Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk

Desire lines. Palm readers ought to study for those, because as far as I can tell, what one wants (and I mean really wants -- yearning, not craving here) defines a life far more than how long that life is.

Fight Club is case-in-point. An unimaginable number of men across the United States go from beating the teeth out of each other in cement bar basements to forming commando terror squads. This is not behavioral progression we see every day in our neighborhoods. How are we, the readers, supposed to believe it, even within the confines of a novel?

I reason that these fight clubbers must have a reason for their actions. That is, they must have a desire line needing stretched taut. The fight clubs -- and the chances to belong and to alter this humdrum world -- are the nibble at the end of the line. The promise of a catch. Fish to fill a needy belly.

Sometimes, an author can forget that EVERYONE wants SOMETHING. And I mean EVERYONE. The dog in your neighbor's yard wants food, or attention, or to protect her master. The odds are, the humans in your life (and in your stories, if you're one of us stricken with writer's disease) have needs and desires not much more complicated than your neighbor's dog. Food. Shelter. Sex. Love. Attention.

This reasoning started to satisfy my puzzling mind. But, I countered myself, what are the odds that untold hundreds, uncounted thousands, of men would have the same need, filled in the same way? How can I believe such nonsense? Implausible, Palahniuk! Not buying it.

Then I looked around. Groupthink, politics, media -- call it what you will, the mass effect of filling a single void is frequent as farts in an unsupervised Boy Scout camp. (Truly frightening is when that void is created in order to be filled.) What is the Tea Party but a set of insecurities and fears being filled? What is Duck Dynasty but... something I cannot even begin to understand, yet something that apparently fills some perceived need in America today?

Fight Club unsettles readers not because its unstoppable cult is plausible, but because that exact kind of control is exerted over regular citizens every damn day. Some people resist inclusion in these groups, and others flock to them. Resisting is difficult work, though; it wears down willpower, each conscious effort sapping some store of decision-making ability. Eventually, our higher wants worn to little nubbins, we resort to our more primal needs. Protection. Attention. Survival. And we allow others to fill those voids for us.

Play out that scenario to its logical conclusion, and in the end every single one of us will wear down. No one has infinite willpower. That means any human society may never circumvent groupthink entirely, no matter how strongly we may desire to.

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