Earlier this week, I went to a lecture given by Mohandas Gandhi’s grandson at University of California-Davis’ Freeborn Hall. He spoke about how we commit acts of violence every day; violence against nature, physical violence against each other, subtle violence which we may not initially recognize we have committed. He encouraged us to actively practice nonviolence as a means to achieving our goals. I loved it.
And then I went home and watched Fight Club.
I didn’t watch it to see Edward Norton turn Jared Leto’s face into a rotting-fruit-like mush. No, I watched Fight Club because I admire how the main character sacrifices all his earthly conveniences and creates a network of devotees to follow his obviously flawed yet insightful philosophy about how we should live.
He is trying to create a society that “makes venison, drying the meat on an old abandoned superhighway,” a culture where “you will have one pair of leather pants that will last you your whole life.” He muses, correctly, that “you’re not the car you drive … you’re not the contents of your wallet … you’re not your f—in’ khakis.”
Only now am I realizing that the kind of conspicuous, widespread, at times inexplicable consumerism that the main personality rails against is exactly what Arun Gandhi spoke of when addressing that “violence against nature” we perpetuate.
Granted, the similarities probably end there; I can envision how Arun Gandhi would react to the idea of blowing up buildings, kicking yourself (literally), starting fights with strangers or threatening people at gunpoint so that they’ll go to veterinary school.
But Tyler Durden, the film’s protagonist with a take-no-prisoners approach, is right. Why should I feel like more of a man, or feel like a valuable person, if I’m wearing a certain brand of underwear? Or if I have washboard abs? Why should I feel compelled to adhere to a value system I despise?
I fault our culture for the guilt my mom feels when I walk around nearly every day in the same beat-up shoes for three years. Okay, so maybe I should just get some new shoes.
What do you want? What do you value? What’s your major? For most of us, these are difficult questions to answer with any kind of coherency. For students, pretending to study, making money, talking to all your friends on campus — all these mundane tasks take up far too much time for us to be thinking about our motivation. But if we never try to answer these questions, how authentic or unique can our actions ever be?
This is where you come in. When I write, I enjoy trying to make people laugh. And I’m not shy about using myself as the proverbial butt of jokes, either, the Steve Urkel to your Laura Winslow — with the same measure of affection, I might add.
But I’m reminded of Tyler Durden’s condescending response to a character’s clever yet meaningless joke: “How’s that working out for you? Being witty, that is?” I don’t want to make “being witty” my aim.
Hopefully, I’ve prompted you to think a little with this column, but I’ve largely been writing to a readership I don’t completely understand.
Of course, I still reserve the right to ramble for 20 column inches about yo’ mama or the fascinating difference between Prego and Ragu if I should so desire.
Kenny McCanless, The California Aggie, University of California-Davis