[brief side note: Thanks to everyone for the well-wishes. The crisis has largely passed; should be back to normal in a day or two. As much as I’d like to claim I’m selflessly posting here for you guys, the reality is, I’m doing it for me – it passes the time while “hurrying up and waiting.” I’m just grateful, as always, that anyone reads this stuff in the first place].
As Maus points out in the comments on yesterday’s post, Ignatian-type “spiritual exercises” aren’t to be undertaken lightly. I myself have never tried the real thing, not least because of my instinctive urge to punch Jesuits (and it’s gratifying to hear from a former religious professional that I’m on the right track there). What I’m suggesting is a pale, completely secular imitation of the real thing. Most of us, being on the back nine of our lives, already know how to disconnect… and, most importantly, why to disconnect. We might not actually do what’s best for us at all times, but we at least understand that it’s a good idea.
The young folks, however, don’t. Long observation of ignoramus studentus has led me to conclude that they’re just different from us old fogies, in ways we can’t really grasp. Losing internet connectivity is, for us, an inconvenience. It might be a major inconvenience, what with the work-from-home thing and all, but ultimately just an inconvenience for all that. For lack of a better term, we know how to be bored. We have hobbies and interests with which to pass the time, and when all else fails, we’re able to, you know, just go out and talk to people. Trap a group of people over age 40 in a building with no internet, and pretty soon you’ll hear a lot of conversations about the weather. Trap a group of people under 40 in the same situation, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they resorted to human sacrifice in an attempt to propitiate the fiber optic gods.
The possibility of constant stimulation becomes, inevitably, the certainty of constant stimulation. The other day I came back in from the wild and went to the store. Music on the overhead, tvs playing on every other aisle. Ads within ads, all making reference to other ads… and the kicker: This was a grocery store. You can’t even buy a box of corn flakes these days without downloading an app. Ten minutes of this, and I started worrying about epilepsy…
… but this is the kids’ world, y’all. This is how they grew up. It’s even worse online, and the more online you are, the worse it gets. For them, unplugging is a serious penance. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it causes them actual physical pain, the kind we fogies feel when we switch to decaf or finally kick cigarettes. For the kids, the whole Ignatian schmear isn’t necessary — the jones will tell them everything they need to know about how being constantly wired in affects them.
Which brings us to the 1999 film Fight Club (Rotten Chestnuts’ suggested motto: Come for the parenthetical asides, stay for the non sequiturs).
It’s an interesting example of SJWs sending the opposite message from the one they’d intended — a subsidiary case, perhaps, of the 2nd Law of SJW (“SJWs always project”). Screenwriter Jim Uhls probably, and original novelist Chuck Palahniuk certainly, intended it as a comedy — they didn’t use the phrase “toxic masculinity” back then, but that’s what the meatheads in Fight Club were supposed to illustrate: the knuckle-dragging, ball-scratching, sub-literate pseudo-Nietzschean nihilism with which (not-so-secretly gay) hat-backwards frat bros responded to the enlightened sexual politics of The New Millennium* (Palahniuk, to the surprise of exactly no one who’d seen the movie, came out of the closet not long after). So, you know, if you don’t want to bother yourself reading the wiki summary of Gender Trouble, just rent Fight Club.
But a funny thing happened to this supposed comedy: Nobody got it. The film critics of 1999, being born circa 1960, focused — natch — on the ham-handed “anti-consumerism.” When Brad Pitt yelled “fuck Martha Stewart!,” the resulting jizz explosion from America’s movie critics could’ve drowned a chihuahua. It turns out — get ready to have your mind blown! — that manhood itself has been turned into a commodity. As if Charles Atlas hadn’t been selling exercise equipment in the back pages of comic books since the 1940s, but whatever, point is, 1999 was the heydey of cultural critics who were sure they would’ve ended racism and the Vietnam War if only they hadn’t been in junior high at the time. Who cares what those cavemen up on the screen say they want? They’re making soap from liposuction clinics!
The average contemporary Fight Club viewer, meanwhile, focused on an entirely different scene: The bathtub scene (yeah… big surprise Palahniuk is gay). In case you don’t remember, this is the one where Brad Pitt shares his father’s advice with Ed Norton (really Norton’s father’s advice, of course**). It’s “go to college,” followed by “I dunno… get married!” and ending with Pitt’s famous verdict: “I’m wondering if another [emphasis added, and sic] woman is really what we need.” Powerful stuff, if you’re one of those aimlessly drifting twentysomething males who went to college for no apparent reason, and are now… I dunno… contemplating marriage, often while sitting on the toilet paging through Ikea catalogs.
The fact that this is something no father would ever say to his son — but is exactly the kind of thing your mother would say — was completely lost on the critics… but not on the viewers.
Fast forward a few years, and recall the exponentially accelerated feminization of American culture. Get a load of this:
In case you’re too young to remember — and young man, I’m writing this post specifically for you — that’s President George W. Bush, circa 2002, “working” on his “ranch” in Texas. All the usual suspects in the “conservative” media got weak-kneed over it, of course, and the usual suspects in the rest of Newsywood got apoplectic. Both of which were entirely the point at the time, of course, but looking at it two decades on, can you believe this shit? Specifically, can you believe that anyone, anywhere, thought that this man — Yale grad, Harvard Business School grad, the fortunate son to end all fortunate sons — really spent his weekends clearing brush in the backcountry?
Well, they did. Or they pretended to, anyway, which was functionally the same thing. We — liberal and conservative alike — were supposed to view doofy ol’ George W. as some kind of macho manly man, and be horny or horrified, as our voter registration dictated.
Is “daydreaming of being an all-powerful, all-destructive übermensch” starting to make a little more sense now? Is it any wonder that the smarmy, sociopathic PUA who ruins everything in The Game (2005)– a book you absolutely must read, but not as a how-to manual — calls himself “Tyler Durden”?
Which brings us to the last important scene, the only one with contemporary relevance, the one all this talk of “values” and “spiritual exercises” has been building to: The one where Brad Pitt threatens to run the car off the road. He asks his brain-dead disciples in the back seat “What do you regret not doing with your life?”, and they have an immediate answer — “paint a picture” and “build a house.” Note how mundane those are. Back in 1999, that was supposed to clue you in (if you somehow missed all the other times they tried to browbeat it into you) that those guys were, in fact, brain-dead disciples of some smarmy svengali. Those are — deliberately — very minor achievements. What the hell is stopping you, other than the fact that you’re hanging out with that loser Brad Pitt in his creepy homoerotic cult?
By 2005, the very fact that they had an answer, no matter how mundane it was intended to be, was the point. In a world where moving some tree branches around in a cowboy hat was supposed to make you some kind of terrifying(ly sexy) götterdämmerung figure, just having the vaguest idea of what you wanted to do with your life was a major achievement.
That’s what you need to focus on, gentlemen. Achievement, any achievement, so long as it’s the work of your own two hands. It doesn’t matter how minor, how silly it might seem to anyone else. So long as it’s not on some blinking screen somewhere, it’s yours. Do that. Watch how it makes you feel. Then start thinking about that…
*seriously, get a load of that review, from hipster retail site The AV Club. “Everything about it conveys a smug, adolescent nihilism that’s as emotionally powerful as it is shallow…draws most of its power from the same conformist, hyper-masculine ideology…Like a bile-filled adolescent, Fight Club concerns itself primarily with daydreaming of being an all-powerful, all-destructive übermensch.” Just in case, you know, you thought poseurs hyperventilating over a functioning set of testicles is somehow new.
**This is either brilliant, or completely cack-handed, depending on how many credit hours you’ve earned towards that English Literature PhD. “I am Jack’s raging bile duct”… and, of course, Tyler Durden is Jack’s raging id. The grad student jizz tsunami from the “I am Jack’s…” narrative device could’ve drowned a slightly larger chihuahua.