Paper I wrote last year for an English class. Compared Fight Club to 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.' Some troll had a Tyler Durden username and it made me think of this essay for some reason. Read if you like, enjoy if you can.
The Knights of Consumerism
You are not your job.
You are not how much you have in the bank.
You are not the contents of your wallet.
You are not your fucking Khakis.
You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.
You are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.
~Tyler Durden, Fight Club
The societies of medieval knighthood and modern consumerism boast remarkably similar characteristics. They both value courtesy, a preoccupation with appearances, and a sense of brotherhood. However, King Arthur’s knights and the men of Fight Club respond to their cultures’ expectations differently. The knights validate their society’s perceptions of knighthood by feigning chivalry, while the members of fight club rip apart their culture’s shackles by creating anarchy.
Both the knights in Arthur’s castle and the members of fight club are expected to behave courteously to others as a way of staying useful to society. The knightly code of honor encompasses the five noble traits of friendship, generosity, chastity, courtesy, and piety. Each warrior supposedly exemplifies these qualities to uphold the dignity of their king’s court. At the opening feast in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the author makes reference to King Arthur’s “nobility,” citing that he was “not to be seated at a festive table until he’d been told a tale of adventures” (92-93). This scene introduces the Arthurian idea of nobility; not only a gentrified position, but also a way of living one’s life by a distinct set of rules. People are ranked in court according to their mastery of certain words or manners, and knights advance in society by meeting these expectations. This acceptance of one’s role echoes in Fight Club, as members of the baby boomer generation are encouraged to submit and conform to the belief that the population should be polite and profitable, resigned to their mediocre roles in society’s middle class. The creator of the fight clubs, Tyler Durden, initially reflects the wasted life that is the effect of late 90’s consumerism through his role as a “slave with a white collar” at a major car insurance company. His job in Liability and Compliance compels him to initiate only profitable recalls on malfunctioning cars while politely explaining to customers that he carries their best interests at heart. The fight club members rebel against the institution that forces them into “polite servitude” by destroying buildings, contaminating food, and starting fights with random people on the street. The anarchy is their way of announcing that they are more useful than their world allows them to be and allows them to come to terms with the rampant consumerism in their culture.
The materialistic fixations of the medieval and consumer societies stem from a desire to advance. Arthur’s knights place great weight on appearances because they enjoy the attention and prestige that materializes with such a facade. Lavish descriptions of food, castles, armor, and horses are interspersed through Sir Gawain’s tale as a way of attributing importance to the nobility and prowess of the knights: "There where Gringolet stood ready, his saddle of gleaming leather, hung with gold, studded with new nails, and a striped bridle, trimmed and tied with gold. And Gringolet’s breast-plates, and shining saddle-skirts, and tail-armor, and the cloth on his back, matched his saddle-bows, all set on a background of rich gold nails that glittered like the sun." (597-604). By painstakingly detailing the dressings of a horse, the author distinguishes the knights as superior in their society because they own superior items. This practice of defining oneself through material goods extends to the consumer culture of Fight Club. At the beginning of the film, Tyler embodies his society’s consumerist qualities, a materialistic shell of what he could or should be: “I flipped through catalogs and wondered: What kind of dining set defines me as a person?” His apartment is an IKEA showplace, with every piece of useless furniture selected from a catalog at an inflated price. His furnishings are, in fact, barely functional. They stand as a collection of status symbols, indicating Tyler's status as a well-off middle-class apartment-dweller. Tyler owns this furniture not because he wants it, but because he is supposed to possess it and foolishly believed that he could define himself with catalog garbage. Enlightened, he eventually decimates the materialism in his society by blowing up the records of every major credit card company in his city, spiraling all debts to zero in a form of economic equilibrium.
An overwhelming sense of brotherhood exists at the root of the knights and fight clubs, but their cultures force the two groups to demonstrate their brotherhood in different ways. The warriors embody knightly qualities to remain in the king’s high graces, as nobles that bring honor to Arthur’s Court. They confirm that knights are superior members of the class structure by remaining “gracefully evasive” in their chivalry (1551). The consumer society takes an opposite approach to brotherhood, deeming people who band together in a manner that challenges society “devious” and worthy of “rigorous investigations.” As a result, the members of the fight clubs take their anti-society underground to keep them safe and secret. The fight clubs become sacred to the men involved, more like a family than the society they are raised in. They live together, planning the downfall of materialism in total secrecy: “The first rule of Fight Club is – you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is – you DO NOT talk about Fight Club.” Their unaccepting culture forces them underground.
The disparity between social standings highlights the fundamental difference between the knights of Camelot and the fight clubbers: the knights believe in their society because they stand at the apex of the social order while the fight clubbers, no longer resigned to their middle-class fate, believe in something greater than society. The knights flaunt their masculinity, while the men of the fight clubs rediscover their own in a materialistic world where they feel emasculated. By breaking jaws and bombing java cafés, the men of Fight Club subvert the consumer culture on which the knights thrive.