By Beth McConnell – The act of violence is a reoccurring theme in masculinity studies. The instance leads to a plethora of ideas surrounding this relation between the two. The two main texts that will be used in the investigation are Casino Royale by Ian Fleming and Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. The 1999 movie adaptation of Fight Club directed by David Fincher will also be referred to. The movie Fight Club was originally criticised for the use and depiction of violence and the explicit visuals of it. The book, New Hollywood Violence (2004) describes the main criticism were that the violence was featured without a cause. It was just featured for shock value. Fight Club, both the movie and the novel, have gathered a cult following over the years. The portrayal of violence introduces the notion of masculinity being in crisis leading readers and viewers with a lot to bear in mind. The ultimate revelation, that being Tyler Durden being an alter-ego for the narrator shows exemplary of the idea of the mask of masculinity.
“Violence stands in for action but is also an act of concealment, a threatening mask that hides lack of purpose” – Susan Faludi
The aim of the study is to discuss why violence is often seen as a male tendency and its function in the set texts. Both Casino Royale and Fight Club take different approaches of confronting the issue of violence and being male.
Violence is often linked with the male gender with regards to media, culture and entertainment. This is a reflection on real life; according to the statistical trends of criminal violence in the United States, the radio of violence between men and women is converging. ‘Violent victimiaihon of males is decreasing, while violence victimisation of women remains relatively unchanged.’ This instance holds the implications of a possible gender war. With the emergence of homosexuality being more widely socially accepted and post-feminist waves, traditional hegemonic masculinity is under threat. A primal action such as fighting, has always been associated as a male characteristic, but has now become socially unacceptable in civilised society. Masculinity theorist R.W Connell and James W. Messerschmidt concur with this argument, ‘Violence is not just an expression, it is a part of the process that divides different masculinities from each other…violence with masculinity is constitutive’. Fight Club recognises this shift in noticing that the world is no longer of a patriarchal ruling. Both the film and the novel portray a dystopia for the male world. Author of the book Fictions of Globalization, James Annesley talks about the sensation of the fighting in Fight Club, ‘Fighting, the raw punching of the fist on skin, thus becomes both a release from the mundane currents of the consumer society and a visor critique of that society’. The passage is complying with the argument that fighting is a mode of escapism of the male protagonists. Both the narrator and the character of Bob, attempt to find themselves through support groups. Groups that are deemed civilised and acceptable, however they fail in fulfilling the gap the characters need. They are not yet aware that masculinity has diminished. Traditional modes of dementia such as, expressing the self through art, literature, music or fashion are legal and reject the ideas of violence and chaos.
Violence is portrayed as a release for the male protagonists. Members of the exclusive club, are free to lose all inhibitions and are able to act in a more primal mode of their masculinity. A relief is granted to them after a night of fighting, with the narrator describing the sensation after a night of violence, ‘…everything in the real world gets the volume turned down. Nothing can piss you off’ They gathered in their unity and took out their aggression on the ‘real world’. They are able to be men for a few hours of the night and then are able to resume their mundane existences through living in a society, masculinity being no longer a part of it. ‘We propose that if masculinity varies in form and content, then masculinities – even those specifically aggressive, competitive, controlling and dominating – express themselves differently in relation to violence’
It can be argued that the narrator created the identity of Tyler Durden to remind him of his intended hegemonic existence. Society has oppressed his masculinity to the point where he loses his own ideas about the ‘self’ and especially his sex. The monotone voiceover narrating the movie shows relevance to this. The character played by Edward Norton is emotionally numb and bemused with the society he has become a part of, the tired narration expresses this (also adding a comical undertone). Nicola Rehiling addresses the issue in Extraordinary Men: White Hetrosexual Masculinity in Contemporary Popular Cinema, saying that the voice is exemplary of ‘blame placed on an allegedly feminized society for the loss of a mythical, original, unified masculinity’. Tyler Durden acts as an extreme contrast to the demised self of the narrator. Country to this theory, the narrator attempts to connect to his femininity; by attending various group meetings, he seeks emotion and affection. Attributes often associated with women. It is at this point in the narrative, where he meets Bob. However, the attempts fail astray are still feeling the emptiness and have not yet realised that it is their masculinity that is missing in their lives.
Bob can be described as an a-sexual character, demised by his appearance; having the condition gynecomastia he has formed breasts, referred to as ‘bitch tits’. Because Bob was once a weight-lifter who abused steroids, he consequently developed testicular cancer; he (like the narrator) is reaching out to his inner feminine self. He is seeking to do so because of his adherence to the role of the hegemonic male in the past, the ultimate man, he is now suffering because of this. Bob is playing the victim of masculinity; ‘Rendered monstrous through a process of fumigation and materialization’. Bob is one of the first members of the fight club and, with this, he finds solace in secretly expressing his masculinity through the violence. It is only when Bob is the first to die during ‘Project Mayhem’ that he is finally given his full title, ‘His name is Robert Paulson, and Robert Paulson will be forty-eight years old, forever’. This argues how masculinity is possibly doomed and the relationship with violence to the inevitable fatality. Only in death he is given a formal identity, he does not exist as an individual when he is male and mortal. Violence, for Bob, complies with theorist Susan Faludi’s statement, that it is there as an ‘act of concealment, a treating mask that hides lack of purpose.’ He has lost al purpose, identity and in the world his own sex has built. His only way of expressing his masculinity is through violence.
Fighting is an activity often used to release tension and frustration. The feminised world now rejects this idea. Men are traditionally stronger in a physical sense; therefore it is this reason for why fighting whether it is professionally or generically speaking, is a male doing. Fight Club romanticises the idea of violence, with the narrator attempting to justify it, for the instance when Tyler describes the feeling he gets after a night at the club, ‘You aren’t alive anywhere like you’re alive at fight club.’ Thinking of the real world and it’s restrictions on violence, the narrator speaks of the exclusivity of fight club and the opportunity it gives members, ‘A man on the street will do anything to not fight’. This passage complies with the narrator of the short story, Rock Springs, as he states, ‘I believe in crossing the street to stay out of trouble’s way’. The character of this text does not wish to consider himself to be a masculine personality. This is an example of everything Fight Club stands for and why it was introduced. The narrator has become the type of man to attend a fight club. James Annesley describes the offers of fight club ‘…provides an escape from ‘ornamental’ masculinity’. This not only backs up the idea of a demised world, but brings forth the notion of masculinity now being an organised commodity, a product of consumerism.
The character of James Bond in Casino Royale was designed by Fleming to be that of the idealised figure of male hegemony. The acts of violence in the novel however are all with a cause. Characters in Fight Club (subsequent to ‘project mayhem’) are fighting without such a cause. However both the novels suggest a sexual affiliation with violence. The scene where Bond is getting tortured, having the pain inflicted on him, for the first instance he is unable to control his emotions. The hypothetical ‘mask’ and image he has created for himself is lost because of the pain he is in. It is here we learn of sexual gratification he’s wanting to feel from the experience, ‘…a sort of sexual twilight where pain turned into pleasure and where hatred and fear of the tortures turned to a masochistic infatuation’.
It would seem that men are seeking pleasure not only through the violence but through the privacy of the closed space. The protagonists are aware that fighting is an action that is frowned upon and thus the social club must be kept a secret. A clear example of this is the popular slogan of the novel and movie, ‘The first rule about fight club is you don’t talk about fight club’.
The notion of sexual gratification being gained from violence questions the traditional view of men being the dominant sex. It is the moment of ultimate weakness when one takes a beating; for the male protagonist in the novels, the emotional and physical effects are touched upon. Fight Club subtly compares sex to the gatherings, ‘After you’ve been to fight club, watching football on television is watching pornography when you could be having great sex’.
In both texts, violence can not only be read as a rejection of felinity or social restraints, but also as a stand against homosexuality. James Bond’s character is overtly masculine, yet his consumerist nature and sophistication appeals to both sexes. The raw emotions and homosexual awakenings conjured through the torture scene, are inflicted by the effeminate villain, Le Chiffre. His role acts as an evil counterpart for Bond; with with with them both interested in gambling, expensive tastes and sophistication. They are very similar, however, in regards to appearance. Le Chifffre is given descriptions such as, ‘Hands small, well-tended, hirsute. Feet small’, is is clear that he is effeminate. The notion complies with the idea raised by theorist Michael Kimmel, he says, ‘Bond is often criticized as a romanticized, idealization depiction of masculinity…both deeply conservative and homophobic: only bad guys are gay’. When the router commences, it is conducted in the private space with the two characters being alone. Le Chiffre is also attacking Bond’s genitals; representing an attack on male hegemony and heterosexuality.
The metaphorical use of violence here is used in a different method in Fight Club, Palahniuk takes the satirical route in portraying the ‘real world’ as ‘ornamental’ and ‘feminised’. In reverse to Fleming’s approach, it is the outside world that is homosexual. During the fight scenes, men are all shirtless with exception for Bob; his body now lesser resembles the male form, which eliminates him from wearing their somewhat primal-uniform. Theorist, Lynn. M. Ta describes the intentions of fighting shirtless, ‘men can reclaim their lost manhood by stripping down’. In agreement with Ta’s notion, Bob has lost his male physicality thus cannot take part.
When looking into the cinematography of the movie Fight Club; the rain is filmed and used as iconography in the opening scenes. It is a technique used in Ridley Scott’s 1982 movie Blade Runner; the rain being shot from the top of a high building to the ground. This was used to represent how society/the world has fallen, adding to the dystopian image. For Fight Club it is read in the sam way, but for masculinity; it started ruling at the top, then descends to the gutter. Like Blade Runner, Fight Club also takes the style of film noir; with tilted camera angles, predominantly shot in the dark and garish tones. The reason for the similarities stem from Blade Runner being an iconic film, famous for it’s symbolism and one of the first films to depict dystopia through the cinematography. The target audience for the both movies are also of the same type most favoured by men, therefore the stylistic techniques used would appeal to fans of this type. Without veering away from the subject of violence; the representations of dystopia are pertinent, as the protagonists are finding cause and reason behind the violence. The similarities are addressed in the book, The Cinema of David Lynch: American Dreams, Nightmare visions, saying, ‘Films such as Blade Runner, Fight Club or Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys raise interesting epistemological questions within a narrative framework that is heavily invested in the very classical epistemologies they subvert.’ The passage correlates with the notion of philosophical social trauma the characters are faced with. It is postmodern films such as these that acknowledge and project these social critiques.
The segregation of the two worlds in Fight Club and the psychological awakening of James Bond’s homoeroticism can be applied to German philosopher Theodor Adorno’s theory of the aesthetic. The theory of ‘double vision’ can be applied here; raw masculinity is being offered as a new identity for the protagonists. They are now able to view the world for what it is and function in different ways, from primal and animalistic in the private space, to feminized and ornate in the real world. Aesthetic theory also leads to the idea of a ‘false consciousness’. Author Vincent Pecora discusses the idea of double vision being ‘crucial’ to the sociological aesthetic, he says, ‘…in modern rationalised societies, ideology has lost any dependable significance as “false consciousness” and has become only the self-advertising of the world that reduces all substantive criticism to a uniform silence’. The passage agrees with the argument of the new duality of the characters, regarding their social masculinity and raw masculinity. The fact that Tyler Durden is a false character who doesn’t exist, is an example of the double vision.
The relationship between masculinity and violence correlates with many different theories. From closely analysing both Fight Club and Casino Royale, it is clear that violence is not only used as a form of entertainment for a male target-audience/readership, but it also used to represent a variety of metaphorical meanings. In conclusion, all theories and instances raised comply with Judith Butler’s theory of gender being a performance. Characters in both texts are adhering to gender roles society has made for them; James Bond overly conforms to the hegemonic role where, protagonists in Fight Club expose their suppressed masculinity in the private space (what they perceive to be the ultimate masculine activity). Violence is a performance and bears a close relation to masculinity, as it shows a binary opposition to a typical female interaction. Both novels depict violence as an act of unity with the characters; more so in the case of Fight Club as it is there craving for their most masculinity that drives them there.
The torture scene in James Bond offers an alternative to his sophisticated image; showing him at his weakest yet enjoying not having to conform to a gender performance. His natural masculine instincts are being summoned through the pain being inflicted upon him. The attack on his genitalia is symbolic of the yearning he gets for conforming to what the world expects a man to stand for. Violence and masculinity is both a sociological and physiological area of study. Men are finding a reason for the fighting/torture to take place, i.e. Fight Club, as Ta explains the intentions of the group members, ‘rebel(s) against a seemingly impersonal and feminized dominant culture by blowing up that very world’. The violence in Casino Royale sparks a physiological reaction from Bond, leading to the Freudian theory of the subconscious and Ardono’s theory of the aesthetic.
To conclude, the relationship between violence and masculinity in the texts is ultimately analysed through a sociological study. However, it is society that he has triggered the psychological effects of the male characters in the texts. The unified feeling generated through the violence shapes the way masculinity is perceived by men themselves. In both texts, there is a pleasure gained from the pain and primal actions of fighting by the men. The exclusivity of the ‘fight club’ adds excitement for the characters; a chance for them to not only take part, but for it to be a celebration of their sex.