The Cacophony Society — the Real-World Project Mayhem

I was reading through a interview with Chuck Palahniuk (Author of Fight Club), and was very intrigued by a group in Portland, Oregon known as The Cacophony Society, which inspired Project Mayhem in Fight Club. The group consists of ordinary people who want to break free from the conventions of society by pulling pranks and stunts. The society has no rules/regulations, and its mission is to “make life more interesting” through “unusual experiences.” The members thrive on risk, collaborating with others, and “creating” rather than “consuming” culture. The society has chapters in major cities across the U.S.

Some of the society’s past pranks/events have included:

  • Burning a 40 ft. wooden man in the dessert on the summer equinox
  • Dressing in formal attire and having parties in underground sewage drains
  • Midnight bridge climbing
  • Painting billboards in neon colors
  • Joining PETA (People Eating Tasty Animals)


Palahniuk deemed Cacophony an integral part of his past. In another interview, he explains the friendships he formed with the members of the organization due to a shared passion for challenging identity and risking safety. He had a thirst to build rich experiences with genuine companions, as he often found himself referring to experiences with what he calls “air friends.” “Air friends” are acquaintances that you meet at work, school, etc., and your relationship with them is solely based on the fact that you occupy the same space or “air” as them for extended durations of time.

This concept mirrors the single-serving nature of society that the narrator brings up in Fight Club. The lack of meaningful relationships or compassion towards others was very prevalent in the film, shown through dry conversations between the narrator and his boss and the corrupt practices of his insurance company. The narrator obviously yearns for deeper connections with others, so he initially joins different support groups for people who share common problems. Aside from making an effort to avoid Marla, perhaps the narrator decided to leave the support groups and create Fight Club and Project Mayhem because he longed for relationships beyond his newfound “air friends.” Even though he met with the different support groups each week and interacted with the same people, he did not share anything in common with these people other than the air they were breathing. Fight Club and Project Mayhem allowed him to bond with people who shared his same passion for rebelling against society and challenging cultural norms.

Furthermore, the foundation of Cacophony was built upon “creating culture” through “unique experiences,” which reflects Fight Club’s mission of opposing the consumer-driven lifestyle that encompassed society. It is very appropriate that the fictional organization in the movie was based off of Cacophony, because there is no better way to rebel against society than to create a new society with opposing values and practices. Additionally, the materialism depicted in the film left many of the characters numb, and incorporating extreme actions in the movie similar to Cacophony’s outrageous and dangerous ceremonies allowed the characters to “challenge their identities” and truly feel raw fear and adrenaline.

I would recommend checking out the clips below for more information about The Cacophony Society and Chuck Palahniuk. (Skip to 19:50 of the second clip to see the interview with Palahniuk).

**Skip to 19:50 in the clip below**


  • The clips above

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