IntroducingBinary Oppositions usingFight Club

Adapted from Meg Griffitts

Objective: Introducing the idea of binary oppositions and incorporate their homework of watching Fight Club to critically analyze the way binary oppositions are presented in films and how they can be dismantled.

1.Ask students to get out notebook and reflect on who they thought the most compelling character from Fight Club was and why? (5 minutes)

2. Have students pair up to share answers and come up with a master list of character traits that contributed to their memorable character. (15 minutes)

  • Was there anything surprising about the character?
  • Was there anything cliché or stereotypical? If so, explain.
  • If not, reflect on how you would alter the character to make them stereotypical.

3. Lecture:What Is Binary Opposition? (15 minutes)

  • A light switch is either on or off; in a sports match, a team either wins or loses; water is either hot or cold; something in relation to something else can be left or right, up or down or in or out. These are opposites - concepts that can't exist together.
  • Binary oppositionis a key concept in structuralism, a theory of sociology, anthropology and linguistics that states that all elements of human culture can only be understood in relation to one another and how they function within a larger system or the overall environment. We often encounter binary oppositions in cultural studies when exploring the relationships between different groups of people, for instance: upper-class and lower-class or disabled and non-disabled. On the surface, these seem like mere identifying labels, but what makes them binary opposites is the notion that they cannot coexist.
  • The problem with a system of binary opposites is that it creates boundaries between groups of people and leads to prejudice and discrimination. One group may fear or consider the opposite group a threat, referred to as the 'other'. The use of binary opposition in literature is a system that authors use to explore differences between groups of individuals, such as cultural, class or gender differences. Authors may explore the gray area between the two groups and what can result from those perceived differences.

4. Show them the hospital scene from Dark Knight and discuss how this scene/film reflects binary oppositions. (Can also use Batman vs. Superman as example) (10 minutes)

  • What binary oppositions do we see? How is the classic good versus evil binary opposition being undermined?
  • Answer: Harvey Dent starts as an atypical hero (all good), who due to unfortunate circumstances (gf dying), becomes a vigilante.
  • Discuss: Are his actions justified? Why does the audience empathize more with Harvey over the joker?
  • (Can discuss any of these characters for b.o.: batman vs. Bruce Wayne; Harvey dent vs batman; joker vs. batman)

5.Bring it all together with mini lecture and discussion. (10 minutes)

  • While b.o. can seem like an abstract concept, we are commonly inundated with images and ideas that present an either/or, black/white, good/evil, etc.
  • As a class, let’s come up with some examples from literature, the media, and films that reflect binary oppositions.
  • black vs. white (Luke & Darth Vadar; black = bad, white = good; language media uses to discuss young black men versus young white men (thugs vs. citizens, riots vs. protests, pictures used for Eric Garner versus Brock Turner).
  • How does the language/images we use influence our perceptions?
  • dominant versus oppositional:
  • wealthy versus poor
  • reality vs. fantasty (Matrix, Alice in Wonderland)
  • white vs. black
  • thin vs. fat

6.Return to journal exercise. On board, create a Venn diagram with Tyler Durden & “narrator,” as titles of each circle. (Eventually “Marla” will be added in the center as she undermines the binary oppositions that Tyler and the narrator establish). (10 minutes)

  • Ask students to describe each character. What made them memorable or cliché/stereotypical? Why?
  • What binary oppositions do these create?
  • Where do they overlap? What scenes? What characterstics?
  • What character is a blend of the two?
  • What is this film positing about b.o.?
  • How is this idea reflected in our daily life? Do we exist in b.o.? Why or why not? What is lost?
  • How do we overcome b.o.?

Binary Oppositions evident in Fight Club:

  • masculinity versus femininity
  • Example: “Bob had bitch tits; we’re still men” but femininity must be embraced by “opening up” & being emotional in order to become “men” again
  • dominant(consumerism: ikea) versus counter culture (destruction)
  • Example: no names given to members of Project Mayhem
  • consumer culture defines the individual: the desire for individualism eventually leads to a tyrannical organization no longer thinking for themselves (ignorance)
  • Project Mayhem versus civilization

Breakdown of B.O.:

  • violence versus peace: priest is one of the first to violence when Tyler asks people to get in a fight w/ a stranger
  • insomnia—neither awake nor sleep (gray area of b.o.)
  • Marla—pinnacle of femininity until she subverts patriarchy through embracing narrator over Tyler (represents traditional masculinity: strength, dominance, possessiveness)