If we lived in a society based on the ideology of a rules system that states: “Rule number one, don’t talk about branding” would we be happier, or feel more free of the system that we try so hard to escape? I believe that David Fincher’s Fight Club shows how comfortable we become surrounded by the idea that we need products to make our lives better, and his use of product placement throughout the film is not the use of propaganda by companies, but a wake-up call to those of us who have lived as slaves to the things we own.
Fight Club can be seen as a film based on realism, focusing on young professionals being guided through their lives by images of products that show false ideas of the perfect lifestyle. The film illustrates specific brands not only by glimpses of logos, but also of narration.
Starbucks, IBM, and IKEA are a few of the countless brands the audience is exposed to while viewing the film. It gives the audience a rush of identification, so they say to themselves, “I shop at IKEA and I drink Starbucks while working a 9 to 5 job that I hate.” When the audience sees these images and hears the names of companies they are familiar with, their identification with the narrator is also the logo of the brand at work on their minds. “Brands could conjure a feeling…but not only that, entire corporations could themselves embody a meaning of their own.” (Klein 3) For example, Starbucks, when showed in the context of the film, conjures the feeling of working hard and becoming exhausted, but having the ability to rely on a brand that will help with a busy lifestyle.
A huge brand influence in the film is from IKEA. Something the narrator says he falls into is the “IKEA nesting instinct” where he fills his apartment with expensive and designer items and products that don’t provide any real happiness in his life. A great line that shows the branding influence is when the narrator asks himself, “What kind of dining set defines me as a person?” This is traced back to the brand of dining set he orders, and how that dining set is different from the others because of the brand. “Customers don’t truly believe there’s a huge difference between products which is why brands must establish emotional ties with their customers…” (Klein 14) The narrator is emotionally tied to the dining set with the “tiny bubbles and imperfections” because of the experiences he has had ordering other products and how he feels when he sees advertisements telling him why he should purchase the dining set.
The film shows that the narrator’s life is completely dominated by products and tangible items. He is a consumer, and buys and buys for that little endorphin rush. When the things he purchases are no longer new, he purchases more because he assumes that possessing these things is making him happier and making his life better. Even during the scene where the narrator’s apartment is shown fully furnished, the details of the products, including the prices, are shown. The pricing of some of these products may startle the audience, however, everyone in the audience is also a slave to consumerism, and seeing the prices flash on the big screen is a preview of the wake-up call they will receive later on in the film.
The narrator unknowingly rebels against his own dull lifestyle by blowing up his own apartment and destroying all of his “flaming little shit.” He is so deeply rooted in his values of materialism, that he feels embarrassed while he looks at his smouldering refrigerator “full of condiments and no food.” It doesn’t matter that his apartment blew up, it only matters as to what people think of him when they see the contents of his fridge.
Later when the narrator is having a drink with Tyler, he explains that he had it all, and he was “close to being complete.” He elaborates further by saying that “it wasn’t just a bunch of stuff in that apartment, it was me.” After having all of his things taken from him, and completely cutting himself off from the materialism he clung to, his true values start to emerge about how he feels about his products. “The selling of the brand acquired an extra component that can only be described as spiritual.” (Klein 17) The only way we can describe how the narrator feels right now is perhaps mourning. He lost something precious and he possibly felt a spiritual connection to it because it made him who he is and shaped his identity. “Some commentators have even described advertising as part of a new religious system in which people construct their identities through the commodity form…” (Jhally 202) It’s possible that the audience agrees that owning certain things helps to shape an identity, and a certain persona that they want to embody. However, that being simplified is just lying to yourself about who you are and what you value.
During this monologue, the narrator delves into how he was almost complete. This is another symptom of being surrounded by advertisements. “Advertising doesn’t always mirror how people are acting but how they’re dreaming.” (Jhally 202) After spending more time with Tyler, he reveals something that shatters the world of the narrator, and hopefully helps to splash ice water in the faces of the audience. “The things you own end up owning you.” How can the narrator or the audience disagree with this. They see what he has become because of the things he has owned, and he hasn’t been free of the constant need to consume until his apartment was destroyed along with everything inside of it.
After a turn of events, the director shows how the narrator is rebelling against the materialistic life he once lived. He was dominated by images he saw everywhere, and “they induce feeling.” (Jhallly 203) However, now when he looks at images of advertisements in places like public transportation, those images are considered “self-destruction.” The narrator let those images consume him and his life was consumed, and he caused his own self-destruction.
The film is concluded with the destruction of credit card companies, which would in turn cause “chaos” and in Tyler’s mind, “set them free.” The director, overall, challenges the audience to realize their own materialistic values, and rebel against that value of wanting to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like. The wake up call the narrator receives in the film is also something that the director wants to be passed onto the audience. They may not change their ideas right away, but at least a few questions will be raised about the true need for the consumption of needless products by the hands of advertisement brainwashing.
Fincher, David, dir. Fight Club. Fox 2000 Pictures, 1999. Film.
Klein, Naomi. “New Branded World.” No Logo. New York: Picador USA, 1999. 25-45.
Jhally, Sut. “Image Based Culture.” The World and I. (1990): 77-87. Web.