Women in Absentia - the Hathor Legacy

I am Jack’s Vagina, Part 2: Marla Singer of Fight Club

By BetaCandy | 04-15-2005 at 10:04 pm

Continued from I am Jack’s Vagina: Marla Singer of Fight Club. WARNING: This will probably make no sense unless you read Part 1 first, and it will contain “spoilers” for the movie. Go ahead and read it anyway: you know you want to.

Previously on The Hathor Legacy:

I was yammering on about how the whole movie is (as the author asserts) “about a man reaching the point where he can commit to a woman.” I said that Jack’s problem is not a repressed drive for violence, but the repressed twin urges to find a purpose in life, and care about something or someone. Fight Club ostensibly solves the first problem (purpose), but fails miserably on the second (caring). Without caring, purpose is empty, so Jack has solved nothing.

This is where Marla comes in.

One of the points Fight Club makes is that a society is only as strong as its individuals. To stay strong, focused and happy, individuals need a purpose and passion in life. Fight Club suggests that we’ve lost both purpose and passion, and society is trying to give us possessions, commercialism and busywork in their place. But the balance between strong individuals and strong society has been lost.

Marla Singer has been so disconnected for so long, she doesn’t care about anything, including her own life. While Jack thinks Fight Club has given him a new lease on life - awoken him from his sleepwalking state - Marla knows he’s still not connecting with the most subversive force in human experience: caring. And so she remains unimpressed.

By the end of the movie, he gets it, too. He realizes Project Mayhem will weaken society, but it won’t strengthen individuals. Then he realizes he cares about Marla, and takes steps to isolate her from the results of Project Mayhem - sending her away to safety in a display of false nobility and self-sacrifice. But in the end, she’s brought right back to him by his own goons, and he’s forced to rise to the occasion. Forced to make the commitment.

Like most of us are to some degree, Jack was disenfranchised, unfulfilled, and isolated. We’re a “single-serving” society - every person an island, with no sense that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. Despite all its hypocritical idealization of love, civilization sure spends a lot of time dictating when and how it’s acceptable to love. Commitment is paid lip service, but is it really encouraged?

We see it as something that weakens us. It’s one thing to chase your dreams and take risks when you have no one to answer to. Once you commit to someone, your life is no longer yours alone. Jack’s journey follows the single-serving lifestyle to its ultimate logical conclusion, and teaches him that the things he may lose in caring about someone pale next to what he may lose by not caring about anyone.

Marla doesn’t represent love, the feminine side, the damsel in distress, the hero’s prize or any of the usual drivel. She represents caring about someone more than you care about your duty, your honor, yourself - and this is the real subversive message of Fight Club. It’s telling men that all the deeds by which they measure themselves will come up short unless they learn to love.

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I am Jack’s Vagina: Marla Singer of Fight Club

By BetaCandy | 04-14-2005 at 10:04 pm

I wrote a while back that the film Fight Club said quite a lot about gender, despite having only one female character. Today I’m going to write about that female character: Marla Singer.

First, I need to note that in researching some critical takes on this movie, I discovered to my shock that it’s regarded by some people as a misogynistic story. Of course, some also regard it as glorifying violence. I can only say that such perspectives indicate to me a shallow interpretation of the movie, based on a first impression without analysis. It’s also possible that some people sense the deeper message - a direct challenge to the assertion that the progress of civilization is going well - and they don’t want to hear that.

BE FOREWARNED: I’m going to reference what happens at the end of the movie, so if you don’t want to know, you may want to skip this article.

A brief synopsis: the nameless lead male (played by Edward Norton), nicknamed “Jack” for convenience, meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and discovers a whole lot about himself. In fact, he eventually discovers Tyler is his own alternate (or split) personality, but by then it’s just a little too late for Jack to stop the war on society that “Tyler” has started.

The film’s only woman, Marla Singer (Helena Bonham-Carter), weaves in and out of the story, interacting with Jack and Tyler. She seems to be just a catalyst for Jack at first, when she starts coming to all the same support groups he frequents. This makes him self-conscious and unable to let go and cry at the meetings, which was his only outlet for feeling any sort of emotion. When Marla’s presence denies Jack the ability to cry, Tyler steps forward to pull all the rugs out from under Jack. This propels them to start Fight Club, which gives Jack a different form of release than the self-help groups provided. A much-needed form of release.

Then Marla becomes Tyler’s lover, and that propels Tyler to start Project Mayhem without Jack - the above-mentioned war on society that takes things a step further than Jack wanted to go with Fight Club. It would be easy to view her as nothing but a plot device.

But she’s a lot more than that.

In the very first scene of the movie, “Tyler” has a gun in Jack’s mouth and Jack - aware now that Tyler is actually him - has to conquer Tyler once and for all. From there, the rest of the story is told in flashback, and introduced by one very telling line of dialog:

Jack: Somehow, I realize all of this — the gun, the bombs, the revolution — is really about Marla Singer.

It’s a subtle point, easily missed by the casual viewer, but absolutely essential to any serious understanding of the film. Once I caught the line and its significance, I wondered, how was it all about her? I had some ideas of my own - including a wild theory that she was yet a third Jack personality - but I went to the source. Chuck Palahniuk, the author of the original book, said,

And the whole story is about a man reaching the point where he can commit to a woman.

So much for slapping a misogyny label on this film.

What exactly does Jack do in his attempt to reach that commitment point? He recognizes an imbalance in himself. He tries to correct it the civilized way: support groups. The problem is, what’s ailing Jack is civilization itself, and its repression of two very basic and interrelated human drives: the need for a purpose in life, and the urge to care deeply and passionately about someone or something. Including yourself.

And so Jack forms Fight Club: a support group for people suffering from civilization.

But how does this bring him closer to committing to a woman? Let’s consider what we know of Jack’s lovely civilized life prior to meeting Marla or Tyler. Here’s how he describes his job at a major auto manufacturer:

The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now: do we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, (A), and multiply it by the probable rate of failure, (B), then multiply the result by the average out-of-court settlement, (C). A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don’t do one.

And more lives are lost, with the company’s full awareness. Jack’s a button down murderer in a cubicle, and he’s never thrown a punch.

How many of us are the same? We have high moral standards when it comes to getting our hands dirty, but willingly work for insurance companies that deny people life-saving treatments, or manufacturers who pay slavers to make the goods. We rationalize our roles in these things and keep right on going.

Jack has taken the first step in growing beyond that: he’s stopped rationalizing, and the blood he’s now getting on his hands is literal, physical and in his face. He’s confronting his demon. He’s no longer comfortably disconnected from reality. Well, not completely.

Tyler is a construct Jack unconsciously creates to sever all his ties with his pseudo-purposes in life: the job, the quest for possessions, etc. But he spends most of the rest of the movie thinking Fight Club is his purpose, and he’s mistaken there.

Tyler’s next step is Project Mayhem, a calculated war on civilization. Every act Project Mayhem commits is carefully planned to avoid hurting anyone, but when you’re blowing up buildings and so on, accidents are inevitable. When a friend is killed, Jack begins to realize he hasn’t found his solution after all. Soon thereafter, he realizes he is Tyler, and everything Tyler did, he did.

The problem wasn’t that Fight Club was a wrong step on a slippery slope to Project Mayhem. The problem is that Fight Club was just step one, and when Jack didn’t follow it up properly, Tyler took over and took a second step - but not the one Jack needed to take. The step Jack needed to take had something to do with Marla Singer.

Continued here.

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Fight Club: A generation of men raised by women

By BetaCandy | 04-10-2005 at 10:04 pm

Fight Club may seem an odd choice: it’s got one female character, and it’s all about a man’s search for identity in the form of manhood in a world of men. But one line of dialog says it all:

A generation of men raised by women. I’m wondering if another woman is the answer we really need.

This is the finish to a conversation about the rather underwhelming guidance the two main male characters had gotten from their fathers: go to college, get a job, “I don’t know - get married”. In other words, follow the formula.

But the point of the whole movie is that the system is breaking down. What once guaranteed a life of rewarding employment, a gold watch at retirement, and hopefully a reasonably nice family life just doesn’t cut it. Employers would rather deal with morons than pay for talent. They punish loyalty because they’re too busy looking at the steady raises and earned retirement benefits they’ll have to pay. And even if you make enough to keep a wife and kids in nice style, your family will want more. In fact, they want the same elusive thing you want: identity.

Fight Club is the story of a nameless man (nicknamed “Jack” by fans for convenience) whose system is literally breaking down. He’s got a job, he’s got a condo and the complete Ikea package to furnish it, he’s finally got his whole life together, according to the system laid out by prior generations. And yet he can’t sleep, and it’s starting to interfere with his life. When he goes to the doctor, the doctor doesn’t want to give him drugs - no, no, he recommends chewing Valerian root: a cunning woman’s cure, a witch’s cure. The doctor’s solution is a feminine one which doesn’t even begin to address Jack’s real, underlying problem: that he has a second personality which is getting well out of hand.

Misplaced feminine energy is as much a part of the problem as displaced feminine energy. And the men in Fight Club have all experienced an odd feminization process, due to a society which has tried to diminish feminine energy, only to have it bubble up and fill the vacuum, ready to explode: the equal but opposite reaction to be expected in any system of balance. Jack’s boss is heavily into the color “cornflower blue”: a soft, desaturated shade of blue (the color for infant boys), the name of which combines the ideas of “corny” and “flowery”. Jack’s own fascination with setting up house properly represents sensibilities to his surroundings that are popularly considered something only women concern themselves with. Notably, his alter ego’s first serious intrusion into his nicely mapped out little life is to blow up Jack’s condo.

And it’s Jack’s fascination with a self-help group for men who have literally lost their balls to cancer that gives Tyler (the alter ego) a starting point for creating Jack’s identity. Tyler and Jack start their own self-help group: Fight Club. Where men go to beat the living crap out of each other and find out what they’re made of. Neither had ever actually been in a fight before.

(I’d like to note here that I don’t believe in hard and fast definitions of “feminine” and “masculine” as a rule, but our society does, and it is these values that the movie is playing with to make a point.)

As the Fight Club gains members and progresses, Jack and Tyler find themselves looking at Calvin Klein ads and asking snidely, “Is that what a man looks like?” They no longer need to be told: they have become men of their own making - not of their fathers’ making, or society’s making. Fight Club answers the question “If men run the world, why can’t they stop wearing neckties?” It’s because those neckties running the world aren’t really men: they’re just power mongers. And there is nothing positive, impressive or masculine about someone who only feels empowered by standing on the shoulders of others.

I relate to this completely, despite the Orwellian lack of corresponding feminine terminology: being a real man means being self-reliant. Doing what you believe you should, not what you’re told. Cooperating because you see the benefit, not because you’ve been trained like a monkey. And fighting when necessary, not to prove a point.

There is no way in the English language to express these things for women. Grow up and be a woman! That’s what separates the women from the girls. She’s really got a pair on her! Girls are presented with no goals for adulthood. No matter what a great woman they become, it’s hardly worth the trouble because only the achievement of manhood is respected in our language - and therefore, in our thinking.

So I vote we steal the terminology, or at least the concepts from the men. Fight Club’s message about becoming a real adult instead of the adult you were programmed to become speaks just as well to women as to men. Fight Club portrays a society that is completely breaking down, and taking individuals of both genders with it. It’s going to take both genders to turn it around.

Tyler Durden issues a rallying battle cry to the men of Generation X, the smallest generation of the 20th century, the tiniest target audience in a society driven by demographics. But consider how much it sounds exactly like the complaints women have been making for decades:
I see in Fight Club the strongest and smartest men who have ever lived. I see all this potential; and I see it squandered. God dammit, an entire generation pumping gas and 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. We are 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. We’ve all been raised by television to believe that we’d be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars - but we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed-off.

Our society hasn’t just broken its promises to women; it’s broken trust with all of us. And the people at the top are neither men nor women; they are genderless piles of insecurity in the form of human flesh. They are as afraid of real men as they are of real women, and tricking us into thinking we’re pitted against each other has been their greatest weapon all along. Our language doesn’t bother giving us a way to talk about the importance of growing up to become a real woman, because it’s not considered a laudable goal. It’s up to all of us - women and men - to change that. It’s in our best interests to put individualism ahead of “manhood” because “manhood” has always been defined by the folks who are in power. You think the folks in power are going to train you on becoming powerful enough to challenge them? Think again, boys.

And I’ll take one part of Tyler’s speech and raise it by a point: advertising does a lot worse than keep us chasing crap we don’t need so that we’re too busy to actually achieve anything that might overturn the powermongers at the top of the food chain. It has been pandering to the weakest instincts in young men and boys for a couple of generations now. 18-25 year old white boys don’t want to see strong women? Solution: don’t put a strong woman in your movie! For heaven’s sake, don’t show them that a woman can be strong and feminine. Or that a woman can be rather manly and still extremely sexy and attractive to manly men. Or that a woman can be a failure, and the failure have nothing to do with her gender.

No, don’t show them these things, because then they might become strong and secure. And they might in turn encourage women to be strong by not running from strong, smart or secure women in terror. And then the power mongers at the top might suddenly find themselves in their proper place on the evolutionary ladder.

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