someone asked me about the narrative significance of fight club’s first rule on twitter earlier and as resident Fight Club Liker i of course can’t cram my diatribe on this topic into only 140 characters, SO: tumblr post it is
- QUESTION: what is the meaning/narrative significance behind fight club’s iconic first rule?
well, first of all, we’re actually talking about the first and second rules here. “the first rule of fight club is: you do not talk about fight club. the second rule of fight club is: you do not talk about fight club.” even people who haven’t seen this movie or read the book know this line, but it is actually important to note that it’s stated twice. there are eight rules to fight club, but this is the only one that gets repeated, and that’s not because it’s the most important, but because it’s the one that tyler wants the club members to see as such.
the thing is, tyler isn’t telling these guys to not talk about fight club because he wants to keep this whole thing a secret. it’s the opposite, actually: tyler knows that they’re going to break this rule, and that’s exactly why it exists. if no one talks about fight club, it won’t grow like tyler needs it to, so he gives them this rule to ensure that it will. the more important they think not talking about fight club is, the more like they are to go off and tell someone and tyler knows that - these men want to feel like rebels, like they’re doing something wrong and getting away with it because guys who whale on each other for funsies are if nothing else looking for a thrill.
tyler knows that they want to play at being rulebreakers - these are men working jobs they hate, buying shit they don’t need, as he says later on in the movie. these are men who want to tell the world to go fuck itself but don’t because they’re complacent, or at least that’s how they and tyler see themselves: people who would be something bigger and better if the deck wasn’t stacked against them. tyler takes advantage of this pent up dissatisfaction and ire born of misplaced entitlement to a vague ‘something better’, and gives them a rule to break. and they do. and that’s what he wants.
fight club is, at its core, about toxic masculinity, and tyler durden embodies that. he is the subconscious desires of the complacent everyman, and in his antagonistic nature he displays how inherently vile and dangerous the kind of person that men idealize/wish they were truly is. in giving the members of fight club this rule to break, he pushes them ever so slightly closer to being what he, an avatar of this form of masculinity, sees they can be if given the right push.
tyler durden tells the men of fight club repeatedly that they are not special, while at the same time building himself up as a quasi-cult leader, his speeches becoming ever more pretentious and sermonlike. you are not special, he says as he plots to remake the world in his image, you are the same decaying organic matter as everything else. tyler durden is a man existing within another person’s head, not matter but mental construct.
these men do not follow tyler durden for his charisma alone, they follow him because he gives them something besides themselves to blame for their unhappy lives, and he shows them where to exact vengeance, revolution. they vandalize billboards and smash car headlights because they want to feel like rebels, because tyler durden gave them an excuse to perpetrate the kind of violence they’ve inwardly wanted all along, and they talk about fight club because they’re chasing the thrill of disobedience and the ego boost that comes from someone briefly being impressed with what you do after dark.
the first rule of fight club is: do not talk about fight club. the subtext is: break the rules; be a rebel for once in your sad office-drone life. this is how tyler’s army grows.