April 27, 2011 § Leave a comment
This is an essay written in response to this Trainspotting poster, which is above a urinal in a bar in Santa Barbara, CA. In the English class we focused on materialism with the reading and analysis of Fight Club.
Materialism: Welcome to the Dark Side of the American Dream
“Like everyone else, I had become a slave to the IKEA nesting instinct. If I saw something clever like the coffee table in the shape of a yin and yang, I had to have it. I would flip through catalogs and wonder, ‘What kind of dining set defines me as a person?’ I had it all. Even the glass dishes with tiny bubbles and imperfections, proof they were crafted by the honest, simple, hard-working indigenous peoples of wherever.” (Chuck Palahniuk) Materialism is defined as the idea that value lies mainly in the material world, rather than spiritual or intellectual concepts (allaboutphilosophy.org). Fight Club, written by Chuck Palahniuk, shows a strong focus on the idea of materialistic values and their toil on the evolution of humanity and the American Dream. As many Americans buy more things in order to be happy, many of them have coincidentally become unhappy with their lives. Much of this can be seen today with divorce rates, obesity, bankruptcy, and the rise in depression and anxiety.
Studies have shown that many Americans rely on material items to boost their self-esteem. Unfortunately, this also means that if something suddenly happens to either their money or stuff, they will lose what self-esteem they had gained from it, and more. “You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you’re satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you’ve got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.” (Chuck Palahniuk, Page 44) Americans also are dependent upon possessions for entertainment. For some reason, many aren’t able to keep entertained without something that they have spent a significant amount of money on. In Europe, many teenagers go to plays and shows, and participate with the audience for fun. However, if any American teens were forced to go to a play, they would sit there being grumpy and embarrassed to be seen in such a place.
The majority of what Americans do with their lives is based on advertisement and media. There are commercials on TV, advertisements on cars and buses, billboards along roads, and pop-ups on websites. “Advertisement has us chasing cars and clothes, getting jobs we don’t want to buy shit we don’t need.” (Chuck Palahniuk) The American Dream has become something that everyone is striving for, but few actually happily reach. In order to supposedly be happy in America, you need a variety of things to be satisfied with your life (which will ironically make you unhappy with your life). Many Americans want a big screen TV, a sports car, a big house, designer clothes, and more. Eventually everything adds up and there is mental and physical clutter. Why do you buy these things? You come home from work, and what’s on TV? Your favorite show is on and with it comes advertisements. You don’t buy things you need as a human being to survive. You buy junk that some multi-million dollar company has put in front of your face. Life is like a multiple choice quiz with all the answers laid out before you. Don’t even try to think of yourself. Many people live this way and don’t think of taking a step out of their comfort zone to pursue something that they want. For the most part, they will continue to live their life based on what someone tells them to do or by what is seen in the media.
Throughout Fight Club, we see a man (our narrator) transitioning from his picture perfect life, through his descent toward hitting rock-bottom. In his life, he had everything – a cozy apartment and all the furniture that he felt defined who he was. Shortly after the reader becomes acquainted with our narrator, he shows that he at least acknowledged the fact that the IKEA addiction was a problem. “And I wasn’t the only slave to my nesting instinct. The people I know who used to sit in the bathroom with pornography, now they sit in the bathroom with their IKEA furniture catalogue.” (Palahniuk, Chapter 5) Just as pornography can be a problem for individuals, couples or families, the addiction to material possessions has become a problem. However, many people would not be able to admit that it is a problem, or even acknowledge it as an existing observation. As the narrator begins to step away from his material possessions, he creates an alter-ego that can save him from himself. This is Tyler Durden. Tyler has no material possessions and despises everything and everyone associated with consumerism. Having Tyler as an alter-ego cushions the initial impact of the narrator losing what was once his life. With an alter ego (whom he believes to be a completely different person) he is able to believe that he lost everything as it was taken away from him. Without this cushion, he would have to face the fact that he willingly walked away from everything that he has known. It is apparent that he was not ready for this and needed a crutch to gradually lead and support him on his path to where he subconsciously wanted to be.
The more time the narrator spends with Tyler, the closer he comes to “hitting rock-bottom.” The emphasis placed on hitting rock-bottom shows how far one really has to get before they have escaped from consumerism, materialism and societal pressures associated with those. It also shows that being different and stepping back from the norm is looked down by society. Even if you were to peacefully backdown from what society expects of you, you would be looked at differently. Generally, the phrase “hitting rock-bottom” is a negative term. However, this is the positive destination. This emphasizes how “stuck” people are within their comfortable lives, so that they have a difficult time understanding a life like this (or simply choose not to).
Before having Tyler in his life, our narrator was living his life in a cloud. He just lived life in a fog, not thinking about anything apart from himself and his little world. He woke up, went to work, came home, made dinner, watched TV, possibly looked at his IKEA catalog, and went to sleep. Repeat. Having a routine makes it challenging to change one’s life and be spontaneous. Life becomes robotic. When the obsession with money and material possessions control your life, you lose sense of everything around you. People who are negatively affected by their addiction tend to block out the negative parts of their life. This causes them to keep on going with their life at an average pace, avoiding the negative things that happen to them. By becoming numb to them, they no longer look for the good or great things that life offers because they are too focused on staying in a mediocre zone. “This is your burning hand, right here! This is the greatest moment of your life and you’re off missing it… What you are experiencing is premature enlightenment…” (Chuck Palahniuk) With this quote, it us understood that the narrator is blocking out the pain and ignoring the positive energy that comes with that pain. Tyler mentions a premature enlightenment. As soon as the narrator is able to accept and acknowledge his pain, he will be one step closer to ridding himself of his materialistic values.
“We all started seeing things differently, everywhere we went, we were sizing things up…” ( Chuck Palahniuk)This quote is very important, as it symbolizes the narrator’s waking up from his previously inane existence. Now that the narrator and other Fight Club members have “woken up,” they can observe the simple pleasures of life, as well as look down upon the people they once were. Instead of being numb they can look at the world through open eyes and become aware of everything that they dislike or like. They are no longer disconnected from reality. Now, they can formulate opinions about everything instead of solely relying on the opinions of others to live their lives.
“We have no great war, we have no great depression… our war is a spiritual war, our depression is our lives…”(Chuck Palahniuk)This quote of Tyler’s is emphasizing the impact of materialism on the individual. Without so much ‘stuff’ there is spirit in a person. As many people settle into their lives after college, they might lose their spirit. Becoming part of the American working class can cost someone their individuality, eventually becoming a mere statistic among all the other people living the same life as them. There is no celebration in being a mere number, so there is no spirit left in the person. People lose themselves and become what everyone else wants them to become. In order to reconnect, they have to go back to where they were. Going backwards is always harder, so why put in the effort? There is also the consideration that people don’t realize that their life doesn’t have to be a great depression. Once they get stuck, they may think that this is how it is supposed to be and Hollywood must have just glamourized life on TV. Thus, they assume that there is no way to fix it and therefore no reason to try.
The narrator eventually loses everything in life and hits rock-bottom. At rock-bottom, he is free to do anything. “It’s only when you’ve lost everything are you truly free to do anything.” (Chuck Palahniuk) When you have nothing left to hold on to, then you have nothing holding you back from enjoying and living your life. For instance, if you want to disappear into the Himalayas for the rest of your life, it may be hard when you have a family, a job, a house and a bunch of junk keeping you where you are. If you lose contact with your family, quit your job, sell your house and junk, then what is there to hold you back? Nothing; you’re free. Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Our narrator and Tyler show the big steps that it takes to reach that point, and nothing will ever turn out perfect. At the end of the story, Tyler plans to blow up the credit card buildings in order to erase everyone’s debt. In this case, debt could symbolize karma. By ridding everyone of the debt, they are free from the worry of money weighing them down. Of course, this is only temporary, as everything would soon go back to how it was before. However, if karma was cleared, people would most likely feel like a new human being, as if they had been cleansed of everything they had weighing them down. In a perfect world if this happened, then perhaps things wouldn’t go back to how they were before. People would realize that they didn’t need such silly material possessions and would have forgotten about the advertisements and media. Ideally, they would begin to live their life without the societal pressures they have felt their entire lives. Unfortunately, there is no way to clear karma, so individuals like the narrator will continue to surface every so often and share their stories. If they can succeed in ridding themselves of the need for material possessions, it is one more enlightened human being, but it will take a long time for the entire world to feel their impact.