FIGHT CLUB ADVERTISING
A Blessay by Michael Stahl
One man is to blame for the wave of male product advertisements that have drowned consumers with depictions of overt, obnoxious levels of manliness and his name is Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club. The postmodern novel and subsequent film has been perceived as a call for men to get back in touch with their hibernating primitive masculine superegos to create a backlash against the ascension of the American woman and consumer culture. Spawning actual fight clubs and websites, the character of Tyler Durden has been the arch symbol of this cause. Formidably portrayed in the film by Brad Pitt, Durden seems to aesthetically represent everything a “real man” wants to be: strong, brave, sexy, bold, and tougher than any superstar rugby player. However, there is one big problem with propping him up as the white American working-class man’s Che Guevara and that is the observation that the narrator’s aim over the course of the last quarter of the novel is to figure out a way to rid himself and the world of Tyler Durden. Thus, Palahniuk’s work reads more like a satire than an outlined ideology. The fact that men are choosing to rekindle what they think is masculinity by skulking into dimly lit basements late at night to beat the piss out of each other is more ridiculous and comical than revolutionary and ingenious. This behavior is indicative of the fact that men are failing to successfully accept the rise of women because of a fear of dropping from the perch they have been on since the beginning of time. The fight club participants are overreacting to the new reality that they perhaps have to be more sensitive and open-minded than ever before, yet still somehow remain “men.” Palahniuk is poking fun at this need for Macbethian masculinity, which has also been twisted of late into real world advertising.
The idea of selling products by tapping into a man’s (apparent) innate desire to have their masculinity on display for the world to encounter is nothing new, but has been taken to farcical heights since Fight Club gained prominence and there is likely no better example of this than the recent Old Spice advertising campaign. Featuring a deeply voiced, Body-by-Adonis character who convinces women that, should their companion simply smell more like a man, adventurous harmony in their lives will follow, the ads are clearly supposed to be sarcastic, wry, and humorous. So, they lift and exaggerate Palahniuk’s tone, but Fight Club‘s true theme about individuality is being turned upside down because the Man Your Man Could Smell Like, and the company he represents, seeks conformity, which will translate into a fatter bottom line.