Going Against the Family

There has always been one scene in Fight Club that I found particularly engaging. Amidst the scenes of anti-consumerism, neo-facism, psychological debate, nihilism, bitch tits and bouts of fisticuffs, there is a scene where Fight Club begins to grow in popularity and notoriety (despite this being a direct violation of Fight Club's first two rules). In doing so, Fight Club is visited one night by a local mob boss. I don't care enough at the moment to look up his name, so I'll simply call him Johnny Mafia. It doesn't matter, anyway. Johnny Mafia senses opportunity in Fight Club, and he hopes to persuade Tyler Durden into seeing things their way, but Tyler wants nothing of it.

In the Chuck Palahniuk novel, there are two unwritten rules to Fight Club never mentioned in the film

A) Nobody is the center of the fight club except for the two men fighting.
B) Fight Club will always be free.

The very fact that Johnny Mafia wants to violate both these ordinances by assuming control of Fight Club and capitalizing it is in direct conflict with Fight Club's ideals and purposes. We've all seen the film, so we know what happens next. Tyler refuses the offer, Johnny Mafia starts beating the shit out of Tyler, then Tyler goes bananas and starts screaming, drooling and spitting blood on the Italian American gentleman's face. Reasonably disturbed at the batshit craziness in front of him, the mafia disappears from the film and is never mentioned or heard from again.

It wasn't until recently that I realized why this moment has stuck with me. This wasn't just a throwaway scene to demonstrate Fight Club's presence in society, or a punctuated illustration of Tyler Durden's unstable nature, this was a cinematic changing of the guard.

Before 1999, the manliest man movies possible were westerns, war movies, cop films, and mafia movies. By this time, westerns were distant memories, war movies were transitioning into Oscar Bait, and cop movies were little more than 90-minute cliches. As such, the most adrenaline fueled, testosterone pumping, ball-scratching pieces of cinema were laced with references to mob bosses, families, and made men. Basically, everything by Quentin Tarantino.

But the 90s changed things. While the decade opened with Goodfellas (in my opinion, the best mafia film ever), culture norms began shifting. The word 'Gangster' no longer elicited images of beefy Italians in pinstripe suits. Gangsters were street thugs. They were Crips or Bloods, they lived in the inner city. They didn't have number games or heists, they mugged people, murdered people, dealt drugs, and were concerned with street warfare over family honor.

This was indicative of the 90s as a whole. As the decade progressed, people were less concerned with formality and regulation. People just wanted to be people. They couldn't be bothered with full-on commitment. Technology and lifestyles created a mindset of speed and impulse. Everything was sample sized. This even rippled out to the latent proto-anarchist impulses of society. In films about crime, audience didn't want an entire history spanning back to the old country. We wanted hedonistic bad dudes blowing shit up and creating mayhem.

Returning to Fight Club, released at the tail end of the 1990's, let's examine the previously mentioned changing of the guard. Giving into societal pressure/demand/disinterest, we have Tyler, the personification of 1990's hedonism and impulse squaring off against Johnny Mafia, a caricature of the soon-to-be-retired mobster motifs. It begins with Johnny telling Tyler to give up; he owns the town, he made the rules, he has power and influence. But Tyler just shrugs it off. Tyler is younger, stronger, and better connected to the people Johnny erroneously believes he governs. More importantly, Tyler just doesn't care. He's a nihilist. Johnny's power of persuasion and deliverance of physical harm is completely ineffective as Tyler beams his blood-soaked teeth, terrifying and emasculating the once proud Don.

Movie audiences made it clear; we don't want long monologues about character and honor, we don't debates about respect and obligation, we don't want redemption and justice. When we want crime, we want criminals and fuck all else. We want brash, we want bold, we want cocksure, we want arrogant. We want small time crooks forced into big situations. We want nice guys forced into bad decisions. We want people knocking over liquor stores because they want money, not because the shopkeeper didn't pay for protection.

We just want somebody to hit someone as hard as they can.

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