The baby boomer generation has The Graduate. My generation has Fight Club. Both are books and subsequent films about young, disenfranchised men who felt adrift in the world. The difference? Benjamin Braddock tried to find his answers through love, but for Tyler Durden the only real answers lie in a curled up fist.

The book, written by Chuck Palahniuk and published in 1996, and the David Fincher film that followed three years later, are the greatest example of Gen X fiction. In fact, you might even think of it as a sequel to The Graduate. Benjamin pounded on that church window and got Elaine away from Mrs. Robinson and all the other “plastics” just in the knick of time. Then they got married, had kids, and proceeded to fuck them up just the same. Fight Club is about the failure of the Boomers to fix all those problems they set out to solve in their youth, and how that failure included raising kids.
Big spoiler alert for those who haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but the nameless narrator of Fight Club (played by Edward Norton in the film) and his guru / corruptor Tyler Durden (played by Brad Pitt) are one in the same. Toward the end of the story we realize that there never were two different people, and that Tyler is just the narrators projection of everything he wishes he could be. Still, they remain two distinct personalities in the narrator’s mind, even after he realizes that Tyler is only in his imagination.

The narrator is an insomniac office drone, coasting through life on the false success his parents pushed him into. He has a nice apartment filled with all the creature comforts, but he’s empty inside. Just to feel alive he goes to support groups for people who are dying, hoping that being around such misery will allow him to feel something, anything.

When the narrator “meets” Tyler for the first time, he’s immediately attracted to him. Tyler is free in all the ways our narrator isn’t. He’s squatting in a run down old house. He doesn’t have a job to go to, instead sustaining himself by making soap out of the discarded fat found behind liposuction clinics. As Tyler later tells the narrator, “I look how you wanna look, I fuck how you wanna fuck. I am smart, capable, and most importantly I am free in all the way you are not.”

The narrator, with Tyler sometimes encouraging him, sometimes possessing him, stars Fight Club in the basement of a bar. Angry young men, lost and confused, gather together to feel something real – pain. They take turns beating the hell out of each other, shedding the trappings of a civilization that is anything but civilized. Gradually Fight Club progresses into Project Mayhem, a terrorist group that accosts people on the street, defaces modern art, and blows up banks. Tyler is determined to drag the world back to a wilder, simpler time, and whats so frightening about him is that it’s hard to argue with the merits of his vision.

Tyler Durden is not a murderer. If he orders his men to blow up a building he makes sure it’s empty. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone, he wants to free them, and clearly the world is in need of some of that. I can only imagine how Tyler would react to the world just fifteen years later. What would he say when he saw us all walking down the street, eyes on our phones, unable to connect with each other but through text messages? How would he feel watching young men ask their mothers to accompany them to job interviews? Would the warrior in him be disgusted that we’d reduced warfare to a video game played by bureaucrats sitting in air conditioned office, piloting drones from thousands of miles away?

You might argue that Tyler’s methods are too extreme. Certainly the narrator does, as Fight Club culminates in a battle between him and his imaginary friend. What is undeniable is that Tyler Durden , however mad he is, is also wise. He’s afraid of humanity losing it’s soul in an ever more mechanized and digitized world. As he says to his congregation in one of the most famous speeches in modern cinema:

In 2015 Tyler Durden will return in the sequel to Fight Club, currently being written as a graphic novel by Palahniuk. The narrator, now living a quiet suburban life with the once equally fucked up Marla and their young son, will have his alter ego return to cause trouble. Some are concerned with how Palahniuk has described what will be Tyler’s origin, that he will be revealed to be “something that maybe has been around for centuries and not this aberration that popped into (the narrator’s) mind.”

I’m not worried. Tyler Durden has been around for centuries. He lives in each of us. He’s that wild, untamable spirit urging us to throw off our clothes and run howling into the woods. He’s the animal inside of us, the creature caged in a world that sees no value in his need for freedom. He isn’t going away, no matter how much we try to silence him with technology and medication. He’ll always be there, whispering into our ear, “I want you to hit me as hard as you can.”
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