Friday, June 21, 2013

Feminized Civilization and its Discontents

I spent the evening with a couple of good friends, John and Mark, to watch Fight Club, a 1999 movie starring Brad Pitt and Ed Norton.  We watched There Will Be Blood together a few years ago and enjoyed the fellowship so much that we wanted to meet again.  I guess the theme of these evenings would be “profiles in male character” or “case studies on the male experience in U.S. culture.”  Fight Club yielded a good post-viewing conversation about the emasculation of the postmodern American male and the search for identity more broadly.  I’m sure we could have found other interesting aspects of this evocative film, but we no doubt picked up on the salient points the director wanted to make.  I won’t be doing the film justice here; I'm not offering a complete commentary on the movie.  Instead, I’m simply conveying what we got out of it.  You eventually find out that Tyler Durden, the Brad Pitt character, is a mental projection of the main character and narrator, played by Norton.  I didn’t see that coming.  In a telling scene, Durden observes that men are no longer hunters and gatherers, but consumers barraged by images of the "perfect male" in Calvin Klein ads (my paraphrasing, mind you).  So the wild and carefree Tyler, the narrator's id, starts a “fight club” that becomes popular among males seeking to prove their manhood in a sensitized urban culture lost in consumerism.
John wondered if we’ve made some gains since the 1990s in addressing the feminization of our contemporary society or whether we’ve fully absorbed these cultural changes and don’t think about them anymore.  Have the social engineers of a less aggressive and more effeminate society been successful?  Fight Club portrays testicular cancer victims going through therapy after castration, and there are a couple of scenes in which a male is threatened with emasculation.  That is, the filmmaker conveys the idea of a society that’s been neutered.   On a not-unrelated note, my wife informs me that 40% of women are taking over the role of head of household.  Yet, as I've written elsewhere, you can’t so readily tame our natural instincts, since the Homo sapiens has been around far longer than civilization.  More to the point, the male of the species has an anatomy and hardwiring to survive his environment and spread his gene pool.  For what it’s worth, my bons amis and I reject these efforts at feminizing every aspect of our culture.  Must it be a sum-zero game?  Must the empowerment of women come at the expense of a man’s masculinity?  The Marlboro Man has ridden off into the sunset and won't be allowed to return until he loses the cigarette and starts donning metrosexual garb.  Anyway, we three guys had a delightful time sitting in Mark’s living room sipping little cups of cappuccino that he had prepared like a good host and nibbling on pan bread that John had cooked up in the kitchen before the movie.  We started a bit late because Mark had to tend to his two-year-old daughter while his wife was at work.