The Effects of Modernity on Identity in Fight Club Identity is a definition of the self, an explanation of character. However, in the movie Fight Club, the components that comprise outward identity often prove to be transitory. Edward Norton's "Jack" character asks, "If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?" The effects of modernity lead to the impermanence of self image, and the decay of identity. Rather than having a true identity, "Jack" is called a "byproduct of a lifestyle obsession".
He bases personal worth upon what he owns. It is this materialistic consumerism that steals individuality. How can a concrete identity be established when its value assessment is based upon chain store furniture? The first step made towards recognition is when his possessions are blown up. The push for materialistic progress is a principal example of the concept of modernity in the film. The viewer is led to believe that the destruction is an accident.
In the bar scene, Tyler Durden says, "The things you own end up owning you". His statement is a generalization of the life "Jack" leads. Since "Jack" has no identity outside of his furniture and wardrobe; everything he knows about himself is dependent upon his possessions. When Tyler later asks Jack to hit him as hard as he can, he justifies his request by asking, "How much could you know about yourself if you " ve never been in a fight?" Within this question, Tyler proposes another key idea of the film, that of Dealing with Conflict.
The strength of a person's identity or self is heavily dependent upon how well he or she deals with conflict. Since neither had been in a fight before, each stood to gain a great deal of knowledge of his identity. The term "fight" does not necessarily refer only to fisticuffs. The concept of the "fight" is more accurately represented by any kind of conflict. The club and Tyler are created to fulfill Jack's inner need to substantiate his masculinity, to rebel against consumer culture, to further a class conflict, to feel real pain, and to cope with anonymity. Tyler complains that they are part of a generation of men raised by women.
They seem to be wrapped up in matters such as interior design and fashion rather than the primal hunter / gatherer basis of masculinity. The club accomplishes Jack's need to break away from such a helpless kind of feminine state. The loss of masculinity is also physically manifest in the castrated men of the testicular cancer support group. In a way Jack belonged there as much as the rest of them, because he too had been emasculated much to the same degree as many of the men who had been physically separated from their manhood. By engaging in the primal violence of the fight club, the men could get a piece of that back. They wore their battle scars with pride, and it gave them a new sense of empowerment, and a new, more forward and domineering attitude.
The club and Project Mayhem were also forums for rebellion against consumer culture. The group targeted corporations and retailers who were selling a lifestyle that they were trying to destroy. The fact that these establishments were selling lifestyles at all was the inherent problem. It all reverts back to the line that Tyler says regarding the things you own owning you.
Identity through ownership and material possessions is not identity at all. These acts of vandalism were also a rejection of the class culture that the characters of the film lived in. The main purpose for demolishing the credit card firms was to ensure that the debt records would be erased, and everyone would be at the same place, zero. Their act would eliminate the class structure because everyone would be starting over, no matter how well off the people may have been. The club also functioned to reinforce identity and give the men the feeling of being alive by its ability to make the fighters feel "real" pain. Since many of the men had been desensitized by the class conflicts or consumer culture, or sheltered existence that they had known all their lives, they had a need to feel real physical pain.
The fight club offered the release of pure, unadulterated pain, without emotional repercussion. Most of the men had almost been rendered non-existent in the busy world, but they embraced their anonymity and used names less and less, until their anonymity afforded them the ability to go out and commit random vandalistic or violent acts without feeling individually responsible. They took on a mob mentality, and used their new sense of identity as a part of the whole to cope with this anonymity and feel more like men. The effects of modernity, such as these class conflicts, and consumer cultures, all contributed to the lack of masculinity that fueled this group to prove their worth as men. It is true that modernity has serious debilitating effects, and it nearly sucked the life and identity from each of the men of fight club.
They became inspired to feel real pain, since many of them had not felt anything for a long time. Monotony overcame their lives and took over their feeling of individuality. They became part of a modern machine that they were all too comfortable with. The advent of fight club proved to be the spark that the men needed to rebel against modernity and ultimately overcome its debilitating effects.
By the end of the film, when it is confirmed to the audience that Tyler Durden is indeed Edward Norton's character (or at least his ideal side of it) it shows what kind of identity he has made for himself through the immense popularity of his fight club. It is learned that he has in fact created Tyler Durden to stand for everything he wishes he could be. The issue then shifts to that of identity recognition. If it was within Jack's capacity to create Tyler, to be Tyler the whole time, he always had this identity within him. He failed to recognize his immense potential. Another effect of modernity is one of wasted potential.
The debilitating pessimism inherent in modernity keeps individuals from carving out their own personal identities. Instead, people slip back into trends and tendencies that they have, never getting into a "fight" to learn something about themselves. Jack does not completely realize it, but he has engaged in the "fight" that is necessary for self-recognition. The struggle within him, between himself and his created alter-ego, is the "fight" that allows him to find something out about himself. By the end he realizes that he has had a tremendous rallying and leadership power, an influence that he never thought he could muster before. By the time he realizes that "the gun" was in his hands the whole time, he can safely eliminate the manifestation of Tyler from the picture, allowing his ideology to live and remain within him as a part of his newly recognized identity.
The role Marla plays in the identity equation is influential as well. Jack gets jealous of Tyler and Marla's relationship, even though it is actually his and Marla's relationship all along. At one point Tyler tells Jack that he cannot talk to Marla about him. Tyler does everything in his power to remain manifest. He does not want Jack realizing that he is indeed a part of his own identity. It seems that this product of a schizophrenic mind has a much more stable identity for itself than its creator does.
The key to realizing that they are one and the same is what finally allows Jack to intervene and put an end to Tyler's individual identity and assume it into his own. Jack's feelings of misrepresented identity reflect the debilitating effects of modernity surrounding his life. Monotony and repetition of soulless activity forced him to find himself through his possessions. In creating Tyler Durden, Jack makes it clear to everyone but himself that he is an individual capable of a great scale of things, even if they are destructive. By realizing that Tyler was a part of him the whole time, Jack can form his own identity by integrating Tyler's characteristics into his own. The pessimism of modernity has skewed self-reflexivity, but the "fight" can still teach an individual a great deal about his identity.