 'Fight Club' is not an obviously conservative movie. After all, isn't the source novel the type of thing Sir Elton would read, if only it wasn't just too camp? And isn't there an underlying nihilism to the whole thing?

Well, yes and no: yes the original novel is kind of gay, but no, for once Hollywood can truthfully claim to be describing a lifestyle not advocating it. The characters in 'Fight Club' are disengaged from life, but the movie sees this as a bug not a feature, the natural outgrowth of a society that's lost its soul.

That's where the movie is genuinely bold. It's prepared to say that something has gone very wrong with modern society. So much of Hollywood's output - so much of liberalism - accepts that social progress is always forward, with the Fifties as the Worst Decade Evah!, the Seventies as better, but still awful, and right now as the peak of societal evolution - and anyone who objects clearly wants to lynch women, put blacks in the closet and chain gays to the kitchen sink.

Sure, 'Fight Club' takes shots at consumerism, big business and the like - not stuff conservatives ever go all misty-eyed about anyway - but it's a lot deeper than that. Consider Ed Norton's nameless protagonist. Here's a guy employed as a technical expert for a big car company. Fifty years ago he'd be a success, now he's a loser. Hence the attraction of Brad Pitt's Tyler Durdan, a John Galt figure who encourages Norton's salaryman to shake off the demands of a society that despises him.

Of course, it's all played for laughs, but at least it's asking the big questions: what loyalty does the beta male owe to a society that hates him? What does it mean to be a success today? How can traditional morality survive when the social contract has broken down? If nothing else, the film deserves credit for pointing out just how warped modern life is.

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