What Would Tyler Durden Do Now?
How has Fight Club aged, how Tyler Durden’s philosophy holds up, and what I learned from watching it twenty years later
I used to own a DVD of Fight Club.
I already broke the first rule of Fight Club. Do not talk about Fight Club. Sooner or later that always happens.
And for good reason. Fight Club is Chuck Pahlaniuk’s best book. It’s David Fincher’s best movie. And it’s Brad Pitt’s best performance. That’s my stance.
When I rewatched Fight Club recently, I thought it was pretty good, but not perfect. It holds up okay. Sorta like my life.
In light of that and the 20th anniversary of Fight Club, I’ll take a moment to reflect on my life. How does my life hold up when viewed through the rose-colored glasses of Tyler Durden?
Specifically I want to know, “Did I do what Tyler Durden would have done?”
First of all, I originally saw Fight Club when I was 19 yrs old. Impressionable, hormonable, naive, just trying to figure things out. Back then, I was drawn to Tyler Durden. I certainly wanted to look like Tyler Durden.
I got Tyler Durden.
I was a broke student, wore thrift shop clothes, had no idea what I would do or be, and I worked manual labor jobs for drinking money.
But I had never been in a fight.
On the contrary, I’m 39. And I’ve been in some fights. I also look like I’ve been in some fights.
Subsequently, I get Jack now.
To summarize it another way, I realize that in certain specific ways I’m definitely my fucking khakis now.
Fight Club contains some moments that still get existential.
For instance, I realize that over time I’ve definitely bought things I didn’t need with money I didn’t have to impress people I didn’t like.
But we can all agree that the Pre-9/11 era was a simpler time. Looking back it’s no wonder a trickster like Tyler Durden emerged from the late 90’s to stir the pot.
Now I think about how nice it would be if boredom and credit card debt were our only problems.
To that end, I’d like to update and distill Tyler Durden’s statement for the 2020's — and a world with social media.
“We do things, with the limited time we have on earth, to impress strangers.”
I find this both condenses and expands upon what Tyler Durden was trying to say. Because you know what? Time is a more precious resource than money.
That is to say the human condition is a matter of time management. To rephrase it another way, no one gets out alive.
And I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to impress strangers. Plenty of good has come from trying to impress strangers. For instance, bathing, or western medicine.
But I am saying Tyler Durden would have wanted me to update his philosophy for the 21st century.
The ass or the crotch?
While some of Tyler Durden’s quotes require deeper consideration. On the other hand, some require less.
For instance, every time I fly, I can’t help but think about his airline etiquette question, “The ass or the crotch?”
In the final analysis, the answer to this question is undoubtedly, “the ass.”
It’s far and away the easier option.
Think about it. Why would you turn around on an airplane row? You’re already facing forward. This isn’t the only gaping hole in Tyler Durden’s philosophy but it does raise a good question.
What other quasi-intellectual bullshit came out of his mouth?
Soap and Cars
While I don’t sell soap, I did end up in the business development side of sales and marketing. Ironically, I’ve also bought two used cars this year.
In short, I’ve been asking myself what kind of car is “me” a lot lately.
As it turns out, the contents of my wallet helped decide that I’m half South Korean, half Detroitian.
Pain of Sacrifice
Previously, I was not in great shape. Back in the aughts, I had the opportunity to watch several Chicago Marathons from street level.
At that point in my life I was the type of runner who would go for a jog now and then. I was sorta bumbling along doing the bare minimum to maintain appearances. And that informed my intimidation. In truth, I was terrified by the idea of running 26.2 consecutive miles.
But I was also intrigued. Eventually, about a decade ago, I began to take running more seriously. First, I made a new year’s resolution that I would complete a half-marathon. Then, I signed up for a race.
A series of small steps allowed me to complete my goal. It felt good.
I decided to keep running. I quit smoking.
Over the course of a few serious years of training, I learned enough about pain and sacrifice to qualify for the Boston Marathon. You may think that’s more flight club than Fight Club.
But it begs the question, was I running away from something? Was I running for self improvement or self destruction?
After Boston, I crashed my triathlon bike one day. I nearly broke my left hip, which forced me to stop endurance training. During my recovery, I was forced to reflect on why I was spending so much time training anyway.
Without a doubt I was bailing.
To put it differently, maybe the Universe nearly broke my hip as a way of suggesting I stop running away.
Like our fathers did.
Carved out of something
While I healed, I got into woodworking. Woodworking was my grandfather’s hobby. And just as he was dying, I was moving from the city to the rural town where he had lived.
In time, a local arts & crafts shop let me sell my pieces and it became a pretty gratifying side-gig. It was good how running was good. Unfortunately, I also got into craft beer. But drinking wasn’t as fun as it was when I was 19.
In reality, there are a thousand ways to bail, check out, and become emotionally unavailable. Some are healthier than others. But they share the common theme of “numbness from reality.”
In that respect, running was good, making artwork was good, but drinking was not so good. None the less, maybe self-improvement vs self-destruction a false dicotomy?
With this in mind, I reflect on the motif of fatherhood in Fight Club. In general, we learn the the self-medicative arts from our forefathers and mentors. Clearly I was following suit.
After much contemplation and several half-assed efforts to self regulate, I decided to get serious.
In truth, the idea of not drinking terrified me. To begin with, it meant I had a problem. Then the social anxiety drinking numbed me to would get amplified.
But I was intrigued. And I was tired of feeling like shit and dealing with the hangovers. Even the little hangovers. Specifically, the little hangovers.
Above all that, I wanted to challenge the way of being that wasn’t helping me be happy anymore.
Eventually, on Jan 1, 2018, I made a new years resolution. Then I made it through the first night. Then I made it through the weekend.
I realized it had been at least twenty years since I went an entire Friday-Sunday weekend without alcohol.
For one thing, that first Monday morning was phenomenal.
Thus I kicked off “an experiment with not-experimenting.”
An experiment with not experimenting
At first, people weren’t sure how to approach me and the subject of alcohol. Now, its less and less an issue. I don’t shove it down anyone’s throat. I reserve judgement, know the shit is hard, and pretty much just do me.
Then, as a result of not drinking poison for a few months, my thoughts cleared-up enough to begin writing more.
Towards the end of my first big Medium story I realized that it was Tyler Durden inspired. It went viral.
Star Wars Symbology: The Visual and Psychological Proof That Luke Skywalker Is Snoke
The reflection Luke saw in the dark mirror beneath Ahch-To was not his face, but Snoke’s.
Coupled with my clear thoughts, I had more free time to fill. Certainly my early taste of success with the Luke is Snoke article had me intrigued.
I decided to get serious. Indeed, you can see a pattern developing here.
My writing has allowed me to organize my thoughts, to deepen my thoughts, to consider life from many different points of view.
For example, during research for a story on Steve Jobs, I learned that meditating on death is an ancient Buddhist practice.
Surprisingly, the lesson inherent in meditation on death was one of the things Steve Jobs talks about in his Stanford Address. In fact, Steve Jobs buried several counter-intuitive Easter Eggs in his Stanford Address.
To clarify, he tried to warn us about the smartphones.
I wrote about that too. And I enjoyed the process very much.
The Four Easter Eggs Hidden in Steve Jobs’ Stanford Address
Apple and Pixar are infamous for their hidden Easter Eggs — what else did we miss?
The spirtual war
At this stage of things, despite my stretch comfort khakis and Brad Pitt’s chiseled chest, I can confidently say Tyler Durden is mostly full of nihilistic horseshit.
But he was right about one thing, the Spiritual War.
Let me point out that Tyler Durden was dead wrong when he said, “we are a generation without weight in history, no purpose or place.”
In fact, we are becoming the elders of a generation that will carry an untold burden. The oldest millennials will be the very last people on earth to recall a time before the Internet and smartphones.
Significantly, we’re the last generation to have had a real life before smartphones. I was well into my twenties before the iphone arrived, which makes it my job to point out how weird things have become.
Someday, we’ll be old and gray and get interviewed by PBS commentators wondering what life was like.
Without rest, technology plows forward in accordance with moore’s law. And in case you missed it, the attention economy is a thing. All I’m saying is that when you follow the money you see big implications.
What do elders do? You know this, you’ve seen it in movies, elders provide guidance.
Kids and smartphones
That will be us someday very soon. We’re having children and raising families now. I just gave my oldest child a smartphone, he’s twelve. And he needs guidance. He needs a good example. He’s watching to see how you live your life.
Because, remember that saying from childhood, “do as I say, not as I do?” Without a doubt, the opposite is how it works.
Kids don’t do as they’re told, they do what they see you do.
To summarize, our overlysimplified purpose then, is simply to raise Generation Z and the unnamed generation of babies born since 2012.
Man’s search for meaning
If Tyler Durden thought we were weightless and depressed in 1999, what would he think of us now?
Our job as Millennial fathers, is to not only to not-bail, but help create meaning. In the long run, when everyone’s an Influencer chasing likes, we need to teach each other and our children how, where, and why to find real meaning.
But because they’ll “do as we do,” we can’t do this for others, until we’ve done it for ourselves. But we also can’t do it alone.
In this way, we’re all members of Fight Club. And it’s time to break the first rule.