Chuck Palahniuk wants you to get mad. Not at him, necessarily, although he does convey the distinct impression that he wouldn’t mind that either. No, he’s looking for that hardened complacency and comfort in the icky unpleasantness of asking the tough questions and insisting on the unpleasant truths. It’s not surprising that the author best known for Fight Club wants a strong response—and doesn’t much care what it is.
Palahniuk, who says he’s been greatly influenced by the symbols and archetypes of Catholicism, describes Fight Club 3 as moving “into the past to show the larger scale of what Tyler Durden has been staging since the beginning of creation.” Since Fight Club 2 literally depicted Tyler urging the apple on Marla/Eve, it might be true that, as he says, “Once Catholic, always Catholic.”
The new series zeroes in on parenting. While Palahniuk is not a father, he’s dealt with the paternal role in society before. In fact, he sees Fight Club exploring the father-son dynamic in the same way that The Joy Luck Club examined mother-daughter relationships. Just maybe with more viscera and sex than Amy Tan saw fit to include in her work.
Young men need a self-imposed period of alienation in order to establish an identity beyond what school and family have imposed on them.
Fight Club 3 scrutinizes multiple facets of parental influence. There’s biological paternity, but there are also the impressions created by proximity—and Palahniuk sees that as an area where we are failing. “I'm just making the point that a lack of traditional secondary fathers—teachers, drill instructors, coaches, ministers, mentors—will leave men vulnerable to whatever new form of secondary father emerges,” he says, having inserted his own image into FC 2 to criticize these “traditional” replacements as “presumptive predators,” “pariahs,” and “odds-on pedophiles.” He characterizes young men as “a generation of apprentices without masters.” So, where does that leave us? Apparently in a directionless void that will embrace whatever leadership presents itself. “Joseph Campbell saw it in every street gang,” he says.
If this is the case, perhaps it explains the attraction that Palahniuk’s work has had for isolated, fringe-based groups like the Incel movement. The author claims to lack knowledge of the group, but also wonders whether, as he says, “young men need a self-imposed period of alienation in order to establish an identity beyond what school and family have imposed on them.” Furthermore, he asks, “Seen as part of a wider cultural trend, is Incel a bad thing?”
Palahniuk’s work takes some of our greatest shortcomings—insufficient or inadequate parenting, toxic isolation— then magnifies and underlines them in fractured skulls and drunken vomit.
“The job of a creative person is to throw out new experimental social models and roles,” he claims. “Our culture is evolving so quickly that hoping to reflect anything is unlikely. By the time your "reflection" makes it to market it will be ancient history. The only worthwhile goal is to throw out ideas and hope to steer the culture a little bit.” A self-proclaimed satirist, Palahniuk’s work takes some of our greatest shortcomings—insufficient or inadequate parenting, toxic isolation— then magnifies and underlines them in fractured skulls and drunken vomit. Attention must be paid.
The question, of course, is who is paying attention, and what is the message they’ve received? Palahniuk believes that “whether it's the right or the left, people will always find their own meaning in any books.” Yet, he also acknowledges that, back in the day, would-be killers often clutched their own copy of Catcher in the Rye as a statement of disenfranchisement. Clearly, words and ideas influence—sometimes just as powerfully as our role models.
The ongoing exploits of Tyler Durden and his creator are bound to raise questions—and they should. Perhaps that’s the whole idea. After all, provoking us to think independently and scrutinize our surroundings means that we’re on notice: be aware—or risk the consequences of remaining willfully uninvolved.