This video is brought to you by MUBI,
an online cinema streaming handpicked exceptional films from around the globe.
Get one month free at MUBI.com/likestoriesofold
Like a monkey, ready to be shot into space.
There’s something painfully ironic about
Tyler Durden’s followers in the film Fight Club.
Here we have a whole group of men who are
drawn towards an individual for his self-actualization
and independency of thought,
only to become blind followers.
A group of men who want to break free,
who want to become their own man,
and end up becoming space monkeys.
What is this strange and contradictory phenomenon
of men seeking enlightenment,
and ending up ignorant?
Of men proclaiming they want freedom, only to accept imprisonment through mindless obedience?
Who, in short, become the very opposite of
the ideal they were striving for?
I don’t know. I don’t understand.
Why does a weaker person need to latch on
to a strong person?
What is that?
In The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker pondered
the same question.
He observed the folly of men who, throughout
history, gave their loyalty to other men,
and who, after snapping out of the spell
and reflecting on it,
would wonder how they believed so blindly
and obeyed so willingly.
How can a mature man be so fascinated, and why?
He observed that the most reasonable explanation
is that leaders tend to seem larger than life,
they project a powerfulness that others are
And because men both worship and fear power,
they give their loyalty to those who dispense it.
He’s a great man.
Do you know about Tyler Durden?
But this explanation, Becker continues, only
touches the surface.
Men don’t become slaves out of mere calculating
self-interest; the slavishness is in the soul.
He argues that the fascination with a leader
is found in the eyes of the beholder.
Therefore what needs to be explained is not
so much the traits of the leader,
but more so the experience of the follower.
The question then posed by Becker is that
if all people are more or less alike,
why do we burn with such all-consuming passions
for some of them?
No Wait. Back up.
Let me start earlier.
Before we get into the reasons men become
infatuated with characters like Tyler Durden,
we must first address their deeper desires
which, according to Becker, are the same for everyone when broken down to their most fundamental level.
In his main thesis, he argues that the real
dilemma of man’s existence
is that he is a mortal animal who is conscious
of his own mortality.
And, like any other animal facing annihilation,
he desperately seeks to escape it.
It’s not so much the death of our physical being that we fear, but rather the death of our symbolic self;
of the unique identity we crafted for ourselves.
That is the real tragedy;
to spend years coming into our own,
developing talents, suffering hardships, becoming mature, seasoned;
Finally a unique creature in nature, standing with some dignity and nobility
and transcending the human condition;
and then he is good only for dying.
I had it all.
I had a stereo that was very decent, a wardrobe
that was getting very respectable.
I was close to being complete.
Hence, the fundamental problem of man:
he wants to overcome death,
and because he cannot do so literally,
he does so symbolically.
And this is how I met Tyler Durden.
The fascination with Tyler Durden can be explained
by what psychoanalyst Fritz Redl calls
the infectiousness of the unconflicted person.
Tyler, you are by far the most interesting
single-serving friend I’ve ever met.
He seduces us because he does not have the
same conflicts that we have.
He is confident where we feel ashamed,
he is free where we feel trapped,
and most importantly; he breaks the ice,
he does what no one else dared to do.
I want you to hit me as hard as you can.
By performing this initiatory act, the unconflicted person opens a space in which he,
as Freud once observed, allows others to express their
forbidden impulses and secret wishes.
It was on the tip of everyone’s tongue,
Tyler and I just gave it a name.
Gentlemen, welcome to Fight Club.
With this central person to latch on to and
form a group around;
The members do not feel that they are alone
with their own smallness and helplessness,
as they have the powers of the hero-leader
with whom they are identified.
We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars.
But we won’t.
And we’re slowly learning that fact.
And we’re very, very pissed off.
Tyler’s Fight Club is particularly enticing
because it acknowledges men’s existential dilemma,
and turns this fundamental source
of misery into a pathway towards salvation.
First you have to know, not fear, know, that someday you’re gonna die.
We just had a near-life experience.
Because of this rejection of the very notion
we gradually see Tyler’s followers transform into the aforementioned space monkeys.
You are not special.
Tyler built himself an army.
To what purpose?
In Tyler we trusted.
And subsequently, we see these former somebodies
blindly following Tyler’s orders into increasingly
severe acts of violence and terrorism.
But, as Becker argues, there something deeper
going on here.
It is not just that “father permits it”
or “orders it.”
It is more: the magical heroic transformation
of the world and of oneself.
It explains why men are so willing to submit
so capable of doing what any rational mind
Heroic transformation doesn’t just provide
a philosophy or a justification for action,
it provides a story;
We’re the middle children of history, man. Our Great War’s a spiritual war, our Great Depression is our lives.
A story that gives the world a fundamental purpose;
Fight Club became the reason to cut your hair
short or trim your fingernails.
A story that gives meaning to death.
In death, a member of project mayhem has a
name, his name is Robert Paulsen.
Without even judging the acts of violence
and the specifics of Tyler’s ideology,
we see the inherent danger of this kind of transformation
that inevitably simplifies a complex world into one of insiders and outsiders,
of worthy heroes and punishable villains,
of imagined destinies and unquestioned entitlement.
A transference of one’s helplessness, guilt and conflicts into a narrow construction of meaning and identity.
All facilitated by the central leader who
absolves his followers from any personal responsibility,
but in exchange absorbs their personal freedom,
Psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion extended this line
of thought by explaining how the leader too
loses his individuality just as much as his
followers, and that he is just as unfree precisely
because he has to qualify for leadership by
acting in accordance to the group’s assumptions
and expectations, which of course can escalate
beyond what the leader intended.
You said if anyone ever interferes with Project Mayhem, even you, we got to get his balls.
As to our unnamed narrator, there is a sense
of irony in watching his desperate attempts
to escape the clutches of Fight Club,
both as a follower and as its leader,
and in the realization that he is basically back
where he began;
trying to free himself from a set of principles that once promised him a symbolic victory over death,
but now seem empty and destructive.
I think this is about where we came in.
It also shows that while Fight Club portrays
an extreme version of how men can fetishize leaders
and turn into by-products of an ideology,
it is something we have all done to greater or lesser extent, and are probably still doing right now.
It even occurs with fictional characters,
just look at how many men were completely enamored with Tyler Durden’s philosophy
despite knowing he ends up being the main antagonist in the story.
This however, might be the film’s fault as Fight Club is rather notorious for its conflicting messages
and for having text that says one thing,
while the subtext says something else.
Take for example how they mock the
poster of a male model;
Is that what a man looks like?
Which is followed by the iconic shot of Tyler
arising into the frame
to become the workout goal for pretty much every guy who joined a gym after the film’s release.
Of course, being inspired by other men isn’t
but it does point to some deeper issues.
We’re a generation of men raised by women
Today, it seems like it’s particularly young men who yearn for male role models;
for leaders who offer safe havens where their troubles don’t seem so troubling anymore,
and where they can finally feel like they belong.
It’s essentially a search for father-figures,
not just in the paternal sense,
but also as sources for purpose and meaning.
Our fathers were our models for God.
If our fathers bailed, what does that tell
you about God?
But these stand-in models never seem to last,
they never truly fill the void that lingers underneath.
And this is because leaders offer stories,
and stories demand illusions.
And sooner or later, illusions fall apart.
Besides, stories can be easily corrupted by
men who, intentionally or unintentionally,
act out of their own self-interest.
To quote an extended passage of Becker’s
the Denial of Death;
When we are young we are often puzzled by
the fact that each person we admire
seems to have a different version of
what life ought to be,
what a good man is, how to live, and so on.
If we are especially sensitive it seems more
than puzzling, it is disheartening.
What most people usually do is to follow one
person’s ideas and then another’s
depending on who looms largest on
one’s horizon at the time.
The one with the deepest voice, the strongest
appearance, the most authority and success,
is usually the one who gets
our momentary allegiance;
and we try to pattern our ideals after him.
But as life goes on we get a perspective on this
and all these different versions of truth
become a little pathetic.
Each person thinks that he has the formula
for triumphing over life’s limitations
and knows with authority what it means
to be a man,
and he usually tries to win a following
for his particular patent.
Today we know that people try so hard to win
converts for their point of view
because it is more than merely an outlook on life:
it is an immortality formula.
It’s important to be aware of these dynamics
in order to better judge whose ideas we follow,
who we give our allegiance to, and whether
or not they really aim to empower others;
We give each other strength.
Or merely serve to empower themselves.
Therefore, if you find yourself being fascinated
with one man’s worldview or ideology,
really ask yourself;
what is seen as truth?
What is seen as lie?
What is deemed heroic?
What is deemed villainous?
Who needs to be saved?
And who needs to suffer?
Who do I have to be?
And who do I really want to be?
The point is not so much to weigh one man’s
ideas against another’s,
but rather to make you think about the underlying principles that draw you towards these would-be leaders
in the first place.
Because what is perhaps the main lesson here,
is that the world is always bigger than what any one man has to say about it.
And so what truly matters is to always reflect,
to stay critical, to safeguard your freedom,
your moral compass, and your individuality,
for no one man is great enough for you to become
his space monkey.
Everything’s gonna be fine.
You met me at a very strange time in my life.
What is probably the best way to avoid being
enticed by the promises of charismatic hero leaders,
is to expand your personal worldview,
to seek out diverse voices and different perspectives.
For a platform that actively operates according
to these principles,
I highly recommend you to check out MUBI.
MUBI is an online cinema streaming a handpicked
selection of films from around the globe.
Every day, they present a new film.
Whether it’s a timeless classic, a thought-provoking
documentary, or an acclaimed masterpiece,
there is always a carefully curated selection
of 30 films to dive into.
It’s a simple, but highly effective way
to start exploring the riches of cinema,
and I’m happy to share this with you by offering
30 days for free.
So head on over to MUBI.com/likestoriesofold
to begin your extended free trial today.