Consumerism and Individualism in "Fight Club" Movie and Bordo's Essay
Advertisements usually present social standards, ideals and values. Major personal themes employed include love, companionship, self-image, beauty, companionship, and happiness. This is usually executed in a positive, but somewhat unrealistic light in order to endorse a product. Generally, adverts usually capitalize on insecurities and aspirations in order to create a product allure. This is a comparative study of the article Beauty rediscovers the male body-Men on display and the movie “Fight Club”. The themes of gender, consumerism in advertising as well as individualism will be explored in the current paper.
Consumerism is manifested in the abnormally high rate of purchasing products where little or no consideration is made from their utility, durability, the potential environmental risks and disposal that come with the manufacture. Consumerism is widely attributed to the large resources allocated to advertising and rolling out new products. The advertising creates a sensation for prospective users who eventually harbor the desire to adhere to the set ‘trends’. With time, buyers establish a self-reward system that is fueled by acquisition of the latest products. In a consumerist society, wellbeing is dependent on the degree of material possession and personal consumption. A lot of time, resources and energy are devoted to consuming.
Advertisers also manipulate fantasies and capitalize on gender identities in the promotion of products. Gender emerges as a social construct across all societies. It presents socially constructed deviations between women and men. In addition, it embraces stereotypes and ideals of femininity and masculinity as well as the sexual division of labour.
Gendered advertisements usually invoke pleasurable experiences and due consideration is made on the different pleasure pursuits for both men and women. Advertisers construct gender images in accordance with the perceived expectations and fantasies of their target audience. Men and women are targeted in accordance with their attitudes and social beliefs towards self perceptions instilled by advertisers and societal expectations. Consequently, they adopt buying behaviors that influence their decisions in purchasing products. This has negatively impacted on women as compared to men since women are generally emotional and deeply concerned with physical appearance.
Consumerism is highly manifest in Bordo’s essay and the author draws an example from the multi-billion fashion industry. In an attempt to front an athlete muscular male body, many fashion houses such as Calvin Klein have been invested in advertising. There is a vivid description of the athletic male body plastered over buildings, magazines, and sub-way stops as an aesthetic norm. This is the ideal male type and he is the subject of desire for women and gay men. This is a marketing strategy employed by gyms such as the David Barton gym. The fit masculine male is dubbed Michelangelo’s David. The motto, “Look better naked” implores men to work out in order to attain the ideal body build.
Reference is made to key areas of the male anatomy, “packs and a cute butt.” These are the main desirable features from a female perspective. This also exemplifies the gender allure in advertisement. Currently, a taut male butt is a sensation and this expression further reinforces the male stereotype. Wherever he turns, women notice it and a guy who does not fit this bill cannot get females’ attention. Image is a big sensation in heterosexual and even homosexual relationships. Other factors such as character and intelligence are downplayed and seem irrelevant. This media portrayal is negative as it lays emphasis on physical attributes. This creates a superficial society where the members focus on looks and are apt to dismiss anyone without these ideal appearances. Consequently, men are likely to try hard in achieving the right desirable build. Some might even suffer from low self-esteem when they fail to attain the ideal physique. Exercise promotes good health and longevity. It is unfortunate when a gym uses a marketing strategy that solely dwells on sexual connotations.
In line with consumerism, Susan Bordo gives a description of the massive investment in fashion advertisement. A huge amount of time, money, and creativity is spent into figuring out how to create images of beautiful people that are heavy on attitude, style, associations with pleasure, success and happiness. “The most compelling images are suffused with “subjectivity” –they speak to us, they seduce us. Unlike other kinds of “objects” (chairs and tables, for example), they do not let us use them in any way we like. In fact, they exert considerable power over us- over our psyches, our desires, and our self-image.” (Bordo 182).
Well-built athletes have been used as models to endorse underwears and briefs. According to Bordo (178), “Klein transformed jeans from utilitarian garments to erotic second skins. Models include Baltimore Oriel pitcher Jim Palmer and Olympic pole vaulter Tom Hintinauss, who modeled underwear for Jockey International and Calvin Klein respectively. The products flew off the shelves as numerous customers made purchases. Consideration has been made for gender in advertising men’s clothes, especially underwear. In modern times, marketers are not shying away from appealing to the gay community. As Bordo (179) puts it, “we have entered a brave, new world of male bodies – a dawning recognition among advertisers of the buying power of gay men. For a long time prejudice had triumphed over the profit motive, blinding marketers to just how sizable – and well heeled – consumer group gay men present.” Many advertisers caught on after realizing that homosexuals earned incomes well above the national median. Consequently, advertisers were interested in “wooing the white, single, well-educated, well-paid man who happens to be homosexual” (Bordo, 180).
The theme of consumerism is greatly brought out in the movie “Fight Club”. The movie revolves around the mundane life of an unnamed narrator, a thirty year old man who works as a recall agent for a car manufacturer. He is discontent with life and suffers from insomnia. He takes solace in material possessions and continues to keep his job so that he can maintain “the ideal lifestyle”. The narrator represents the typical consumer who falls prey to all advertising gimmicks. At the end of a hectic working day, he retires to his home. He is not happy yet and he takes pride in the acquisition of material things. It is important that he maintains the status quo. He is an accomplished white-collar employee and he skims through a magazine to view the latest products. Simply put, he has to possess exquisite items as alleged in the advertisements. This includes furniture, a stationary bike, carpet, and the right coffee table. He has to have it all. This represents a typical working individual who derives no satisfaction from the job, yet works tirelessly in order to acquire material things. As he reads the magazine he ponders, “What kind of dining set defines me as a person?”, the unbleached pastel wall paper sets the right ambience and more important its eco-friendly. Marketers have caught on the environmentally conscious consumers. Consumers are likely to opt for environmentally friendly products. Consequently, more products are likely to be dubbed environmental friendly for the sole purpose of bolstering sales. The narrator also takes pride in purchasing items made by indigenous people. There is an aspect of altruism in playing a role to alleviate the plight of poor and indigenous people. This is another marketing strategy where consumers feel the need to uplift people in need via the purchase of products.
The theme of individualism is also prevalent in the movie. At the work place, the narrator feels harassed as his work load is immense. As an individual, he feels that his needs should take precedence over the requirements of the company. If only the work schedule could not be so hectic. At one point he is silently angry when his supervisor makes him to de-prioritize his agenda by issuing new orders. As a recall agent he had to fly all over the country to evaluate any possible accident that might be tied to inferior manufacturing processes. The recall of cars would only be authorized if no significant loss would be suffered by the company. The company’s management is also individualistic as it does not take into account the safety of consumers. What matters, is the profit margin and the company’s prosperity. This is the world of consumerism where sub-standard products are rolled out and intense marketing is carried out. Even known brands that produce good quality products churn out sub-standard products. They ride on their established brand name, and make major sales. They make massive profits at the expense of the unsuspecting consumers.
Individualism also emerges when the narrator seeks liberation from insomnia. He is not at peace and the doctor refuses to make a prescription by advising him to a lead a stress-free life. He joins a support group for men suffering and recovering from testicular cancer. The narrator is paired with Bob, a former wrestler who succumbed to the side effects of steroids. Bob cries profusely and encourages the narrator to cry. Impulsively, he cries and amazingly finds closure. Finally, he can sleep and this is a source of great redemption. However, he is euphoric and joins other support groups. This includes support groups for people suffering from tuberculosis, cancer and parasite infestation. He is set to experience as many incidences of closure following each emotional session. The members are very sincere, but the narrator is intent on pursing his own interest and continues to pose as an aggrieved member in all support groups. Nevertheless, his moment of tranquility is cut short by Marlo, a junkie female who attends all support group meetings. The narrator is no longer comfortable as he becomes conscious of his dishonesty and lives in the fear of being revealed. Consequently, he cannot find closure in the different support group meetings.
During one of his flights, he encounters Tyler, a care free man, and his life is no longer the same. He arrives home to find a condo that has been razed down by fire. He is deeply devastated and is in a state of shock. It is a big blow to his life as he has lost all material possessions. Each item was carefully selected and immensely valuable to him. He misses his wardrobe and belongings. It is so unfortunate since “he was close to being complete.” After all, he had everything that anyone could aspire to own. He just needed to add on a few items that could easily be assessed once they were advertised and endorsed as exquisite or good quality products. In the world of the narrator, there was always a provision to acquire material goods. Individuals derived meaning and were defined by their material possessions. According to the narrator, “That condo was my life. It was me.”
Tyler promptly showed up after the narrator called him. Far from empathizing with the narrator, Tyler asked the narrator to liberate himself from the vanity of material possessions. He made reference to consumerism as he explained, “We are a byproduct of a lifestyle of obsession, celebrity magazines, Viagra, goods etc. Let the chips fall where they may.” Tyler attempted to shed light on the bondage of consumerism. “The things you own end up owning you.” With time, the narrator was absolved from everyday stress when he was unshackled from consumerism.
A friendship is established with Tyler, and the narrator moves into his dingy house in an industrial area laden with toxic wastes. With help from Tyler, the narrator is released from the shackles of consumerism. Insomnia emerges is an ill of consumerism. He was stressed by work as he was under the pressure of increasing productivity so as to afford material goods. Finally, he denounced everything as vanity. In addition, he could peacefully sleep. He was only intent on pursuing his own happiness. This is evidence of individualism. He was going to define and give meaning to his life. The narrator’s existence was no longer defined by advertisers. Following the liberation, he started to view life in a different light. This is exemplified by subsequent experiences. In a bus, he saw images of male models. Just like in Bordo’s essay, the models were modeling briefs for Gucci and Calvin Klein. He denounced the marketing gimmick as consumers would make note of the models and purchase the briefs. In addition, the narrator pitied men who went to the gym in the hope of acquiring an ideal physique as flaunted by male models.
In the unfolding events, the pair makes a mockery of consumerism. Tyler makes soap and he uses human fat. This is puzzling for the narrator and he is horrified upon learning that it is the fat disposed after liposuction. Reference is made to gender and advertising. Plus-size women feel inadequate and aspire to be like the petite models whose images are sprawled all over magazines and bill boards. Petite models are used in adverts for female products. The message put across by advertisers is “small is beautiful”. Consequently, the society is preoccupied with superficial looks. In addition, we live in a society that discriminates and even shuns plus-size women. This explains the craze of cosmetic surgery. More than ever before, women are opting for liposuction in order to attain the “ideal body type”.
Tyler and the narrator find liberation in fighting. Spectators begin to witness their fights and with time they begin a fight club. Men engage in “friendly fights” as a means to liberate themselves from everyday stress. Tyler uses the club as a platform to disseminate his ideologies on consumerism. He explains to the men that they are a generation of miserable men who are waiting tables, pumping gas or white collar slaves. As he bluntly puts it in a movie schene, “Advertising has us working jobs we hate so that we can buy “shit” that we do not need.” In addition, “Our daily lives represent the great depression.” Advertising is to blame as people are convinced that their dream of becoming millionaires and celebrities can be realized. Just like the narrator, these men are liberated from consumerism. They establish an identity that is devoid of influence from advertisements. Daily, they convene for fights and leave as content individuals. The narrator comfortably shows up for work, and is oblivious of the bruises and general unkempt appearance. This is another example of individualism where an individual pursues his own good irrespective of any conflict. He happily flouts all societal rules and expectations.
Tyler hatches a scheme of destruction dubbed “Project Mayhem”. This is in a bid to sabotage consumerism. The men remove posters and distort the messages on billboard adverts. A good example, “You can use motor oil to fertilize your lawn.” This escalates to violence when they blow up brand new cars in various dealerships. They also blow up electronic shops. The narrator is aggrieved as he does not condone violence. The movie ends when the narrator realizes that Tyler is his aggressive alter ego. In the background, buildings that house the headquarters of major credit card companies are blown up.
In conclusion, the essay and the movie shed light on consumerism. Bordo’s essay evaluates consumerism in the fashion industry as well as the use of gender in advertising. The essay evaluates the marketing strategies employed in advertising in order to promote sales. “Fight Club” shows the daily lives of average individuals who have fallen prey to consumerism. They are stressed and discontent, and their sole existence is defined by material possessions and lifestyle. However, individualism triumphs over consumerism as the men in “Fight Club” are unshackled from the bondage of consumerism. They no longer face societal pressures of prosperity.