Fight Club and the American Dream

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In the movie “Fight Club,” the film’s creators craft Tyler Durden, the film’s protagonist, as a conduit through which they offer a criticism of the American dream. This film, which traces the development of a man in his own quest toward self-discovery, offers a striking critique on the nature of the American dream, what it used to mean, and what the film’s creators have a problem with. In short, the film notes that the dream promised by the American dream has been perverted by an entire generation of people who have been led to believe that the dream is all about getting money while sacrificing any and all purpose.

The film has interesting dualism going with Tyler Durden, who himself lives what the film might call the right American dream while also making comments and outright critiques on how others tend to view the dream. Durden, of course, is the disassociated personality of the narrator, and in the work, there is a struggle for self-realization that is supposed to represent the true American dream. The American dream is about more than just money, as the film makes clear. Rather, it is about the willingness of people to figure out what drives them and to create something great. At one point, the film has Durden say, “You are not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world” (Fight Club). The real dream, to Durden is about self-sacrifice, which brings about a sense of self-satisfaction. He says at one point, “Without pain, without sacrifice, we would have nothing” (Fight Club). These quotes suggest an iteration of the American dream that is more about self-realization that wealth accumulation.

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In many respects, this film suggests that the American dream has been corrupted by a generation of people who believe that it is all about accumulating wealth. Durden says, “God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables – slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need” (Fight Club). The idea here is that people are making a trade because they believe that the end goal of life is to end up with the most stuff. The film is not neutral on this, either. It notes that this is not the right way to live and that this does not represent the right view of the American dream. Durden says at one point, “Man, I see in Fight Club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see it squandered” (Fight Club). He believes that the perversion of the American dream and the corruption of this fundamental concept is one of the things contributing to the problems in the world, which are painted as significant in this film.

It is important to note that this film offers something of a transient critique of the American dream. By that, it is meant that the film does not believe the dream has always been corrupted. Rather, the film makes clear that the dream was something that was one noble. Durden says of this, “We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives” (Fight Club). With some contextual reading, one can figure out here that Durden is celebrating the previous generation, which fought in World War I and survived the Great Depression. Those were people who understood that the American dream is about purpose and doing something with one’s life. Those people, it seems, understood that the right kind of life is one where a person accomplishes some goal that can be meaningful. Durden looks around him and sees nothing but people who are slaving away in order to get cash, but what is the end result of this sacrifice? To Durden, there is no real payoff, and he thinks that the people engaging in this kind of drudgery are actually costing themselves a legitimate shot at meaning and happiness. He sees the current generation as being very far from what the past generations were. He is, of course, doing everything in his power to work against that, starting fight club, which turned out to be a massive insurgency organization designed to bring down the corporate machine that has corrupted the American dream.

At the end of the day, this is a story about how the American dream, as it is iterated today, needs to be brought down. It is a critique on the perverted nature of the current dream, which has been corrupted by corporate interests and the people who tend to serve those interests. This film makes clear that the right kind of life is one where a person is willing to sacrifice in order to build something great. If that leads to money, then that is an excellent byproduct, but it should not be the focus of every person’s life. With Durden’s own example serving as the right way to live for the reader and the world around him serving as a reminder of the corrupted dream, this film provides a contrast that is both interesting and helpful in understanding how some perceive the American dream.

  • Fight Club. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Helena Bonham Carter, Edward Norton, and Brad Pitt. Twentieth Century Fox, 1999.

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