On Generation X

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In 2007, I wrote four entries for The Little Black Book of Books (Cassell Illustrated) edited by Lucy Daniel.

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Here is my entry on Douglas Coupland‘s Generation X (p. 680):

Key Event: Generation X
Title: Generation X: Tales For an Accelerated Culture
Date: 1991
Author: Douglas Coupland (1961- )
Nationality: Canadian
Impact: The book that defined a generation

Although its first recorded occurrence dates back to the early 1950s, “Generation X” gained currency as the name of an English punk band (1976) lifted from the title of an early study on youth culture (1964). Billy Idol’s group was later namechecked by Douglas Coupland in one of his zeitgeist-defining articles (1987-89) that developed into a comic strip and, eventually, a book, published in 1991 (the same year as indie film Slackers and another Gen-X classic, American Psycho). Paradoxically, Generation X gave visibility to a nameless ‘X generation’ of post-baby boomers which, according to Coupland, was “purposefully hiding” — not so much a lost generation, then, as one bent on losing itself. Thereafter, the expression became ubiquitous — supplanting “twentysomething” — and the Canadian author was hailed as the poet laureate of grunge (a phenomenon which also went mainstream in 91).

St Martin’s Press had envisaged an updated version of the Yuppie Handbook, but Coupland penned a bittersweet novel about the search for meaning in a world devoid of grand narratives. The result — a kind of Arabian Nights for slackers — accounts for the book’s instant-classic status and enduring impact. Andy, Claire and Dag all experience mid-twenties crises when they realise their existence has become “a series of scary incidents that simply [aren’t] stringing together to make for an interesting book”. In a bid to become latter-day Scheherazades, they “[q]uit everything”, relocate to the Californian desert where they take on McJobs (another neologism popularised by this book) and transform their lives into “worthwhile tales” through storytelling. Their radical take on downshifting can be seen as a quest for the inscription of absence that points to a prelapsarian Neverland called America. It also happens to be one of the oldest, and indeed greatest, themes in American literature.

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One thought on “On Generation X

  1. I found the book interesting conceptually. But as a narrative I don’t think the writing is anything special and the story bored me to tears.

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