This study utilizes the cultivation theory to explore the hegemonic message of masculinity in the film Fight Club and how this message negatively influences young adult males. Males between the ages of 17 and 25 would be randomly selected to watch Fight Club and be asked after the viewing to define what it means to be a man. The results would show that a drastic change is needed in the films Hollywood produces in order to inspire young adult males rather than to discourage them.
Masculinity of Hollywood as Represented in Fight Club and its Role in the Cultivation Theory
Hollywood has had a controversial history of placing hegemonic messages in many of the films they produce such as “Fight Club”. In order to better understand the motive behind Hollywood’s agenda, the message this film portrays must be analyzed along with its greater social/political significance through the lens of the cultivation theory. The goal of this research is to gain insight on how Hollywood uses this film as one of the representations of their belief of what it means to be masculine in today’s society. Through deeper insight, the controversy of Hollywood’s hegemonic agenda can be addressed along with the negative influence it has on young adult males.
Background and Significance
Hollywood has always been guilty of placing hegemonic messages in their films such as Fight Club. The particular hegemonic message placed in this film is that masculinity has certain requirements that must be met before someone can be defined as a man. Maybe in the past this type of message would not have been too much a problem, but it is controversial in today’s society where masculinity is no longer strictly required for someone to be defined as a man.
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The purpose of this study is to address this controversy through the lens of the cultivation theory and hopefully raise awareness of the negative influence that these hegemonic films have for young adult males. By raising awareness of this controversy, more young adult males will be encouraged to be any type of man that they choose without the pressures of being masculine in the way that Hollywood imposes. Such encouragement is crucial in today’s society because with the freedom to define what it means to be a man, more young adults will be inspired to change the world without feeling pressured to change their masculinity in order to do so.
According to Lynn M. Ta’s (2006) findings in Hurt So Good: Fight Club, Masculine Violence, and the Crisis of Capitalism, the message that Hollywood portrays through “Fight Club” is that many men today are less manly than before because they are victims of late capitalism. “Rather than being obsessed with the pursuit of power like a traditional male, men are mesmerized by consumer products” (Lynn M. Ta, 2006). This research critiques the effect that the consumerist economy has had on men and how it has been changing their image. In the modern economy, Lynn M. Ta compared the indulgence of women and men in consumerism and that men have become more feminine because their level of indulgence was similar to women. This study provides an explanation on why men appear to be losing their manhood from an economic perspective and leads to why Hollywood uses Fight Club to exemplify declining masculinity. This particular study lacks research on whether or not consumerism still affects the masculinity of men who refrain from indulgence.
One of the founding theorists of critical pedagogy in the United States, Henry A. Giroux (2001), researches the politics involved with the masculine violence portrayed in films. In his Private Satisfactions and Public Disorders: Fight Club, Patriarchy, and the Politics of Masculine Violence, Giroux finds that “films like Fight Club become important as public pedagogies that produce and reflect important considerations of how human beings should live, engage with others, and define themselves” (Henry A. Giroux, 2001). A pedagogy is defined as the method of teaching of an academic subject. So, to say that a film contributes to society for more than just entertainment purposes, places a great responsibility on it to create positive influences. As Giroux finds in his research however, films such as Fight Club end up creating hegemonic reflections of masculinity rather than inspiration for young adults. Henry Giroux’s study successfully critiques the flawed political side of films but lacks research on how Hollywood and politics are connected.
Professor of English at the University of Dayton, Andrew Slade (2011), conducted a research in which he analyzed the crisis of masculinity in To Live Like Fighting Cocks: Fight Club and the Ethics of Masculinity. “Fight Club stages a generational conflict that is reproduced in much of its academic reception as a conflict between competing notions of masculinity and the ways in which masculinity prescribes a certain number of sublimated behaviors” (Andrew Slade, 2011). In his study, Andrew Slade found that Fight Club created a problem for students who were obsessed with the film. His research concluded that the extreme violence present in the film led to a misunderstanding for students on how life should be centered around masculine fights and conflicts. The students that Slade researched believed that the film was a guide on how to be masculine and that violence was ethical as long as it led to manhood. This study is limited because it only studies students who were obsessed with Fight Club and who were more receptive to the film’s messages than other students.
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In his Masculine Identity and Success: A Critical Analysis of Fight Club, Alex Tuss (2004) researched the correlation between how people interpret the American Dream and how they interpret American films. Tuss found that, “the American Dream and the concept of success play central roles in American depictions of male accomplishment and masculinity in contemporary American culture” (Alex Tuss, 2004). Tuss’ research showed that many Americans in modern society have been so indulged in the world of films that the depictions of fictional worlds are confused with reality. In particular, when characters in a film live the American Dream because of their specific masculinity, audiences of the film expect similar goals to be achieved in their own lives. This study helps to explain how some people confuse masculinity and the American Dream that are portrayed in films with those in reality, but it is limited in research because it doesn’t study the negative effects these confusions cause to young adults.
Lynn M. Ta, Henry A. Giroux, Andrew Slade, and Alex Tuss have all done similar research by studying the masculinity portrayed in Fight Club and the effects it has on men. All four of these researchers provided findings on the negative influences that derive from this film and how men have gained misunderstandings of the definition of masculinity. However similar these studies may have been, the most persuasive argument comes from Alex Tuss in his Masculine Identity and Success: A Critical Analysis of Fight Club, Alex Tuss (2004). His findings on how the American Dream is confused with the male accomplishment portrayed in film essentially summarized all of the arguments made by the other three researchers. The crisis of capitalism, politics of masculine violence, and the ethics of masculinity that have been researched all stem from a yearning of men to achieve the American Dream portrayed by masculine accomplishments in film. Therefore, a further study can be done through the lens of the cultivation theory on how masculinity portrayed in the film Fight Club directly affects young adult males in a negative way. This further study would lead to an understanding on how young adult males interpret masculinity in films like Fight Club and allow the possibility of discovering how to most effectively influence these young adults in positive ways instead.
Research Design, Methods, and Future Study
In order to analyze this research through the lens of the cultivation theory, at least a hundred randomly selected participants of young adult males, between the ages of 17 to 25, will be gathered to watch Fight Club. The participants would then be asked to define masculinity after watching the film and also if they would prefer to be someone like Brad Pitt’s character or Edward Norton’s, both of whom go by the name of Tyler Durden in the film because they are revealed to be two versions of the same person. The results will show that a majority, if not all, of the participants would rather be the version of Tyler Durden that is portrayed by Brad Pitt because he is an example of a masculine man who is honest and real with himself, who also coincidentally fits the mold of Hollywood’s hegemonic portrayal of an ideal man. This study will be limited to young adult males because they are most likely to be influenced by the image of masculinity in films. The analysis of these findings would bring awareness to the negative influence that Hollywood’s film produces on young adult males. This awareness will be crucial because it would lead to further research on how to encourage and inspire young adult males rather than pressuring them to reach the masculinity that Hollywood portrays. A separate research should also be conducted on how hegemonic films negatively affect young adult females as well in order to bring greater awareness to the extent of Hollywood’s misled influence.
Studying the negative influence that films like Fight Club have on young adult males would help create a better future for men everywhere. Too often does a film like this create misleading images in the minds of the youth and discourage them from changing the world due to them experiencing feelings of insufficiency. The results of this study would lead to a greater awareness of the hegemonic agenda of Hollywood and allow more room for change in the understanding of what it means to be a man. By selecting a group of young adult males to watch Fight Club and have them define masculinity based on the film, a direct correlation between discouraged youth and Hollywood’s hegemonic agenda can be exposed and lead to positive change for the future.
- Slade, A., & Fincher, David. (2011). To live like fighting cocks: Fight club and the ethics of masculinity. Quarterly Review of Film and Video, Xxviii (3), 230-238.
- Giroux, Henry A. (2001). Private Satisfactions and Public Disorders: “Fight Club,” Patriarchy, and the Politics of Masculine Violence. JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory, 21(1), 1-31.
- Tuss, Alex. (2004). Masculine Identity and Success: A Critical Analysis of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley and Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. Journal of Men’s Studies: A Scholarly Journal about Men and Masculinities, 12(2), 93-102.
- Ta, L. (2006). Hurt So Good: Fight Club, Masculine Violence, and the Crisis of Capitalism. Journal of American Culture, 29(3), 265-277.
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