Rev up the hype, book Oprah for our newest 'victim': men

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Occasionally I see a film that demands a response or an action. "Fight Club" is such a film. As a man, I feel an "aggressive act" is the only possible solution.

"Fight Club" is the movie with the "buzz" these days. It's the story of a young numbers cruncher for an insurance company so numbed by life that he attends support groups for problems he doesn't have, so he can be with people.

Then he meets Tyler, a soap salesman, on an airplane. Tyler is everything the narrator isn't: aggressive, mischievous, and an anarchist at heart.

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One night they fight in a parking lot. They decide that this act of fighting is so "cleansing" for them as men, they want to share the experience with others. Fight Club is born, an underground brotherhood that grows each week as more men hear about it.

"Fight Club" is a slickly made, well-marketed, extremely violent film. It's not because the film is so violent that I felt disgusted. What bothered me are the underlying themes of the film, and how I think they will be perceived and acted on by the media and by the audience.

Much has been made by critics of the anti-consumerism tone of the film.

But a separate essay is required to examine the irony of a film with an "anti-consumerism" message that Fox studios is spending millions to turn into the biggest "consumer" film product of the year, marketed to the very group the film encourages to shun excessive consumption.

No, it's the movie's dual themes of male victimization and extreme violence as the only way for men to redeem their "true natures" that have me riled up.

Male victimization, and white male victimization in particular, is au currant these days. First there was the media's favorite femme fatale feminist, Susan Faludi, and her new book, "Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man." Now we have "Fight Club," with its message of male alienation and meaninglessness.

Listen closely and you'll hear the mass media's engines beginning to shift into high gear. Soon, everyone from Oprah to Newsweek to "Dateline" will tell us what a hard world it is for men, and white men in particular, and how all the changes that have taken place in society since the end of World War II have left men feeling adrift and powerless.

This theme of male victimization is the absurd, and probably unavoidable, terminus of what started as the men's movement in the 1980s. It's the ongoing attempt to turn a majority into a minority.

It's "Iron John" gone berserk. It's a clever, appealing message.

But it's not true.

When I look at the world that faces men these days, we still have it pretty good. For example, as an exercise in reality, look at the Fortune 500 list of CEOs, or the makeup of the Senate and Congress, or who runs most of the country's media, and you're going to find men. Lots of them.

That being said, men have had to deal with a lot of changes over the past few decades, not all of them easy.

If the media were capable of examining these issues with purpose and clarity, we would discover not all men are "scared" by these changes, and more than a few actually welcome them because they really do make the world a better place.

But that won't happen. This issue will become the stuff of talking-head shows, where professional contrarians will pound the topic into the ground.

Which brings me to the other message of "Fight Club" - extreme violence as a way to find meaning in life.

"Fight Club" is not the most violent film ever made. It's just that the violence in this film is so seductive, so slick, so "pretty," that it makes macho fascism seem an outcome as desirable as world peace or an end to hunger.

It's the potential of this message to be become "cool" that concerns me most. For instance, one of the film's supporting actors said in an interview that if the kids at Columbine High School had a fight club to express their anger, maybe they wouldn't have taken the action that they did.

It's this type of simplistic solution to the complexities of a situation like Columbine that sends chills down your spine, because you can imagine so many young men thinking the same thing.

As a man, as a person, the idea that violence will help you discover your "true self" is repugnant in the extreme. If I've learned anything in life, it's that violent acts solve nothing. Yes, to say so is clich and not as sexy as a multimillion-dollar film starring Brad Pitt. But it's the truth.

That's why I felt I had to do something aggressive in response. Only my aggressive act is to write about it. I would encourage others to be aggressive in the same way.

*Tom Regan is the associate editor of the Monitor's Electronic Edition, csmonitor.com

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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