I think is many cases it is the fault of the artists. I think Chuck is playing both sides here in Fight Club for example. Had the narrator turned at one point and said ‘you’re all pathetic social rejects, grow the hell up and join society rather than punching your way through your fears and anxieties you colossal man children’ then the message would have been pretty clear. Doesn’t need to be that direct, but ‘you’re all wrong’ or ‘what are you thinking’ or ‘can’t you think about other people’ or ‘life doesn’t have to be like this’ or ‘the world doesn’t owe you anything’ or ‘you need to stop acting like toddlers’ would have done.
Instead the narrator doesn’t say that, and at the end of Fight Club rather than being horrified at the end of the movie he gets his girl back and they blissfully watch an economic collapse.
This is done on purpose. The people the movie intended to mock were the very people who made it a success. They weren’t in on the joke, they saw it as a call to action. A rejection of government, or corporations, or working a regular job, of stable relationships. And yeah, the artist carries some of that responsibility. Otherwise no-one is ever responsible for anything.
There’s three other properties that it reminds me of. Starship Troopers, where not everyone is in on the joke and you have a sub culture of military worship and war. Some people get it, but it’s been used in the military for the opposite intentions. The movie tread the line of ‘the military are ridiculous’ but the sequels were more ‘the military are badass’.
The second is James Bond, where James cavorts around the world shagging chicks, drinking martinis and having a good old time. Not that he’s utterly alone and devoid of any personal life, achievement or he treats women like they’re disposable property. The Craig Bond tried to address this, I’m not sure it was successful.
And finally Atlas Shrugged. The author didn’t intend the parody (we think) even though she was on welfare and would have been the scorn of her own story. And now Atlas Shrugged is an instruction manual for a third of Congress. She bears that responsibility.
When it’s done right it’s Animal Farm - no-one reads that and says the pigs were right, communism is great. And I don’t think Fight Club fails because Palahniuk isn’t as skilled as Orwell, it’s because the message was messy because it sells more and maybe there’s bits he agrees with. Dude’s had his entire life to rant about those who embraced the Fight Club message, but he hasn’t.
I didn’t think I’d be comparing Fight Club to Animal Farm this morning.