“Prepare to Evacuate Soul!” (What Fight Club says about Generation X)

I was a little disturbed by how much I enjoyed reading Fight Club. It has a lot of hopeless and negative messages, for example, “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.” “This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.” “Our Great Depression is our lives.” It took me a long time to figure out exactly what I liked so much about this cynical, chaotic, and seemingly hopeless book.

Around the same time I was reading Fight Club, I got into a discussion about the characteristics of different generations during this past century. The generations of this century have come to be known as the G.I. Generation (born 1901-1926), the aptly-named Silents (born 1927-1945), who often get forgotten about in generation discussions, the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1945), Generation X (born 1965-1980), and the Millennium Generation (born 1981-2000). 

The piece of information that got me thinking about Fight Club in relation to these generations was a description of the G.I. Generation, the people who grew up during the Great Depression and fought in World War II. Their legacy was that they had saved the world. They are often referred to as “The Greatest Generation.” It’s hard to measure up to that. Hearing about this amazing, patriotic generation that valued loyalty and teamwork, lived through one of the world’s greatest monstrosities, and came out on top, I was reminded of a quote from Fight Club, which was written in 1996. “We’re the middle children of the history man, no purpose or place, we have no Great war, no Great depression, our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives.”

Fight Club was written in 1996, around the time when Generation X would be the same age as the unnamed narrator of the book. The more I heard about Generation X, the more parallels I saw with Fight Club. The kids of Generation X are known as the “latch key kids.” They were the first generation to live with divorced or career-driven parents, and often came home to an empty house and had to let themselves in. Tyler, the cynical chaotic revolutionary in Fight Club, points out that he and the narrator are part of a generation raised by women. The narrator’s father left when the narrator was six. 

Generation X is independent and street smart. Government and big business aren’t very important to them, and they are cynical of institutions  and authorities that seem to have failed them and their families. While the G.I. Generation was more focused on the common good, Generation X focused more on the individual good. They still wanted to learn and explore, but with the arrival of digital information, there was a lot more that one person could do on his own. This trend of individuality had been evolving from the Baby Boomer’s revolution for free love and no-fault divorce, and finally became one of the defining characteristics of Generation X. The very name “Generation X,” came from that generation’s rebellious desire not to be defined or labeled.

That’s not to say that everyone from this generation was going around wreaking mindless mayhem in their youth. That’s not the point. Fight Club gives us a look at how the generations respond to each other, and the extremes that people can go to while attempting to be different from their parents. The G.I. Generation had a lot to offer in the way of achieving great things, but left very little room for an individual’s personal goals. The Silents lived off of their parent’s success, but made very little progress. Probably in rebellion against this disciplined and neat world of white picket fences, the Baby Boomers became known as the “Me” generation, the first generation to think about the individual as being more important than the community as a whole. And as a result of the revolutions of the 60s and 70s, Generation X became, in a way, an abandoned generation, rebels without a cause.

I feel like I’ve focused a lot on the negative here. But I just want to say, even though the year I was born says I’m a Millennial, I feel like I have more in common with Generation X. What can I say? I’m an old soul. The Millennials grew up with “helicopter parents” and have been told “you are special,” but I had a latchkey like my mom did before me, and even though I knew I was “special,” I knew everyone else was, too, so we all canceled each other out. I don’t find that depressing or anything, either. I find it very true and kind of funny. Like the narrator says at the end of the book. “We are not special. We are not crap or trash, either. We just are.”

That’s why I liked this book so much. The narrator spent the entire book trying to “be a different person,” and it took him as deep into cynicism and bitterness and destruction as a person can go, and he came out knowing an important truth about how simply existing is enough reason to exist.

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What’s In the Stack O’ Books? – I typically have two  or three (or five) books on the reading stack at a time. Here are the books I’ve chosen for November.

That Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevzky

 

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2 thoughts on ““Prepare to Evacuate Soul!” (What Fight Club says about Generation X)

  1. Oh, a lot of people fight against their generational characterizations. For example, technically, I would be considered part of the Baby Boomer generation (I was born in 1963), but feel like I have more in common with Generation X, since that’s when I grew up and went through school. And I was a latch-key kid also.

    In fact, some folks would divide the Baby Boomer generation into two parts, since those of us born later on in that period often have very little in common with those born earlier, whether in attitudes or in experiences. (I would even go further, since the lines separating the generations are often fuzzy—not unlike astrological signs, where those born on the cusp of one sign or the other may not necessarily exhibit the characteristics usually associated with the signs they were born under.)

    I’ve never read Fight Club, but the movie is one of my favorites. I definitely respond more to “you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake” than I do to the more recent “everyone is special” approach taken by a lot of the parents of my generation.

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