Chuck Palahniuk on 'Fight Club 3' and the Future of Tyler Durden
Courtesy of Chuck Palahniuk, artist Cameron Stewart, colorist Dave McCaig
His latest comic zeroes in on a new theme, fatherhood
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.
If you haven’t been following along at home since the 1996 novel or the better-known 1999 movie, the club that dare not speak its own name (remember how for a while everything was “the first rule of X club is…”?) resurfaced in 2016 as a 10-issue comic series. It’s back again for another 12 issues exploring just how far a regular guy (the everyman narrator, known as Sebastian in the second series and now Balthazar in the third) is willing to go to escape the restrictions and shortcomings imposed by himself and his world. And it turns out that Tyler Durden has possibly had a Cylon-like plan all along.
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.
“As a member of the latchkey generation raised in the 1970s with both parents gone, I do know the floundering isolation of the kid in the series, surrounded by battling adults and expected to get by on his own wiles,” Palahniuk says, describing a scenario that sounds a lot like Kramer vs. Kramer-meets-Lord of the Flies. It might be telling, as well, that he identifies more closely with the child in this setup. Palahniuk’s own father was killed by his girlfriend’s ex-husband in 1999. Palahniuk still feels the pain of that loss. Even 20 years on, “I still find myself wanting to phone him and ask his advice,” he says.
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.
Palahniuk doesn’t see his work reflecting society. In fact, he mocks this idea. “[Anthropologist] Victor Turner would shame you for that assumption,” he says. Interestingly, though, he’s referenced Turner in his writing as well, and the scientist’s ideas about the liminal/transitional state of belonging dovetail with the perceived need for ritual and community Palahniuk describes.
“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.