Friday, October 31, 2014

"FIGHT CLUB" -- Are You Scared?

Brad Pitt in "Fight Club"

In Portland in the Nineties one often ran across Tom Spanbauer’s publicity about his writing classes that pushed people towards “dangerous” writing, meaning risking disclosure of one’s own secret life as well as taking on the big scary stuff like death, evil, drugs, sex.  Maybe even religion, but I was still doing pulpit supply and dealt with that scary stuff on most Sundays.  Then Chuck Palahniuk sort of accidentally half-followed me to Montana, or at least Missoula, which is “only a few miles away from Montana.”  

Intellectuals love to believe that they are getting to the dark roots of life and such stuff sells pretty well, so the Montana Festival of the Book (now ended) was happy to put Palahniuk on panels.  He is self-described as a “transgressive” writer, and the undergrad intellectuals love that, though their idea of transgression is ordering beer at working class bars down by the railroad tracks.  No need to actually pick a fight.

Palahniuk as Hugh Hefner with two bunnies

Of course, the most recent version of “transgression” at a Palahniuk reading was wearing pajamas and waving glow sticks.  The Valier high school crowd does that stuff.  The tag for his most recent book is “Beautiful You”.  “From the author of Fight Club, the classic portrait of the damaged contemporary male psyche, now comes this novel about the apocalyptic marketing possibilities of female pleasure.”  Too late.  Been done.  Take a number.  

Mickey Rourke was early to the game.

Yesterday Netflix finally sent “Fight Club,” the movie.  I haven’t read the book.  The movie was not at all what I expected.  It’s a lot more like “Eraserhead” than a Mickey Rourke rough-stuff flick.  Very “carnal” in several senses, including the medical illustration trip through brain cells that is behind the titles, and the hints about holocaust in the making of soap from human fat.  There’s no follow-through on that or the relationship to fascistic domination, like medical experiments and militaristic conformity.  The whole thing is confused by the Nietzsche philosophy that one brisk female reviewer nailed as “sophomoric.”  Billed as being about the doubts of “thirty-something”, it’s more like fourteen-year-old anxiety about performance -- but maybe thirty is the new fourteen.  

If you are interested, online there’s lots of philosophical stuff about the strategy of the presentation, technical material about lighting, sets, makeup, and so on.  They give Oscars for this stuff, so maybe it’s now more interesting than the actual acting.  Given that the Great Satan is defined as advertising (poor Nikia furniture!) and that the highest level of cinematography has developed in terms of commercials, consider the irony.  As a promotion for Brad Pitt, the movie is a great success and a cult kernel.  I’m happy for him.  But the reviewers all note that the advertising for the movie was faulty.  Luckily, DVD’s make a great backup.  It all makes more sense with a beer and a couch.

Extreme fighting includes "grappling."

Fight clubs, extreme fighting, and uncontrolled raw violence expended on kids and women are everywhere around here and -- I suspect -- all over the planet.  It’s confused with sex, territory, success, and all the arts.  One-on-one smashing the other guy has a peripheral relationship to hardcore S/M.  I’m not entitled or equipped to say more, but there’s a lot of the pop “gothic” floating around the periphery of both.

Something not addressed is the distinction that Solms claims is apparent on fMRI and similar studies, which is that there are two neural pathways for rage which energize two distinct neuronal networks in the brain, simplistically described as “hot” and “cold.”  Hot aggression might be, in legal terms,”justified” as retaliating for something like violation and danger to loved ones or places, even to the level of mortal violence.  Cold aggression is simply dominance, usually identified as male.  Ironically, cold aggression can prevent violence by discouraging challenges and imposing order.  Consult Africa.  After the early atrocities, it might not be necessary to do more, unless they’re entertaining.

My evening movie stream has been “The Black List,” which is about a cold aggressor with one hot-spot, his beautiful and compassionate daughter who works for the FBI and looks like the young Monica Lewinsky.  The assumption is that if you kill off the “most-wanted” of the world, it’s a good thing to do and will improve society.  

Three times now I’ve worked for school superintendents who shared that philosophy.  Usually I end up on their black list.  One even had a list of ten students he wanted to somehow eliminate.  It never occurred to any of these men that their anxious need to be in control was triggering resistance from anyone with any spirit.   The guy with the list of bad students actually convinced the cops to come up to school, handcuff and arrest the defiant 7th grader at the top of his list.  Did this make the hatred and sabotage go away?  It just came out in the open and spread through the whole community.  That’s about where the whole world is now.

James Slater on "The Blacklist" as cold aggression

What if the “Fight Club” men expending themselves by pounding each other had turned their muscle to rebuilding that decrepit mansion?  At least some parts of the planet still offer hard work to their men.  Daily ordeals that impose as much bruising, blistering and bone breaking action, but with something to show for it.  I notice that there’s a correlation between men who beat up on infants and their lack of work, which is why they’re reduced to babysitting without being honored for it.  Too many men (specifically) do not have the kind of jobs that use up aggression in sawing wood, pouring concrete, digging ditches.  Not having work produces “young men leaning against the wall” until they get a gun in their hands and propel their frustration into interrupting other lives.

Sports take up some of the slack, but those same misguided school superintendents are anxious about not winning because their job and status in the town is dependent on the success of the team.  So they allow corruption: drugs, abuse of girls, beer-blasts, after-game fights, gambling as long as it's covert and not connected to them.  The secret fight games are eventually the source of "Mayhem".  

The military would seem to be another outlet for aggression, but -- like sports -- they don’t exactly teach useful skills.  Even the keyboard jockeys may find they don’t know programs that would be useful for business.  Locating predator drone targets is not usually a civilian skill, no matter what the recruiter might have said.
Buckin' bales.

In Valier there are still “muscle” jobs that require effort and exertion, self-starting and persistence.  Even a grocery store means a lot of hoisting heavy boxes around and staying alert.  But even mowing lawns and bucking bales have gone to being high-investment big machine jobs, which means they’re taken over by grown men.  Odd jobs around town go begging because the paper requirements in terms of insurance, regulation, and permits are too much for any of the quiet guys who used to putter over repairs and improvements.  I delivered papers for a month, which in this town is a driving job -- you can’t walk it because everything is spaced out in big yards.  Pretty soon it was obvious that the start-stop was eating my old pickup.  It has never been more true that one has to have money to make money.
These days even the monsters are mostly machinery.

We have a lot to figure out.  But now the action is in video games where you're the fighter but your biggest danger is spraining your thumb.  At least it doesn't explode your Nikia furniture.  But maybe you should schedule a little running to work off the "hot."

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