Social commentary is the act of imparting one's opinion on the nature of society to another person. This is usually used with the idea of bringing a change in society by means of informing the general populace of a given problem. Problems range in topic and relevance from racism, poverty, and child abuse, to greed, individual identity, and chasing The American Dream. W.H. Auden said, "What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten and replaced by a new dish." While Auden says that today's entertainment is disposable, the book Fight Club and the movie Secret Window should be recognized as social commentary.
The main character in Fight Club, the Narrator, and the main character in Secret Window, Mort Rainey, are both pursuing The American Dream. Their relentless pursuit of it drives them to split personalities and committing violent crimes. The term American Dream was first used by James Truslow Adams. He states:
The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. [. . .] It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position (214-215).
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In the United States' Declaration of Independence our founding fathers "held certain truths to be self- evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." In Secret Window, Mort Rainey had everything he could want. He had a big, beautiful house, nice vehicles, a beautiful wife, and a career as a Best Selling author. The Narrator from Fight Club had a high rise apartment, IKEA furniture, a high paying job with an important title, and even a Starbucks Coffee maker. These men were pursuing the American Dream.
On the other hand, Fight Club, with its graphic violence, shocking language and behavior, and explicit sexual references, is easy to dismiss as another schlock attempt at throw away entertainment. It has no meaning and is just another in a line of new wave stories meant for shock value. The book is fragmented. The chapter's multiple plot lines interrupt each other. Snippets of thoughts and events from earlier in the book continuously return, creating a hyperactive fugue as words and phrases repeat and fold in on themselves. The text teases you with a little entertainment, and then totally destroys it with confusion.
Remember though that Fight Club aims to illustrate the binding power of social capitalism and the repercussions of such a lifestyle. The core problem is shown through the Narrator, whose life and identity has become his possessions. He works for a corrupt motor company whose need to turn a profit outweighs its obligation to ensure the safety of its customers. As society has molded him into forming his identity through his possessions, the Narrator feels that he is now gone, and that he is lost. He is trapped in the corporate world and finds himself increasingly dissatisfied with the fruits it is supposed to deliver.
To find his manhood, the Narrator returns to his primordial self, even beating himself up, to feel like a man again and break from the grasp of a capitalist society. Tyler Durden, the Narrator's split personality, says, "First you have to give up.... first you have to know.... not fear.... Know that someday, you are going to die. It is only after we have lost everything that we are free to do anything" (Palahniuk 61). The Narrator finds that he is not alone in his need to get back to his real self. While he is on a business trip, Tyler (his split personality) devised a way to destroy his apartment and all his personal belongings.
When the Narrator returns home, he then realizes he has nothing. Tyler has opened the way into the Narrators life. Tyler shows him that his belongings are only hampering him and says the above statement. Tyler then starts Fight Club so that the Narrator, and others like him, can gain their masculinity back. A multitude of men congregate with the Narrator, searching for their lost identities and a sense of purpose in a society built on suppression of our natural instincts. Each man resorts to Fight Club in order to escape the false hope of the American Dream, which suppresses self-improvement, rather than facilitates personal growth. This is much the same with Mort Rainey from the movie Secret Window.
However, critics have seen the movie in this light, "Secret Window is filled with so many red herrings, one could have a veritable feast if one were to filet them, cream them, and serve them with a box of crackers. A big box" (Shulman). The movie is all over the place and only leaves unanswered
questions and open story lines. The storyline is shallow and all of the open story lines give no credence to any of the characters. It contains ridiculous nonsensical decisions and unexplained actions that defy common sense that are so typical to characters in this genre that one is never sure if they are catching clues to a legitimate resolution or simply watching more stupid behavior on screen and the crappy direction thereof.
We must consider this though: What did Mort have and lose that caused him to do what he did? He said it himself at one point in the movie when he was watching his wife and her new boyfriend leaving the house one morning. He said to himself, "This is not my beautiful house....this is not my beautiful wife.... anymore" (Secret). He realized what he had and was losing was his Dream. He had the beautiful house, a cabin in the woods, a beautiful wife, a prosperous job as an author, and even a child on the way at one point. Then he slowly loses each of them. He and his wife lose their first child to miscarriage.
This drives him to pick up a drink which he cannot put down. He then commits the gravest sin a writer can commit, which is plagiarism. Finally, after all of this, he loses his wife to a divorce that he cannot face. The combination of all of this added up to his mounting anger growing inside of him. Storing up this anger produced John Shooter, his split personality. We must realize that Shooter was created by Rainey's pursuing and slowly losing his idea of the American Dream.
So, we must remember, while W.H. Auden says that today's entertainment is disposable, the book Fight Club and the movie Secret Window should be recognized as social commentary.
The main character in Fight Club, the Narrator, and the main character in Secret Window, Mort Rainey, were both pursuing The American Dream. Fight Club aims to illustrate the binding power of social capitalism and the repercussions of such a lifestyle. Materialism, and the control of it, drove the Narrator to do what he did. We must remember what caused Mort Rainey, from Secret Window, to commit the acts of violence that he did. It had to have been his own pursuit of the American Dream and then slowly losing it. So from this, we should not see all entertainment as Auden did. It is not all disposable trash as he said. We must recognize it as social commentary.
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