by Coupland, Douglas
Generation X should feel dated--its title is no longer a part of the zeitgeist, and the generation it defined has been irrevocably changed. Gen Xers--the post-boomers born in the 1960s and even the late '50s--are no longer the socially terrified twentysomethings that populate Douglas Coupland's first and finest novel. The economic boom of the late 1990s dragged them out of their McJobs and back into the corporate world, transforming them into younger versions of the yuppies that Coupland lampoons so well. Surprisingly, though, the culture that is described in Generation X has not changed all that much; it has simply been passed on, in an Internet-friendly form, to the latest crop of bright young things.
Those who missed Generation X when it first appeared may be surprised to find that most of the associations that have been tacked on to its catchphrase title are not present in the novel. Coupland's characters--Dag, Claire, and Andy, three young neurotics from "good" upper-middle-class homes--are not financially ambitious, but they are not slackers either. Rather than drearily complaining that there is nothing worth doing, they are trying very hard to make sense of their lives and their culture. They do this by telling stories to each other, desperately and sincerely. Andy likens his friends' need for storytelling to the proceedings of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting:
"Never be afraid to cough up a bit of diseased lung for the spectators," said a man who sat next to me at a meeting once, a man with skin like a half-cooked pie crust and who had five grown children who would no longer return his phone calls: "How are people ever going to help themselves if they can't grab onto a fragment of your own horror? People want that little fragment, they need it. That little piece of lung makes their own fragments less scary." I'm still looking for a description of storytelling as vital as this.Storytelling is an ancient invention; Coupland simply restates its importance in a world of short attention spans and jump-cutting media. This side of Generation X hasn't aged at all and isn't likely to. And the other, better-known side of the novel--Coupland's razor-sharp cultural field guide--will remain relevant as long as university graduates still have to choose between economic uncertainty and corporate monoculture and still respond by refusing to grow up in conventional ways. Anyone who has avoided Generation X because of its unfortunate association with a few demographic buzzwords should consider giving Coupland a second look. --Jack Illingworth
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