Multiple Perspectives of Rant Casey: Rant: The Oral History of Buster Casey
Identity, Existentialism, and Reality in Rant

[(Essay Date 3 June 2008) In this essay, M.G. explores the multiple identities that society attaches to Rant Casey in the novel Rant: The Oral History of Buster Casey by Chuck Palahniuk and argues that society does not truly know Rant, but only knows the personalities that coincide with his many names. The premise is that by various social groups calling him different names, he is an altered persona to every person in his life, thus could be thought of as inexistent, for there is no true Rant Casey.]

Rant Casey, born Buster Landru Casey, is a celebrity. And like every celebrity, Rant is plagued by a plethora of nicknames given to him by the people in his life.
Toni Wiedlin (Party Crasher): I remember everybody saying Rant Casey was the father of Party Crashing and he wasn’t dead. These same kids will tell you Elvis and Jim Morrison and James Dean just got sick of the spotlight and faked their deaths so they could write poetry in the south of France. When everybody lies about seeing Rant and kissing him, all their lies prop up in a win-win reality. The government says Rant’s alive because they need a villain. The kids say he’s alive because they need a hero” (Palahniuk 296-297).
With each name comes a unique perception of the personality that reflects the new living conditions that Rant has espoused in that society. Each name is a reflection of the personality that Rant longs to emit; the characteristics that he desires to emanate to each particular group of people.

The only person in Rant’s life to call him by his given name is his father and the “reincarnation” of himself, Chester Casey. Due to Reverse Pioneering, Chester Casey is Rant Casey’s actual father and a “reincarnation” of Rant at the same time. Rant Casey’s “reincarnation” is the one man who knows him the best, Rant himself, but one who has never been in Rant’s life. He knows nothing of his personality except what he actually is, a clone of Chester. His father who lives with his mother, to whom he refers as ‘Dad’, has no relation to Rant. He does not talk to Rant and has no interest in anything he does.

The two polar opposite characters in Rant’s life are the only two that call him by his true name, Buster Casey. Ironically, these are also the two characters with which he has the worst relationship. But it is the two father figures in Rant’s life that call him by his birth name, his first and true identity. The father figures calling him by his name gives strength to Buster being Rant’s true identity in relation to these figures. Although seemingly insignificant, this plays a large role in the socialization of Rant’s childhood. Thus, the influence the father figures have on Rant and inadvertently, his identity, are attached to Buster Casey.

Buster Casey respects and loves his mother and grandmother and has that hint of trouble that boys always get themselves into. Buster Casey seems to be a normal kid, with a relatively normal life. He goes to school and gets along well with friends and family. This is the Buster Casey that his father and his “reincarnation” know.

Even Rant’s mother does not call him by his given name, but instead by Buddy, her special nickname for her only son. Rant’s mother gives him clothing that she has embroidered for him; his shirts and jeans are stitched with flowers and rainbows made especially for Rant to wear. Rant’s mother loves him and wishes the best for him, but cannot provide that for her son. Calling him Buddy is her way of compensating for the hard times he has been put through his entire life. It is also her subtle expression of her love because she refuses to acknowledge the expression of “I love you” and instead uses the endearing name of Buddy.

Buddy Casey sits at the kitchen table and eats dinner every night with his mother. He gratefully accepts and wears the embroidered jeans and shirts that his mother makes for him to school every day. He plays quietly in his room, does his homework, and completes his chores. He does what his father asks of him. This is the Buster Casey that his mother knows.

Middleton, Buster Casey’s hometown, knows him as Rant Casey. “Rant” is the sound all of the kids made while puking at his “normal” Halloween party with real brains instead of spaghetti. This has been his nickname since grammar school. The town blames his parents for his oddities, such as his love of being bitten by rabid animals and then his spread of the disease around the town after becoming infected. The town was happy with his departure, finally feeling a sense of relief from the constant string of disease in Rant’s wake. Their sense of relief with his departure and his hostile nickname are signs of the town’s aversion to Rant Casey. His tricks and teases led the town to believe they were better off without him.

When Buster arrives in his new town, he introduces himself as Rant Casey. Thus, it is now that the Nighttimers, his followers, and fellow Party Crashers all came to know Rant as Rant Casey. Rant’s slight sense of desperation leaves him eager to please, which causes him to quickly change his personality from drastically different from society to somewhat like the friends he has made. He gets a job and has a girlfriend, two very uncharacteristic qualities of Buster or Buddy. In secrecy, Rant still has his strange habits, such as rabid animals that are biting him and, in turn, helping him infect and destroy the city. The infection, and inevitable destruction, of the city turned Rant into a hero in the eyes of the Nighttimers and a villain in the eyes of the government, the paradox Rant had always been looking to be in his life.

Rant emits his personality as one that is bold. He does anything for a thrill, a risk, or a dangerous situation. Rant brings excitement, terror, and anxiety to each and every circumstance and is proud to do it. He lives outside of normal convention. Rant tries to make history and does so by spreading his rabies all over the city. Then he lights his car on fire, gets into a 10 car chase, and drives off a bridge to his death.
From the Field Notes of Green Taylor Simms (Historian): To date, fourteen people have driven troubled people have driven their automobiles into obstacles and over precipices, dying in apparent imitation of Rant Casey. On a personal note, I deeply resent Rant Casey for casting me as a serial rapist and a murderer” (276).
This is the Buster Casey that Middleton, the Nighttimers, Rant’s followers, and fellow Party Crashers know.
Rant Casey was known to the government and medical community as the “super-spreader”. The government and the doctors who were involved in the case blame Rant Casey for starting the rabies epidemic. “Phoebe Truffeau, Ph.D.: What ‘Typhoid Mary’ Mallon was to typhoid, what Gaetan Dugas was to AIDS, and Liu Jianlun was to SARS, Buster Casey would become to rabies,” (245). Rant was soon to become the scapegoat for all crime and destruction in the city and the biggest problem in the medical community.

Rant enjoys the physical thrill of being bitten by animals. He loves the feeling of the rabies infecting his body, traveling through his veins and his mind to infect himself and those who he kisses. Rant is devoted to leaving his legacy behind and does so in the medical community with the beginning of the rabies epidemic. “Rant Casey on DRVR Radio Graphic Traffic: ‘…What if reality is nothing but some disease?’” (215). Rant never questioned the disease, but always the authenticity surrounding it.

Because Rant Casey entertains so many diverse variations of his identity, Rant Casey cannot be defined as one person. He changes with his company based on his perception and theirs. Society views Rant Casey as four separate people: Buster, Buddy, Rant, and the Super-spreader. One person cannot be created with four individual identities. Rant Casey has altered his persona to fit each social group with which he associates himself in order to fit in with the new social order and leave behind his legacy.

The one thing Rant Casey wanted was to be remembered; he wanted to have a legacy that lived past his name or the reincarnation of himself twenty years from now. But Rant Casey isn’t remembered as Rant Casey. Rant Casey was remembered through each individual’s eyes, not through his own.
Shot Dunyun (Party Crasher): You could argue that we constantly change the past, whether or not we actually go back. I close my eyes, and the Rant Casey I picture isn’t the real person. The Rant I tell you about is filtered and colored and distorted through me. Like any distorted peak” (312-313).
Rant Casey did not leave his own legacy; he left the legacy of his followers through fragmented visions and distorted perceptions. Thus, there is no true Rant Casey. There are simply the memories of the thousands of people Buster, Buddy, Rant, and the super-spreader affected. (M.G. 2008)

Self Destruction as a means of Enlightenment: Fight Club
[(Essay date3 June 2008) In the following essay, J.C. analyzes the way in which Tyler Durden attempts to help the narrator find enlightenment through pain and destruction in Fight Club, written by Chuck Palahniuk. The philosophies behind Tyler Durden and his legacy are examined as well as human’s need for salvation in violence. J.C. proves that the novel is ultimately a satire, as intended by Palahniuk.]

In Fight Club, Tyler Durden is the human embodiment of Nihilism. Chuck Palahniuk’s book speaks about the self-destruction of oneself in order to reach enlightenment. The members of Fight Club find what they need through physical contact and therefore transform into Nihilists, finally making a statement about the American society. Fight Club espouses a great message about self-destruction as a means of improvement and has gained a steady following of lost souls. However, Tyler eventually falls victim to his own power, creating a satirical story that many of its devotees fail to see.

What Palahniuk proposes originally is that self-obliteration is necessary to help one improve. People are too often distracted by the consumerist society that they live in and as a result, a genuine human is seemingly difficult to find. Before meeting Tyler, Joe, the narrator, lives in his perfect apartment with his perfect Ikea furniture. But he is not happy and this is his reason for creating Tyler Durden. “At the time, my life just seemed too complete, and maybe we have to break everything to make something better out of ourselves” (52). In his head, he feels as though he has to deconstruct himself in order to rebuild himself as a new person. He allows Tyler to break him apart with the belief that in doing so, the path will be cleared for him to truly become a new Joe. He wants meaning in his life beyond his sofas and throw pillows. He needs to feel what it is like to be alive, rather than floating along with the rest of society. His ultimate goal is enlightenment.

One way to reach this ultimate goal is through pain. Tyler believes that pain will offer enlightenment. When he burns the imprint of his lips into Joe’s hand, he says, “Someday, you will die, and until you know that, you’re useless to me” (76). This point in the book is the turning point in Joe’s life. Death is the definite end to life and to Tyler it is an imperative point of realization. To really understand life, one has to first understand death. Joe must accept that eventually, he will die and that is his fate. Essentially, this is the closest he can come to enlightenment and he must experience it through pain.

Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can actually be known. It is this belief system that Tyler adopts in order to reach complete Anarchism. He is a Nihilist in the way that he believes in nothing and has no loyalties. His only true purpose, especially in regards to Joe, is to impulsively destroy all that he can. He feels no connection to other people and his regrets are extremely limited. This is the philosophy he forces onto Joe and eventually, Joe steps too close to the edge that is Tyler Durden. For a few chapters, Joe and Tyler are almost undistinguishable because of the impact Tyler was able to have on Joe’s ultimate personality. “Tyler’s words coming out of my mouth. I used to be such a nice person” (98). He was able to extract that raw impulse for destruction and mayhem that Joe was trying to express but did not know how.

The use of violence as a term of self-destruction is undeniable. Even though the members of Fight Club are literally fighting other people, essentially, it is themselves they are battling. Members pick their own rivals and have complete control over when the pain will cease. The members are destroying themselves through means of another human to reach enlightenment. The symbolism is rich when one considers that the first fight of Fight Club was between Joe and Tyler going punch-for-punch outside a bar. He is really fighting against himself and hoping to find clarification by doing so. The members of Fight Club have become so numb to the conformity of America, that they will do anything to feel something. “I just don’t want to die without a few scars” (48). The fights conducted are never fought out of anger. Instead, they are fought to retrieve a feeling many people have lost since childhood. Collectively, they have decided that feeling pain is much better than feeling nothing at all.

The violence portrayed in the book is also representative of the connection of the male gender. As Americans, our brains have an almost permanent connection between violence and bonding. For example, look at the sports we worship. Football is mostly a strictly American sport. It consists of men crushing each other’s bones in order to gain possession of a ball. But we associate this with a connection between people. “Fight Club isn’t about winning or losing fights. Fight Club isn’t about words” (51). Joe cannot sleep and goes mad without his connection to society. He attempts to connect through support groups and while this helps for a while, it only soothes his aching; it cannot solve it. In this point of time in the world, the only way that men can socially connect is through violence. Fight Club is the connection.

However noble Tyler’s attempts at reforming society may seem, in the end, he falls victim to the confines in which conformity holds all people. His anarchist personality is driven out of control with the slightest taste of power. Tyler becomes less connected to Joe and seems to split from him. Tyler appeared to Joe because of the reconstruction he was craving. At this point, Tyler becomes almost like a blood-sucking leech. He feels the need to reform all of society, which is why he creates Project Mayhem. “Organized Chaos. The Bureaucracy of Anarchy. You figure it out” (119). He feels the need to press his own anarchist views on all those around him. Instead, he strays farther and farther towards totalitarianism. He has gained thousands of followers through Fight Club and intends to gain more through Project Mayhem. Ultimately, he thinks of himself as a God and the people around him fall subject to him. He turns their house on Paper Street into a building like a fraternity, putting prospects through hazing-like situations. Joe calls the members of Project Mayhem “Space Monkeys” because they do anything and everything Tyler tells them to do. They are more like machines than anything else, portraying Tyler as a true hypocrite. Instead of helping these people with their need for definition, he deconstructs them with no intention of rebuilding them. Tyler’s system is no different than the one they were rebelling against.

People often overlook this aspect of the story. Tyler turns on Joe, ultimately turning on himself. They come to a point where coexistence is not an option. It is a fight to the death where neither of them returns a winner. His complete power at the end of Palahniuk’s book negates the philosophies he spewed previously. This turns his words into a satirical novel on both American society and the search for oneself through self-destruction. The film, “Fight Club” was made in 1999, three years following the release of the book. The casting of Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden was making a bold statement about the satirical nature of the character. Brad Pitt is the epitome of Hollywood poster child… an all American man. By casting him as Tyler, the satire was made even clearer. Unfortunately, and most likely to Palahniuk’s chagrin, Fight Club has become a cult classic. Many lost souls find salvation in it and it has acquired a following of people ignorant to their own hypocritical nature. The result of its publication is completely ironic and makes a tremendous statement about the society we live in.
(J.C. 2008)

The search for identity in Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk

[(Essay dated 10 June 2010) In the following essay, Theo Pak explores the significance of Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk, as a discovery of one’s identity in the absence of a father figure and the satire of nihilism as the median between complacence and anarchy.]

To the passive reader, Fight Club may seem like an overly vulgar story of masculinity with no significance beyond entertainment; in fact, the ostentatious masculinity is only an aid to the commentary on nihilism and the search for one’s identity as a man in the absence of a strong father figure. Palahniuk encapsulates these messages with an original writing style that well suites the unconventional nature of the work. The chapters, in the author’s own words, “show every aspect of the story, but only the kernel of each aspect” in that they revolve around the central themes but reveal the plot with disconnected narration (231).

The disconnected narration is so effective in telling the story because it alludes to the attrition of the narrator’s sanity. In Fight Club, as in many of Palahniuk’s novels, the work begins in media res. This means that the novel begins near the climax and then the narrator explains his plight to the reader through a flashback. Finally, the flashback catches up to real-time as it repeats the first chapter. In this work, the climax and a conclusive chapter are narrated in the same way the rest of the story had been.
A number of literary techniques are used throughout the novel to signify the narrator’s loss of sanity. Diction is choppy and Palahniuk leverages unusual syntax such as when he begins a new paragraph at random, omits the quotation marks in dialogue, or fragments sentences. In chapter 8 he even capitalizes random phrases for emphasis, “I write little HAIKI things and FAX them around to everyone. When I pass people in the hall at work, I get totally ZEN right in everyone’s hostile little FACE” (63). The point of view may also jump spontaneously between the first-person present or past. The concise diction and repetition of phrases, especially dry statements of what “you” or “I” could do, is key to conveying the character’s personal dilation of time and space such as in the beginning of the book. His insomnia is leading into schizophrenia, “You wake up at Boeing Field. / You wake up at LAX. … You wake up at O'Hare, again. / You wake up at JFK … If I could wake up in a different place, at a different time, could I wake up as a different person?” (29-33).

Most effective in abstracting thought is the insertion of symbolic and metaphorical phrases within other thoughts. Most of these phrases reference old Reader’s Digest issues the narrator found illustrating human organs in the first person, “I am Jane’s uterus. I am Joe’s prostate” (58). The narrator often adopts the name as his own and replaces the organ with an emotion. For example, while confronting his boss the narrator interjects “I am Joe’s Smirking Revenge” (114). Other recurring phrases include direct quotes of Tyler’s words, for example “I wanted to burn the Louvre. I’d do the Elgin Marbles with a sledgehammer and wipe my ass with the Mona Lisa. This is my world, now,” or recitations of the guided meditation symbols learned from the support groups, for example “I calm my face down and turn into one of those Hindu cow people” (124, 69). When the narrator quotes Tyler, he is pulled toward the anarchist side of his nihilist philosophy; when he quotes the support groups, he is pulled toward the existential side. The “I am Joe’s…” phrases symbolize what the narrator is abstractly feeling at the moment. Since the narrator is schizophrenic and has trouble recognizing it, interpreting these phrases is the best gauge of his emotions at any given point.

The creative plot reflects how the narrator creates Tyler Durden to execute his deepest subconscious wishes. With an Audi in the parking lot of his high-rise condo and a growing collection of IKEA furniture, the narrator was living a successful consumerist life. Yet, these material possessions were purchased only so he could try to fit in with a life assigned to him. The man has no real identity, no true aspirations and a bland life. His possessions owned him; he had a lot of stuff but no happiness. In his own words, his refrigerator contained “collected shelves full of different mustards... There were fourteen different flavors of fat-free salad dressing, and seven kinds of capers. I know, I know, a house full of condiments and no real food” (45). Tyler Durden, his alternate personality, carries out the narrator’s subconscious wish that the condo would be destroyed. This is evidence that the narrator has deep-rooted psychological problems, probably because of his father, and is accepting nihilism to cope with it.

A reader of this novel will notice that the narrator is never named. His home city, likewise, is not identified. This is parallel to the way members of Project Mayhem work like “space monkeys” to “pull a lever. Push a button” as they are told to (12). He describes the feeling as, “You don’t understand any of it, and then you just die.” Each member of Project Mayhem sheds their name until death, at which point they “become heroes… since only in death are we no longer part of the effort” (178). The most succinct example of a Project Mayhem’s death making them a legend is Bob. Once he is shot by the police, member around the world chant, “his name is Robert Paulson and he is forth-eight years old. His name is Robert Paulson, and Robert Paulson will be forty-eight years old, forever. / On a long enough time line, everyone's survival rate drops to zero” (176).

The narrator’s first manifestation of the problems is insomnia, which he deals with by pretending he has cancer and crying himself to sleep at support groups like “Remaining Men Together” for testicular cancer survivors. It’s not a coincidence that the support group is about masculinity: just as the narrator was let down by the sparse, poor advice of his father, the cancer survivors were once happy but are now deprived of manhood. For example, Robert “Bob” Paulson used steroids as a body builder, but is now a fat man with “bitch tits” from the overcompensation of estrogen (21).

The narrator describes his father as having multiple families across the nation like a “franchise” (50). The man repeatedly starts a life but then abandons it. He had no advice or guidance for his son, only the empty suggestion “go to college.” After that, I duuno, “get married” (50-51). The lack of definition is the seed of the protagonist’s mental problems. “What you see at fight club is a generation of men raised by women,” he declares (50). It is a search for a true identity as a man, and not a boy or even as a human.

In the support groups, the narrator comments that he feels as if he were “the warm little center that the life of the world crowded around” (22). Fight club is later created to amplify this feeling. This truth is finally put into words when during Project Mayhem the “new rule” is declared that “nobody should be the center… except the two men fighting” (142). Finally, in Project Mayhem the goal is to “justify anarchy” and “break up civilization so we can make something better out of the world,” which is a metaphor for self-improvement through self destruction (125). Tyler Durden is thus the nihilist figure that brings the discontent of the narrator to life. “It's only after you've lost everything... that you're free to do anything,” he says (70).

Moral relativism and skepticism of faith tend to lead to nihilism, or the avocation of nothingness. Nihilism states that moral values are meaningless nothing can be known, consequently life is meaningless. Nihilism can be a mixture of anarchy and existentialism and usually promotes a path to social chaos. In Fight Club, a schism of the mind results on Tyler Durden: the embodiment of all the narrator’s pessimistic thoughts.

Tyler Durden starts off as an existentialist acting out the desires of the narrator but get progressively more violent until he creates Project Mayhem. At this point, he engages in more anarchy then the narrator likely wanted at the beginning. Tyler was formed as the alternate personality to serve the narrator, but now the narrator becomes the accessory to Tyler.

In the afterword to the novel, Palahniuk indicates that his original theme for the work was to be the exploration of contemporary masculinity. There were many feminist exclamations on the bookshelves of the late 1990s, but he wanted there to be a new male archetype. Nihilism fit to give the violent idea of a fight club, originally just a short story, an edge. Palahniuk is not advocating nihilism in real life, however, any more than he is advocating underground boxing or the complete destruction of corporate America.

In the novel more so than the 1999 film adaptation, Tyler Durden’s nihilism and anarchy ultimately fail the narrator’s search for happiness. Self-destruction pushed him to grasp for an identity, but any more would have killed him. Then, even after killing the alternate personality, the narrator is stuck in a world that has become as convoluted as his mind because he cannot kill Project Mayhem. “Everyone in Project Mayhem is part of Tyler Durden, and vice versa,” the protagonist explains (155). This is Palahniuk’s satirical statement that the philosophical idea of nihilism can take self-destruction to self-eradication when in fact the purpose/identity of life can be determined by oneself.

(Theo Pak 2010)

Suffering to Experience Life: Diary Misery, Pain, and Existence in Diary

[(Essay Date 9 June 2008) In this essay, M.G. explores the contention that one must suffer in order to live life to it’s fullest, as Misty Wilmot does in Diary by Chuck Palahniuk. M.G. argues that life must be lived to ones personal needs and cannot be controlled by misery and pain, as Misty’s was, to determine existence, for one will never be happy if life is lived in such a manner. ]

Misty Kleinman grew up in a trailer park, living in poverty and filth, waiting for a better life. She spent her entire childhood enduring the misery of “white trash” and wistful dreams while being trapped below the poverty line. While enduring food stamps on grocery lines and pancakes for dinner, Misty Kleinman remained optimistic, hoping for a better life.

Art school and Peter Wilmot changed Misty Kleinman. Misty Kleinman became Misty Wilmot, creative, expressive, and a resident of Waytansea Island, Misty’s dream residence. This new life satiated Misty’s yearning. She became content and with a sense direction. But Misty is forced to return to a shadow of her former self when Peter attempted suicide and left Misty miserable and destroyed; a desperate mother with a confused child. “You have endless ways you can commit suicide without dying dying,” (Palahniuk 40). Misty leaves her dream of painting for a waitressing job at the hotel, a mundane routine in strict contrast with what she has just lost. She surrenders her only daughter to be cared for by her mother-in-law. This life void of art and intimate connections is brought on by Misty herself, clear signs of masochism. Misty can then blame her despair on her husband, deflecting all responsibility for ruining the life she so desired.

Misty Kleinman defines her existence by the new ache and pain of each day. “’Look,’ Peter’s voice said from behind, ‘the brooch pins through my nipple…it’s so every day I feel new pain,’” (48). Her self-inflicted pain, like Peter’s, is brought on to induce the feeling of life; to determine that the nerves in the body are still working and the heart is still pumping. Misty fails to realize that it is pleasure that determines and fortifies life, not meaningless pain. Misty will not find peace until she faces her innate desire for painting.

After having stopped painting for so many years, Misty is afraid of failure. The pain of not realizing her inner vision is too much for her to face. She has the fear of disappointing the islanders who have all prayed for her to start her painting once more. “Grace says, ‘We all die.’ She says, ‘The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will,’” (198). For once, Misty wants the pleasure of success more than the pain of failure. But she is frightened of dying without making an impact on the world, and even more frightened of dying and changing the world.

It seems that Misty alleviates her pain by painting. Getting lost in the world of colors and landscapes, her own imagined worlds, helps her escape from the real world of headaches and bruises, alcohol and a husband in a coma. Her paintings reflect her desire to escape: her pictures are of houses she has never seen, her colors imaginative, yet vibrant and alive.
“The toxic parts of oil paints: Vandyke red, ferrocyanide; iodine scarlet, mercuric iodine; flake white, lead carbonate; cobalt violet, arsenic-all those beautiful compounds and pigments that artists treasure but turn out to be deadly. How your dream to create a masterpiece will drive you nuts then kill you,” (203).
An artist’s paints are their own medication; their self-prescribed painkiller to make the world stop. An artist’s paints are actually medium for their suicide note, innocently colored and blended into a pretty picture. Misty uses her paints as her way to an early death.

Misty Wilmot does not paint for her own enjoyment; Misty paints for the benefit of the island. She puts aside her personal needs in order to fulfill other’s needs. Misty is controlled by misery and pain, headaches and depression, fatigued in her attempt to find herself in a world of the pressure of success. “What they don’t teach you in art school is how your whole life is about discovering who you already were,” (242). Misty wastes her life trying to save herself the pain of which she is the ultimate cause. Misty lives to feel pain, misery, depression, and anguish. She cannot be saved from the grief she causes herself. (M.G. 2008)

Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk: A Comment on America as a Consumerist Society

[(Essay Date 9 June 2008) In the following essay, J.C. analyzes Chuck Palahniuk’s profound statement about American society in Survivor. Tender Branson’s rise to fame and eventual downfall represents the misguided American dream. Preoccupation with busy itineraries, plastic surgery, and money are just a few of the things keeping Americans from feeling what it is like to be alive.]

The United States is well known around the world for its materialistic views. In fact, it is one of the leading wasteful countries in the world. We consume, consume, and consume; it is our nature in this modern America we live in. Author Chuck Palahniuk develops his entire book, Survivor, around this. It is a delightful satire about the way in which American’s tend to schedule their lives into oblivion, the death of religion, and the preoccupation of a country with appearance. It is a humbling peak into the modern obsession with pop culture and celebrities. As the page numbers and chapters run backwards towards the end of Tender Branson’s life, he recounts everything that has lead him to suicide in a confession to an airplane black box.

Americans are so occupied with daily planners and itineraries that it gets easy to lose sight of what is important in life. Ever since Tender is released into the free world from his Creedish Church cult upbringing, he lives his life according to plan. Every second of every day is already scheduled for him. The family he works for has a clear itinerary of what he should be doing at that exact moment in time: “The shortest distance between two points is a time line, a schedule, a map of your time, the itinerary for the rest of your life” (269). Once one begins to plan the rest of their life down to the insignificant details, life becomes a schedule itself. The spontaneity disappears and the surprises are limited. The very essence of life becomes compromised.

Tender is numb to all the emotions he should be feeling: grief, sadness, etc. He does not want to focus on the pain of losing everyone he has ever loved. Therefore, he erases free time and replaces it with work so he does not have any time to feel anything. These schedules the family leaves for him tell him what to do, where to be, and how to feel. “I check my schedule, and it says I’m happy. I’m productive. I work hard. It’s all right down here in black and white. I’m getting things done” (260). Americans purposely keep themselves occupied to eliminate any feelings of anger or pain. By focusing on things of lesser importance, they forget feel any emotion at all. By doing so, America is building a wall between its citizens; this way, no one will get hurt.

An obsession with perfection is dominating America, creating a country of identical looking people shot full of collagen and Botox with fake smiles and shining eyes. When Tender is offered the opportunity of fame in a society full of people who worship celebrities, he gives himself over in exchange. A man who Fertility once described as fat and ugly transforms into a man Americans are willing to bow down to. “The same way every generation reinvents Christ, the agent’s giving me the same makeover. The agent says nobody is going to worship anybody with my role of flab around his middle. These days, people aren’t going to fill stadiums to get preached at by somebody who isn’t beautiful” (153). He becomes addicted to steroids and tanning, everything that is contradictory to a religious figure. He talks about the way in which there are side affects to everything he does to fix himself. And so he needs to get those side affects fixed which triggers another chain of side affects. The whole ordeal to become appealing to the masses is out of control in the novel, which is Palahniuk’s point.

Tender becomes more of a product than an actual human being. His agent sees him solely as a profit. He markets one ridiculous idea after another, such as “The Book of Very Common Prayer.” This demonstrates America’s obsession with money and materialism. Many people are not happy without the products they have purchased with their money. People will do anything to show off their monetary value to the world. “Behind the front door, there are rooms and rooms nobody ever goes into. Kitchens where nobody cooks. Bathrooms that never get dirty” (270). We waste space with things we do not even need. As mentioned previously, this is an incredibly wasteful society that we live in. Everywhere a person turns, advertisements for all sorts of projects are shoved down their throat. The only thing the advertising industries care about is whether or not the product will sell. “We put my name on the spine, say I wrote it, and run the product up the flagpole” (126). Selling is what America is about. We may as well begin pledging to advertisements.

Palahniuk makes a profound statement about religion in America. He adopts the “God is dead” philosophy from Nietzsche and applies it to average people. Americans are tired of the Bible and religion. They want something new and exciting. They want miracles performed in front of their eyes. This is where the character Tender Branson comes in. He is the sole survivor of the suicidal Creedish cult. He is America’s newest celebrity/Messiah. People do not tend to believe in what they cannot see. Instead, the need for something tangible is always present. Palahniuk presents religion almost as a product or an industry.

Tender becomes an instant celebrity in the eyes of Americans and makes lots of money doing so. He earns money from ridiculous books such as “The Book of Very Common Prayer” which holds such prayers as The Prayer for a Parking Space. “‘What’s a prayer?’ he says. ‘It’s an incantation,’ he says, and he’s yelling back at me over the phone” (124). He has his own radio and television shows where he reads about his childhood off of TelePrompTers, directing him what to say. And when he needs to conjure up a miracle to perform in front of the world to escape arrest, he reveals the final score of the Super Bowl during its halftime. Being in America, this causes mass chaos and uproar. By ruining the Super Bowl, he becomes the Antichrist. Palahniuk’s brilliance shines through with this profound statement about American football. It is something tangible, and therefore we worship it. It takes the place of church on Sundays. “God is dead” in our modern society.

America is a consumerist society and will continue to be. If the Creedish Church is a cult, then why can’t the American culture adopt the same title? America’s values can be presented as insane, proven by Palahniuk. He makes a bold statement about the society in which we live. He comments on its failings to encourage individuality and free thought. Tender Branson cannot adapt to it no matter how hard he tries and it is eventually his downfall.
(J.C. 2008)

Survivor: Pendulum Swing

[(Essay dated 11 June 2010) In the following essay, Theo Pak analyzes the novel Survivor, by Chuck Palahniuk, as an allegory of the pendulum nature of society to swing to the extremes of conservative and radical lifestyles.]

In the late 1970s American religious leader Jim Jones, already having founded his own cult-religion, “People’s Temple,” founded an international community in Guyana, South America. He named it Jonestown, and it had a population of nearly one thousand. This was to be a model socialist community. It was conceived with the best of intentions, but was actually an undersupplied, impoverished town. When the US government decided to formally investigate life in Jonestown, Jim Jones dictated that his 912 followers commit “revolutionary suicide” by drinking a concoction of tranquilizers and cyanide. By the time anyone had arrived at the scene, he had shot himself in the head and all of his followers were scattered dead on the ground.

When the main character of the novel Survivor describes the way his cult was programmed to commit “the Deliverance” to Heaven if and when the community elders indicate, one cannot help but think of the real-life Jonestown massacre. Palahniuk likely modeled his description after the real-life event. His words describe “hundreds of dead people laid out shoulder to shoulder in rows on the ground. Their skin is all bruised black from the cyanide. They’re bloated so much the dark home-made clothes on them are tight. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust” (173).

But unlike Jonestown, the cult in this work of fiction is ultra-conservative and not socialist. Traditional values like total abstinence, Bible recitation, and work ethic are programmed into the members from the moment they are born. Families are rigidly ranked by age; the oldest son is named Adam while any others are named Tender and all the daughters are named Biddy. Members of the so-called Creedish cult are required to wear very conservative “regulation church clothes. The man wore the suspenders, the baggy pants, the long-sleeved shirt with the collar buttoned on even the hottest day of summer. The woman wore the blah-colored smock of a dress I remember church women had to wear” (246). From birth, they are also inundated with messages of the evil of the outside world’s electricity, plumbing, and communication systems and the fornicating sinners that use them. The cult is so anti-sex that boys are forced to watch childbirth in order to convince them that intercourse is evil. Tender Branson’s brother, a privileged Adam, recalls, “the night my wife had our first child… the elders took all the tenders and biddies in the district and made them watch. My wife screamed just the way they told her… and the elders preached and wailed how the wages of sex was death” (34).

The Creedish cult is overly conservative, while the outside world of 1999 America is obsessed with celebrity and the contrive. The couple that Tender Branson is assigned to work for, after being “baptized” and released from the cult grounds, is obsessed with an outwardly affluent lifestyle. Their house is described as having “kitchens where nobody books. Bathrooms that never get dirty. The money they leave out to test me, will I take it… The clothes they own look designed by an architect” (270). Yet for all their possessions, they are never at home and are very controlling. Always communicating through speakerphone, the man tells Tender, “I want you to be able to look at your planner… and know exactly where I can find you at four o’clock on this day five years from now. I want you to be that exact” (269). They are meanwhile obsessed with learning and re-learning the etiquette of how to dine properly. The act of eating could in itself symbolizes the couple’s greedy lifestyle.

Tender Branson is born into the Creedish Cult extreme, then thrust into the American consumerist way of life when he is publicized as the last surviving member of the cult. While he once genuinely believed in the good the his religion, once he is famous in mainstream America he ends up taking steroids and speaking of plastic surgery and his aesthetics. In both extremes, he is lied to and does not find happiness.

A woman he meets named Gwen, although ironically called Fertility the infertile surrogate mother, sparks the good in him. She is conveniently very prophetic; her accurately predictive dreams about disaster bring the couple closer together in Palahniuk’s dark-humor fashion. Finally, she predicts that a plane will be hijacked. Boarding the plane with a gun in his hand, Tender realizes that he is in fact the hijacker she predicted. This is somewhat of an improbable scenario set up by Palahniuk, and the abrupt ending does not conclusively state whether Tender survives the crash. The significant theme is that he found a relative happiness his own way, rejecting both the Creedish cult and consumer America to do so.

This novel shares much of the short diction, absence of quotations in dialogue, and first-person past and present point of view that is common in works by Chuck Palahniuk. This is also a work that begins in media res, meaning that the story starts near the climax before the narrator explains his plight to the reader through a flashback. The flashback repeats catches up to real-time to conclude the book. While Palahniuk uses repetition of phrases like “I am Joe’s Smirking Revenge” in his novel Fight Club, which immediately precedes Survivor, here the author repeats instructions of “How to…” clean various surfaces or complete miscellaneous household chores. In this work, the repetition shows how the Creedish Cult’s brainwashing has pervaded Tender’s thoughts.

Another noteworthy detail is the way this novel starts with chapter 47, page 289, and ends with chapter 1, page 1. The pages are numbered in reverse to remind the reader that the story, being told through a flashback, will end when the hijacked plane (with Tender in it) will exhaust its fuel crash into the outback of Australia. This is an exciting method of numbering the pages and does enhance the work as a whole, but the summation of Survivor is regrettably not entirely groundbreaking. Palahniuk seems to have created this novel out of an interesting idea strung together by improbable situations in a writing style that has already been successful for other novels of his.

(Theo Pak 2010)

Chuck Palahniuk's Rant: Point of View and Comments on the Human Condition

Summary: SA analyzes how differing (and often contradictory) viewpoints in Chuck Palahniuk’s Rant lend themselves to plot progression, and how these viewpoints contribute to the ideas presented about the purpose and meaning in life.

From the beginning, Rant sets itself out as a very different style of book than most. The book is set out as an “oral history”, a testimonial of sorts to the recently deceased pseudo-protagonist and his life. Each character that is introduced offers a new view of Buster “Rant” Casey, and each offers his or her ideas about the purpose of his life and the sometimes their own.

The story of Rant’s life begins ordinarily enough, with childhood friends speaking of a young delinquent looking for cheap thrills and excitement. Some memorialize Rant as a hero, while others speak of his faults and crimes. These contradictory viewpoints, though they speak only of a dead man, illustrate the characters’ own personalities and ideas. For example, one character (the self-proclaimed “childhood enemy” of Rant) reveals his prejudices against women and his own ignorance while he is speaking about Rant. His scathing testimonial is interspersed with offensive terms for women thrown out casually. The character very often blames events on others: on Rant, on his parents, on random people in from the city. This point of view shows just how willing people are to blame others for events that are often beyond control.

Halfway through the book, the story explodes (somewhat unexpectedly) into narratives of time travel, of murder and incest, and of epidemic rabies plaguing the nation. This epidemic is seen differently by different groups of people. Some see it as a dangerous disease; many others see the plague as a way of becoming stronger by becoming closer to their own animal natures. This distinction is exemplified by symbols that are explained later in the book: some speakers have a moon placed next to their name, others a sun. This is part of a system of separating the infected or dangerous from the rest of the human population. Those with a moon, called “Nighttimers”, are allowed to be outdoors only from dusk to dawn, effectively quarantining about half of the population. These people are the ones who see the plague as a gift, as a positive aspect of their lives. The split can account for differences in personality seen throughout the book: nighttimers almost always see Rant as a hero and a good person. They live much more dangerous lives, taking risks and focusing on the task at hand. Dayttimers, on the other hand (including the childhood enemy discusses above), are almost always more conservative, condemning Rant for his crimes and his way of life. Everything that is wrong in the fictionalized city- suicides, drugs, sickness- is blamed on Rant Casey. While Daytimmers portray Rant's actions as villainous, Nighttimers look to him as a sort of prophet and pioneer. This split in viewpoints, though exaggerated in the book, is obvious in everyday life. One group sees a hero, while another sees only the negative.

Interestingly enough, Rant seemed to have his own ideas on life and its purpose. However, his ideas (relayed by others) differ and often contradict. According to friends, the man scoffed at religion while criticizing people's lack of imagination. One particular chapter on the book has multiple characters trying to sum up Rant's view on the meaning of life. Says one, "[Rant] used to say, “What if reality is nothing but some disease?”". This kind of philosophy seems pessimistic and depressing. However, another states that Rant once said: "My life might be little and boring, but at least it’s mine - not some assembly-line, secondhand, hand-me-down life.”, which seems much more optimistic and self-confident. The point here is that Rant's life seems completely different each person who speaks about him. Their own thoughts and ideas creep into their retellings of stories and their descriptions of Rant Casey. Rant himself may have been responsible for this disparity, having once said: "You're a different human being to everybody you meet". Rant is representative of a lot of different people, different ideals and classes. His own contradictory personality leads to differing opinions of him and a testament to the inconsistency of human life.

Though it is a fantastical novel with a deeply complex storyline, Rant can be broken down to its simple roots quite easily. It is a novel demonstrating the disparity in human lives, and the role that each of us have to play. The book opens with a car salesman talking about a chance encounter on an airplane, and how that encounter changed his life. Though he never met Rant Casey, he had a real effect on the salesman. Says he: “Folks build a reputation by attacking you while you’re alive-or praising you after you ain’t”. Human life has a huge effect on everyone, clear from the opening lines of the book. Even those that are long gone still contribute, every personality and idea and infection of rabies having an effect on thousands of people for years. Rant illustrates the complexities of human life, and how contradictions in personality and ideals have a huge effect on different people in different ways.

SA 2015