Dr. Alex E. Blazer

Department of English & Rhetoric

Georgia College & State University

Milledgeville, GA 31061

alex.blazer@gcsu.edu

alexeblazer.com

 

Fight Club and The Social Network: Two Brands of Postcapital Culture

We have front row seats for this Theater of Mass Destruction. The Demolitions Committee of Project Mayhem wrapped the foundation columns of ten buildings with blasting gelatin. In two minutes, primary charges will blow base charges, and those buildings will be reduced to smoldering rubble. I know this because Tyler knows this.

(Jack, Fight Club)

 

[The final clubs are] all hard to get into. My friend Eduardo made $300,000 betting on oil futures last summer and he won't get in. Money or the ability to make it doesn't impress anybody around here. Everybody can do that.

(Mark Zuckerberg, The Social Network)

Among David Fincher's growing body of work, two films stand out as exceptional expressions of the cultural zeitgeist. Fight Club (1998), based on Chuck Palahniuk's transgressive 1996 novel, explores the ennui of Generation X who feel stuck in either service-industry McJobs or corporate cubicles. The Social Network (2010), based on Aaron Sorkin's screenplay adapted from Ben Mezrich's 2009 non-fiction book The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal, contemplates the psychological motivations engendering social networking as exemplified by Generation Y, variously called Millennial Generation, Generation Next, and the Net Generation. In addition to defining two distinct cultural moments, the films also compose two structurally different responses to the information analysis and service industry economy that characterizes post-industrial capitalism over the last twenty years. First, while Fight Club represents the pre-911 fantasy of violent, terroristic destruction of corporate society that alienates men from creative and constructive labor by turning them into cater waiters or insurance adjusters who nestle themselves in consumerism like the IKEA catalog, The Social Network, firmly grounded in the post-911 surveillance state, harnesses the power of the information age to create a paradoxical fantasy world of online exclusive clubs in which friends share absolutely everything with each other. Second, while Fight Club deludes itself with hallucinations about wiping out consumer debt in order to liberate the self, The Social Network evades the capital question initially by creating a virtual high school playground for society to withdraw from reality into and then it obscures the issue by descending into a Rashomon-style intellectual property dispute complete with mutually contradictory pre-trial depositions. Finally, the films' responses to postcapital economy constitute opposing psychological structures. Fight Club exhibits a psychotic reaction to the consumerist society of service and information analyst work: the protagonist is a (Lacanian) subject split in two by the lack of wholeness afforded to his being by his pernicious analytical labor calculating the cost of death lawsuits against his company's cars; he creates an alterego to reaffirm his manhood through violence. Unable to get into a final club and dumped by his girlfriend, the protagonist of The Social Network harnesses information capital to create a (Deleuze and Guattarian) productive desiring machine, an exponentially expanding network characterized not by psychotic lack but rather by limitless flow and infinite rhizomatic connections. Taken together, the films illuminate two reactions to the post-industrial information and consumer age, psychotic consumption or schizophrenic connection.

 

This abstract summarizes my presentation, "Fight Club and The Social Network: Two Brands of Postcapital Culture," The Louisville Conf. on Literature and Culture since 1900. U of Louisville, Louisville. 24 Feb. 2012.