Watch Folding Ideas’ Analysis Of “Fight Club” And Toxic Masculinity
Dan Olson is a boss. He’s a media critic from Alberta, Canada, who analyzes the rhetoric — the arguments presented and how they’re made — of pop cultural phenomena and products. So, film, video games, music videos, TV shows, and books, but also pop cultural movements; how they fit into and reflect the culture in which they’re made, and what ideas they’re presenting, not just through the messages they explicitly state, but through imagery, editing, theme, and context, as well. In other words, I’ve found a new favorite vlog.
He calls himself The Foldable Human, and his series is called Folding Ideas. Think of the title of the series this way: A paper crane looks like a crane, but if you unfolded it, you’d see that it was a piece of paper. The paper, and the way it was folded, was what made the crane. Likewise, a piece of entertainment might just look like a piece of entertainment, but if you work through the way it was created and the messages it presents, you see an underlying set of ideas and motivations (that’s the paper) that were put through the process of narrative construction and editing (that’s the folding) to form a story. The ideas, and the way they’re arranged, are what makes the film/book/game/TV show/movement. The title of the series alone — how elegant and succinct it is — demonstrates how good this guy is.
His most recent episode tackles “Fight Club” — the movie, not the book — which has been in the public mind for the last few weeks following the release of “Gone Girl.” They were both directed by David Fincher, and, being two movies and books that approach the subject of gender, identity, and social roles, they merit comparison. Several publications have compared the two — The New Yorker and A.V. Club being two of them — to come out with a picture of Fincher’s work that is decidedly anti-woman.
I wasn’t convinced by that analysis. I’m not sure what to make of “Gone Girl” the movie, now that I’ve read the book and understand the differences. Not to derail too far — my main concern is “Fight Club” — but my first impression was that “Gone Girl” was at least supremely entertaining as a movie about a perfect sociopath, and that it was alluring, engaging, and an accurate exaggeration of the Stockholm Syndrome sort of experience that abused partners go through during relationships with manipulative spouses. It was an amazing subversion of the “Why didn’t she just leave?” trope that we heard after the Janay Rice video came out a few months ago, and that spawned the hashtag #WhyIStayed. It’s subversive in that it forced the audience to sympathize with a man who was abused. People said that Movie Nick came off better than Book Nick, and I think that was intentional — Fincher’s movie had different aims than Gillian Flynn’s book. I wasn’t looking for a precise interpretation of the book, not only because I hadn’t read it at that point, but also because I don’t expect it. Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” is decidedly not Stephen King’s The Shining; David Fincher’s “Fight Club” is decidedly not Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club; “Gone Girl” the movie was not going to be Gone Girl the book.
OK. Now, back to “Fight Club,” which, in Olson’s analysis, is kind of brilliant. There’s a group of people who glorify it as a portrayal of the ultimate, positive modern masculism, an embrace of violent, aggressive masculinity in rebellion to corporate and consumer culture. There’s another group of people who revile it for the same reason. I loved it for a long time, and it became a guilty pleasure — I’d watched it several times in my best friend’s basement, with our whole social group, eating Thai food and gummi bears. But we weren’t, and aren’t, the fedora-wearing bros who believe in nonsense ideas like alpha and beta males that have been made out to be the movie’s core demographic; we were art kids. We watched Kubrick and Peter Sellers movies, too. As that stereotyped, douchebag Fight Club fan persona became more popular in my political circles, I stopped admitting I liked it.
But I feel like I can reclaim it now. Olson looks at the movie within the concept of toxic masculinity — clarifying that not all values that are coded as masculine are negative (honor, duty, loyalty, and hard work are decidedly positive), but that the values that “Fight Club” presents are, namely iolence, aggression, and self-destructing competitiveness as the ultimate masculinity. He sees the film not presenting toxic masculinity as a rebellion against consumerism and corporate culture, but, ultimately, as an analog of it, a replacement — the same idea with a new paint job. In that view of the movie, Marla Singer — a character who has been maligned by feminist critique — isn’t just a caricature of the Whore Archetype, but a woman who is comfortable occupying male spaces. The movie embraces her, regardless of how the group of fedora-wearing bros perceives her. “Fight Club” destroys its toxic masculinity — literally, in the final scene.
The whole Folding Ideas series is remarkable, explaining logical and rhetorical ideas through the pop culture artifacts in which they’re presented. His second-most recent video on #GamerGate explains the idea of base assumptions — what’s perceived as “normal” — and the problems that #GamerGate’s base assumptions pose. You can find the series on Blip and Chez Apocalypse.
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