Faludi, Fight Club, and phallic masculinity: exploring the emasculating economics of patriarchy.
Abstract: Both Susan Faludi's Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man (text) and the film Fight Club (image) insist that men have been emasculated by consumerism; that the post-war legacy of the so-called good life has shifted men from active, heroic, confrontational roles into the passive, ornamental roles usually assigned to women; and that, without a Great Depression, or Great War, or any other dragon to slay, emasculated men have become imprisoned in their job cubicles and possessed by their possessions, often with not only negative, but even violent repercussions. Ecofeminism and ecotheology provide the tools for better understanding this idolatrous false god of consumerism, as well as for beginning to explore how the economics of plenty affect seemingly privileged men. Importantly, however, this study does not further privilege the already privileged, but seeks instead to understand how the globalizing economy negatively impacts both the human poor and the nonhuman ecosystems which altogether constitute our fragile planet (including population growth and environmental racism). Finally, the essay pushes beyond deconstructive criticism to explore "green" alternatives--at once returning to the masculinity/economics issues in popular culture, insisting on the need for both an economic theory and a value system that do not reduce all value to monetary terms, and seeking a renewed commitment to relational justice in ecosystemic communities. Here, Faludi and Fight Club part company, the latter focusing not on community but upon the heterosexist isolationism and individualism which others argue is a symptom, perhaps even a cause, and certainly not the solution for our current economic and environmental woes.

Key Words: consumerism, economics, globalization, ornamental culture, phallic masculinity, population, poverty, environmental racism, ecofeminism, ecotheology, green economics
Subject: Consumer advocacy (Social aspects)
Masculinity (Economic aspects)
Masculinity (Social aspects)
Men (Portrayals)
Motion pictures (Social aspects)
Motion pictures (Criticism and interpretation)
Patriarchy (Economic aspects)
Patriarchy (Social aspects)
Patriarchs and patriarchate
Author: Clark, J. Michael
Pub Date: 09/22/2002
Publication: Name: The Journal of Men's Studies Publisher: Men's Studies Press Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences; Women's issues/gender studies Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2002 Men's Studies Press ISSN: 1060-8265
Issue: Date: Fall, 2002 Source Volume: 11 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: Fight Club (Novel) Event Code: 290 Public affairs
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 94077710
Full Text: One of the most exciting things about my transition over the last few years from being primarily a writer who teaches on the side to being primarily a teacher who writes, maybe, if I have time, is that my students are increasingly the goad to my thinking. Wonderfully, they won't leave me alone, even when it means thinking more thoroughly about something I've purposefully set aside or avoided. A couple of years ago, right in the middle of my carefully planned pilot course on men's studies for an all-women's college (Clark, 2001), a book appeared with which our group had to reckon--Susan Faludi's (1999) Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man. Before the semester was over, we found ourselves no longer safely within the confines of religious studies even broadly conceived, but venturing into sociological and economic understandings of masculinity more than just a little unsettling. Almost two years later, several male students--interestingly both gay and nongay--insisted I borrow and watch their video of the film Fight Club, which I reluctantly agreed to do. How surprised I was to find myself facing some of the very same socio-economic connections with masculinity that I'd found in Faludi's (1999) text. And, ironically in the interim, my own evolving efforts to do post-patriarchal or profeminist environmental theology and ethics kept sliding toward economic issues as well. The combined effect of all this has been that my student gadflies have compelled me to further explore these connections that I had been trying to avoid confronting until now.


At the risk, perhaps, of oversimplifying her argument, Faludi (1999) contends that the dynamics destabilizing American masculinity are primarily economic ones: Consumer culture has emasculated men, pushing them increasingly into ornamental and passive roles traditionally associated with the feminine sphere. While our fathers and grandfathers may have intended to bequeath us a simple and benign post-war legacy of a "good life" free of the hardships they had known from the Great Depression to the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific, the actuality we have experienced in the half-century since has been anything but benign. Not a steady state of bliss, the so-called good life has accelerated into an "onrush of mass consumerism," wherein, according to Faludi (1999), male worth has increasingly become "measured only by participation in ... consumer culture" (pp. 36, 37, 39). The resulting development of an "ornamental culture ... constructed around ... image, glamour ... and consumerism" has left men with a "loss of economic authority" (pp. 35, 595). Faludi (1999) describes a postwar masculinity with no common enemy and no common mission (pp. 19, 29). She writes, for example, that "the male paradigm of confrontation in which an enemy could be identified, contested, and defeated was [for a time at least] easily transferable," first empowering the Cold War against Communism and enabling the exploration of outer space and the moon landings, then later fueling male activism in the Civil Rights, Anti-War, Gay Rights, and Environmental movements, but that, ultimately, this paradigm has not helped men better understand their own sense of "oppression" or their embeddedness in patriarchy (pp. 604, 625, 626).

As Faludi's (1999) "male paradigm of confrontation" has broken down, the ensuing vacuum has become increasingly dangerous. She argues that, as men's sense of "usefulness to society meant less and less [and] personal worth was [increasingly] judged in ornamental terms," American manhood has become totally disconnected "from meaningful social purpose" (p. 598). Worse, she further contends, "as the male role has diminished ..., many men have found themselves driven to more domineering and some even `monstrous' displays in their frantic quest for a meaningful showdown"; for some men this drivenness "would eventually become a hunt for a shape-shifting enemy who could take the form of women ..., or gays ..., or young black men ..., or illegal aliens"--in short, "everybody is a potential enemy" (pp. 31, 32, 38).

Here is precisely where Fight Club picks up Faludi's (1999) thesis. Its clever archetypal doubling proves not merely that anybody is a "potential enemy," but that white, middle American men are their own worst enemies. The club's constructed "monstrous showdowns" that leave these men so gleefully bloodied and bruised attempt to compensate them for their lives of quiet desperation, heretofore seemingly content with jobs in cubicles and the accumulation of possessions that have come to possess their owners. Brad Pitt's character virtually paraphrases Faludi (1999) when he tells these men that they have no Great Depression, no Great War, no other dragon to battle heroically against, but that, instead, the "great depression" is their own contemptuous lives lived so passively enslaved to consumerism. While, granted, we encounter in both Faludi's (1999) text and the Fight Club's images a problematic version of phallic essentialism--that testosterone-driven men must somehow be "up" against some enemy or other (or even themselves) or else be "up" against the wall of emasculating self-doubts, and that those self-doubts in the midst of the post-war plenty of American consumerism have ironically let men "down"--my concern here is not to rehash the essentialism vs. constructivism arguments about masculinity, but is rather to begin to explore further the economics of consumerism and why this particular legacy of patriarchy is so devastating not only for us men, but for other human and nonhuman folks alike.


Importantly, when I look back to my own rootedness in environmental theology and ecofeminism for clarification, consumerism looms larger still, as false god or false religion--idolatrous in any case. Increasingly, across lines of ethnic, cultural, and religious differences, the consumerist economics of growth-and-development have become the one true god held in common by all, according to Catherine Keller (1997), who writes, "The global religion of growth through `free trade' [is] the most formidable ... idolatry of our epoch" (p. 356). Likewise, in describing "the religion of our time--consumerism," Sallie McFague (2001) observes that "the current dominant American worldview ... is that we are individuals with the right to ... the happiness of the consumer-style `abundant life.' The market ideology has become ... almost a religion" (pp. 11, xi). The pervasiveness of such individually oriented, consumer-style "happiness" leads McFague to conclusions remarkably like those of Faludi, that "consumer culture ... defines human satisfaction solely in terms of consumer acquisition" (McFague, 2001, p. 49). Moreover, the "market ideology" of globally spreading growth-and-development may be not only the most powerful world religion today, but "consumerism" the dominant value system and "economics" the theology; within this "religion of the market" neither increasing population nor environmental degradation is seen as a problem, because more people simply means larger markets to develop to consume more products, which of course further exploits both human and nonhuman lives (nature), naively viewed as merely replaceable commodities themselves (Coward, 1997, pp. 266-267; cf., Loy, 1997). McFague (1997) is also keenly aware of the results of globalizing the first world god of limitless economic growth-and-development in a limited world. "Nature and people are objectified ... as either `raw materials' or `human resources' for the production of consumer needs and desires," she writes. "Nothing has intrinsic value; ... all are objects in the economic machine" (pp. 13, 14). She concludes that our very language itself nurtures this mechanistic objectification: "The common expressions `natural resources' and `human resources' reveal the objectifying sensibility that characterizes our time .... People, like trees, cattle, wheat, or minerals, are, from a business point of view, merely means of increasing production" (p. 46).

"Mechanistic objectification," the commodification of nature, and consumerism altogether shield us from reality. Indeed, "the forces behind maximum economic growth ... do not want consumers to know how [our] behavior is affecting soil erosion, global warming, the loss of biodiversity and ... habitats, ... pollution, desertification, [and] poverty" (McFague, 2001, p. 65). As perhaps mundane examples, unless we regularly read the publications of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), we are probably totally blind to what happens to cows and their calves for us to have milk regularly, or to chickens en masse for us to have cheap eggs. We easily miss (or choose to ignore) how everything in our lives is reduced to dollars and cents--even our scholarship. How many of us have received kind letters from book editors praising our keen minds and eloquent prose while apologizing that market forecasts cannot predict enough sales to warrant publication of our work? Or a mainstream publisher does accept our work, then panics over hard-cover sales, and, suddenly, we find the same book re-issued in paperback--word for word and page for page verbatim--by a smaller press under a slightly altered title (cf., Boyd, 1995, 1997). In short, the consumerist market ideology determines even what we're allowed to think--at least in any meaningfully sized public forum; indeed, academic freedom, too, has taken a back seat to consumerist economics.

While we in academia wrestle with the comparatively trivial economic constrictions of our own privileges, we must further reckon with the extent to which current economic theory (a theory which believes that "freely acting, acquisitive individuals will eventually, though not intentionally, work out the best solution for production and consumption in a [globalizing society [whose] central value is the gratification of individuals ... understood entirely in monetary terms") is extremely naive and cruelly ignores the larger "issues of who benefits ... and whether the planet can bear the systems' burdens" (McFague, 2001, p. 77). In other words, endless growth-and-development naively ignores both the ecological burden and those folks seemingly forever beyond "eventually" sharing in consumerism's putative material prosperity. Ultimately, McFague (2001)boils American-style consumerism down into three related problem areas:

* "the impoverishment of others and the degradation of the planet" (p. 14).

* the loss of subsistence lifestyles to market economics by that two-thirds of the world's population who do not amass consumer goods (p. 45).

* the "global injustice" of exporting "consumerism around the world" (p. 92).

Here, one other voice also becomes important to further nuance the conversation at hand, that of a profeminist male eco-theologian, Larry Rasmussen (1996). While an economic system ought to insure continuation of life in community, Rasmussen contends that Western-style economics actually does the opposite by treating nature as mechanistic, interchangeable, or replaceable parts, not as an organic and communitarian whole; by generating affluence for a privileged few humans (mostly men); and by shifting the economic focus from the household and the local community to corporations--mostly controlled by men (pp. 91-92). In fact, Western-style development is preferentially constructed in opposition to "complex local and regional sustainable society and community" (p. 114). Likewise, the much lauded free trade upon which growth-and-development economics depends ignores real local needs in its quest for profits for the privileged: "Trade today is not ... to facilitate the exchange of [necessary] goods and services," Rasmussen argues. "Rather trade is to further economic growth by increasing demand and consumption" (p. 122). Such constructed or created demand, which ignores real human need, also ignores the earth and nature's limitations. In short, he argues, "the increased activity of economic growth is degrading and destroying the host"--our home, the earth itself (p. 125).

Rasmussen (1996) also brings a particular historical perspective to his analysis, noting that, with the post-war development so crucial to Faludi's argument, "higher levels of material consumption and a heightened ability to alter the natural world for [so called] human benefit" have been achieved, by the West and largely for the West, while other cultures and peoples are devalued accordingly, especially those subsistence cultures and peoples who do not act as consumers (p. 135). More often than not, such cultures are coerced into adopting consumer economics, losing their subsistence sustainability to real material poverty. The resulting economic disparities, he argues, contribute only to the well-being of a privileged few: "The injustice of current global economic and environmental dynamics" is that "wealth is generated at one pole, and poverty and deprivation of communities and resources are generated at another" (p. 165). Economic growth does not eliminate the resulting poverty in such a system; in fact, the opposite is true, insofar as "inequality between and within societies accompanies high growth rates" because "expanding economic pies bring greater rewards to the already rich and increase the absolute gap between rich and poor" (Rasmussen, 1996, pp. 150-152). Where once was a sustainable, albeit subsistence, lifestyle, real material poverty and ecological pressures now re-shape communities. One way in which I am most acutely aware of the extent to which real material poverty has reshaped previously sustainable subsistence communities involves the AIDS pandemic. It is becoming increasingly clear that having American pharmaceutical companies discount HIV medications or having smaller, regional companies manufacture generic copies of those medications, in either case to make them more available to infected people in areas such as sub-Saharan Africa, is far from enough if the quality of life--including adequate and regular food and nutrition, water, shelter, etc.--is not available to these same people to enable the medications to be effective in preventing AIDS debilitation and death. Rasmussen (1996) further insists that nineteenth century industrialization, transmogrified into twentieth century growth-and-development economics, has succeeded not only in alienating people from one another, but in alienating people from a nature now commodified instead of sustainable: "Development and progress belong to a ... culture that uses and dominates nature (and people it views as `close to nature') and alienates humanity from the rest of nature (and people from one another)" (p. 63).

In addition, the globalization of Western-style growth-and-development, consumerist economics threatens to obliterate the rich variety of our home, our earth. "Multiculturalism, diversity, and market pluralism are being celebrated," notes Rasmussen (1996), "at the same time that real differences are being eradicated by mass-oriented consumption and communication" (p. 78). The world as "melting pot" blends away our differences, leaving behind a bland homogeneity that masks our various realities. In other words, the now-globalizing economic culture oversimplifies, selectively overlooking or even denying real diversity and, consequently, disregarding local community loyalties and needs, cultures and connectedness. Instead of valuing and celebrating, nurturing and sustaining, real cultural and economic differences, American-style mall culture is being forced upon the whole earth. Increasingly, a planetary capitalism built of free trade agreements, information technologies, and financial markets "treats Seattle, Boston, Madras, Rio, and Kuala Lumpur as though they were much the same," a perceived sameness that essentially ignores "different renditions of different [people] in different places and ... the rest of wildly variegated nature" as well (Rasmussen, 1996, p. 329; cf., p. 94).


The consensus of these various theological voices is that, while we address the idolatry of consumerism, we must not do so without attending to those whose basic "consumption" needs--for food and shelter, for example--remain unmet. And we must be very careful not to blame the victim whose former, perfectly functional, subsistence economy has been forcibly replaced by a dysfunctional, material poverty-inducing, consumerist economy. Nor, finally, should we displace our ecological concern for population control onto those people who have precious little else besides their children, as we in Western societies are wont to do. Importantly, I do not think these issues taken together--population and consumption--can be naively bracketed as "third world" or "developing world" issues somehow not in our "first world" backyards. Instead, "any adequate analysis of overpopulation" must surely focus attention "on overconsumption by the affluent" (Parker and Richards, 1996, p. 125, emphasis added). Keller (1996) bluntly agrees: "It is not Southern fertility, but the neocolonial market that creates the conditions for both demographic imbalance and the shutdown of the planetary life-systems, as this market funnels three-quarters of all resources to its Northern beneficiaries" (p. 153). In short, those of us in the overconsuming first world are the ones who need to stop having babies.

Alice Walker's 1997 commencement address at Agnes Scott College brought this message home, when she strongly recommended that we Americans declare a moratorium on having babies until we can create both social justice and eco-justice on both sides of the Rio Grande and elsewhere. We in the first world need to curt `our own procreation not only because our children will do far more damage to our ecosystemic earth than a host of the world's poor, but also because we need to avoid double standards: No policies for population control should ever be implemented against the poor that the privileged and affluent would be unwilling to practice as well. "A just reproductive ethic will not utilize criteria which penalize the poor or put undue stress on one gender or class," insists Christine Gudorf (1994). "A just reproductive ethic will attempt to maximize the health of women" (p. 46). And that is exactly the point for this profeminist theologian: Because women bear the greatest burden and responsibility in child-bearing and -rearing, women should determine population policies and programs--not men, not primarily male politicians, and certainly not this gay male theologian. More specifically, indigenous women should be involved at the grass roots or local community level to determine policies and programs appropriate to their specific ethnicities, religions, and value systems. Not even the most well-intentioned first-world feminism should be coercively enacted in these communities; that is, after all, just another form of imperialism. Enabling these women to improve the quality of their own lives will be far more effective in changing fertility rates than the imposition of any first world ideology, however liberationally intended.

At the same time, as many of my feminist colleagues would hasten to remind me, we cannot successfully empower women if we essentially ignore men's roles here or if we in any other way "let men off the hook." Men, obviously, are also very much involved in population growth and men as well must be held accountable--for incest, rape, and other forms of coercive sex that produce children, as well as for raising and/or supporting any subsequent children. In short, while self-determination must be encouraged and facilitated for all women, men, too, must be more accountable for their own role(s) in population growth, maintenance, and care. What I would suggest, therefore, for those of us thinking about these issues here in the first world, is that we should focus less on producing children ourselves and more on both caring for those children already living and enhancing the quality of all our relationships with one another, human and nonhuman alike.

Ignoring our first world consumption levels while displacing the responsibility for population control onto peoples outside that privileged world is but one manifestation of a larger, more insidious problem--environmental racism. Rasmussen (1996) continues, for example, noting that, regardless of literal global geography, the "North" or "first world" is constituted by wealthy, accumulating capitalism, by growth-and-development economics, while the "South" or "developing world" or "third world" includes all those lives marginalized by that capitalist economic growth and affluence, further including as well the poor who nonetheless live in otherwise Northern, affluent countries such as the U.S. (p. 132). Most striking is the fact that "economic factors correlate with racial/ethnic ones"; indeed, "race, class, and gender are all intersected by biased environmental practices" (pp. 76, 77). Not only is this the case within our own country; it is increasingly a global reality because "poorer nations and poorer communities within nations, most often nonwhite societies and communities [worldwide], bear disproportionate burdens in the trashing of the globe" (p. 77). All too clearly, whether in exporting our first world waste, in competing for cheaper "natural resources," or in exploiting low wage workers and less stringent ecological protections, we engage in both economic and ecological blackmail and extortion of the poor and peoples of color, whose coerced participation in Western-style growth-and-development economics has left them too poor to say "no" (p. 79). Other global manifestations of this economic and ecological racism include land appropriated for export-driven agribusiness without regard for the regenerative needs of indigenous peoples, subsistence farmers, or the land itself; displaced people victimized by lowered wages and/or employee down-sizing; and an overall alienation from "a healthy spiritual connection to nature, place, community, and culture" (p. 132).

Many of us in this country also know the realities of urban environmental racism and/or poverty, either because we ourselves are people of color or because, largely for economic reasons, we live in neighborhoods perceived as African American or Hispanic. While economically privileged (and usually white) professionals can flee most of the dilemmas of our cities by seeking refuge in monocultural suburbs, the poor of whatever color cannot afford such a move. While suburbanites add to the poisoning of cities with automobile commuting, inner city poor are restricted to the terrain of mass transit, breathing ground level ozone largely created by those commuters and their growth-and-development industries.

Outside American cities, such environmental racism in this country most often affects native Americans because it underlies "natural resource development" on native lands, still, today (Fassett, 1996, p. 182). It includes the placement of uranium and toxic waste facilities as well as nuclear storage (and earlier, nuclear testing) on or near reservation lands, all in federal actions constitutive of our European-American economics of environmental blackmail: "The clear racism here is that we are too poor ... to say no," bemoans Osage/Cherokee theologian George Tinker (1996). "Poverty leaves us with few defenses against the [economic and political] pressures" to accept such ecological hazards on native lands (pp. 179, 184). And that is key for people in general and for many men specifically: Poverty is equated with vulnerability and the absence of power. "Social and environmental degradation follows from inequalities of power and can only be corrected by equalizing power," Rasmussen (1996) observes. "Marginalized people make for marginalized lands and vice versa" (pp. 86, 139; cf., p. 78). In other words, environmental racism may finally be understood as "a symptom of the inequality of power relations between people of color, working people, [and] the poor," on the one side, and "those with power, resources, and privilege," on the other, as social justice and environmental justice are inextricably linked (Marable, 1996, p. 158).


If even so-called sustainable growth-and-development is ultimately oxymoronic, we need instead to focus on developing a "sustainable life" for the earth, its ecosystems, and their constituent members (Tucker, 1996, p. 147). In short, "we cannot continue to grow, both in population and energy [resource] use"; instead, "other scenarios must be imagined, other ways of living within ... limits" (McFague, 1997, p. 161). And this is precisely where McFague's (2001) latest work resumes and completes her earlier argument: We cannot be content with only deconstructive criticism; we must endeavor to discern reconstructive alternatives. We need "an alternative view of the abundant life," she writes. We need "a different way of living in the world ... rather than the dominant consumer model" (pp. 11, 14). To that end, she turns momentarily from economic analysis back to theology per se, realizing that theology, ethics, and economics altogether must be done and enacted within an ecological context, attending to "the well-being of the whole," attending to "the well-being of all particular oppressed groups of human beings (as well as the deteriorating parts of nature)" because we are all "united in complex networks of interdependence" (p. 30). Theology, therefore, must focus "on lifestyle limitations [and] `enoughness'"; more to the point, "theology should be about economics ..., consumerism and its alternatives" (pp. 33, 39). In sharp contrast, of course, "the worldview of mechanistic progress ... of consumer goods for more and more of the world's people ... eliminates the possibility of seeing our planet as alive, as finite, as fragile" (p. 43).

Developing a more ecological, even ecotheological, view is important, not only because within mass consumerism we have lost the "sense of individual in community," but also because, however important they may be, individual lifestyle changes alone "will not bring about the systemic institutional changes necessary for planetary justice and sustainability" (McFague, 2001, pp. 82, 199, emphasis added). In fact, individual lifestyle changes are themselves most often choices currently reserved for the economically privileged: Free-range chickens and eggs, organic vegetables and dairy products, and healthy and pleasantly varied vegan diets are all quite expensive! Rather than these individual, albeit important choices, ecosystemic sustainability is the key: "An alternative notion of the abundant life ... will involve a philosophy of `enoughness,' [of] limitations ... and sacrifice," writes McFague (2001); an ecologically sound economics will begin "with sustainability and distributive justice [the "just distribution of resources on a sustainable basis"], not with the allocation of resources among competing individuals"--which means again that we first-world privileged folks must relinquish our privileges and our consumerism (pp. 14, 100, 186). An ecological economics must include not only sustainability, but also "self-limitation both in terms of population and lifestyle" and the "inclusion of all" life, human and nonhuman alike (p. 36). We must focus, then, not on the accumulation of commodities, but on the provision of enough of the basics for quality of life for all, among which she includes "adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, medical care, creative and spiritual opportunities, fellowship and leisure time and space" (p. 111). To these ends, we who are even modestly privileged will need to enact "the subversive virtue of frugality," not merely out of necessity, but as a responsible, pro-active choice; for the affluent, clearly, this will entail "a different understanding of abundance, one that embodies ... limitation ..., sharing, and giving--indeed, sacrifice" (pp. 116, 168).

Lest this all still sound too individualistic, idealistic, or "theological" in some narrow sense, McFague (2001) returns us to larger economic issues: "We must move to an economic theory ... that recognizes the basic needs of all human beings and other creatures, living in mutual need and reciprocity," she continues. "Ecological economics" will focus on "the well-being of the community, not ... fulfilling the insatiable desires of individuals.... The focus is not principally on human beings," but upon the health of the entire earthly ecosystem (pp. 94, 99). Sounding ever more pragmatic as a result, she concludes that we need new economic theories and economic measures that account for harmful activities (e.g., "depletion of natural resources ... of air, water, [and] soil") as well as for activities not currently assigned any monetary value (e.g., "housework, child or elderly care, ... volunteer work") (p. 80). In other words, as I would argue, we need an economic theory, economic measures, and a value system that are somehow not simply all-reducible to dollar signs. We need not a monetary economics, but a green economics.

Interestingly, for us in men's studies, this is where Faludi's (1999) concerns are most similar to those of ecofeminism and ecotheology, especially her focus on the relationship of individuals to communities. As do my other sources, she, too, insists that "other paradigms are needed" far beyond the patriarchal and phallocentric paradigm of confrontation. Her own concluding thoughts are that the ultimate turn of the century task for men "is not, in the end, to figure out how to be masculine--rather ... figuring out how to be human" ... in society, in community, and, ultimately, within the ecosystems that constitute life on earth (p. 607). Her call to social responsibility can easily be read from a larger perspective as a call to ecological responsibility, insofar as men need "to learn to wage a battle against no enemy ..., to act in ... service of [an inclusive humanity]" and thereby "to create a freer, more humane world" (p. 608). Or, as my students concluded after reading her book a few years ago, the problem for both men and women, for both gay/lesbian and nongay, as for ecology, is the globalizing capitalist-style economy of consumerism and "ornamental culture." The solution, however, lies not in the masculine or patriarchal paradigm of targeting consumerism as one more macho enemy; rather, the solution lies in turning to right-relational justice and eco-social responsibility--not to battle consumerism, but to abandon it, to begin increasingly making (individually, nationally, and globally) other, non-consumerist kinds of choices, within the web of relationships that constitute our earthly communities of life.

This is, of course, where Fight Club finally fails and parts company with Faludi's wisdom. As phallic masculinity falls in the film--as the up-buildings of the newfound enemy, credit card companies, implode downward--community is abandoned and the clubs dismissed, while the closing frame narrows to the heterosexual couple in isolation. Clearly, we need more liberating alternatives than this, alternatives that move us toward an economy of scale and of place that renews and sustains our connectedness, our community with human and nonhuman alike. We might begin in academia, for example, by urging our male colleagues in the field of economics to develop greener alternatives to the current globalizing market ideology of consumerism. More specifically, still, as men, we need to (re)construct identities for ourselves other than that of "consumer." We need to reappreciate both our uniqueness as diverse individuals--apart from monetary and income measures--and our embeddedness in local ecosystemic communities and webs of relationship; we need to allow ourselves a deep sense of place and a deep, even loving attachment to all the other lives which together constitute our own lives; and, we need en route to embrace values that defy any simplistic reduction to dollar signs. So renewed, we might then find ourselves empowered as well for the larger tasks of ecojustice--of economic justice and ecological justice--upon which the ongoing life of our earthly home depends.


Originally written in August 2001, this essay came back from the refereed system for revision in November 2001. In the interim, of course, our country had to reckon with a tragedy eerily reminiscent of the closing scene in Fight Club. As might be expected, given Faludi's (1999) analysis, our national response to the twin castration of these monumental phalluses of economic power-over was nearly immediately to raise other phalluses, the penile missiles of war, in a testosterone-driven confrontation with a new, presumably "common enemy." While we certainly cannot ignore or trivialize the very real tragedy of some 3,000 lives lost, we just as surely must not ignore the prophetic, symbolic commentary on American-style economic injustice represented by these purposefully chosen targets. We need not only to process our grief and to punish the specific perpetrators of such violence, but also to avoid any too-easy recourse to the violence of the patriarchal paradigm of confrontation. Rather than hastily defend an "American way of life" that has been virtually reduced to freedom of access to consumer privilege, we must instead take more seriously the ecotheological demand to reconstruct our value systems--both individually and nationally--and thereby to pursue deep economic and ecological justice for all the earth.


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This essay constitutes the unabridged version of a paper presented at the American Men's Studies Association annual meeting, March 2002, Vanderbilt University. The author wishes to thank his students in both Religious Studies 220 ("Women, Masculinities, and Religion") at Agnes Scott College (Decatur, Georgia) and English 111 ("Expository Writing") at A-B Tech (Asheville, North Carolina) for the impetus to pursue this particular study.

Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to J. Michael Clark, 212 Whitaker Road, Fairview, NC 28730. Electronic mail may be sent to bmcrr@mindspring.com.
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