I just want to show society what people born after 1960 think about things… We’re sick of stupid labels, we’re sick of being marginalized in lousy jobs, and we’re tired of hearing about ourselves from others
—Coupland, Boston Globe, 1991
Douglas Coupland’s first and most successful novel grew out of a state of mind, it both created and reflected the zeitgeist of the period. In 1987, Coupland wrote an article for Vancouver Magazine in which he pejoratively discussed the lack of self-realisation within his own generation. A year after this article had been published he received funding from a publisher to complete a “handbook” for the generation outlined in the article.
Coupland moved to The Mohave desert to complete to work on this assignment, these writings eventually evolved into Generation x: Tales for an accelerated culture (1991). This novel was written over 20 years ago, before the internet and even email. Generation X was what is known as a “sleeper” bestseller- it’s success was gradual spanning years; there was no internet culture to crystallise and accentuate trends:
“These days a meme is good for a few days or few weeks, max.”- Douglas Coupland, Introduction to the 2013 Edition
The structure of the novel uses individual character stories as a vast metaphoric representation of an entire generation. A major theme present throughout Coupland’s writing is the juxtaposition of Materialism vs. Self-Expression; throughout Generation X– the three main characters , Andy, Dag and Claire, attempt to rebel against the tradition of materialism that they percieved to have ruined their parents lives. They attempt to live as individuals and not American target markets. By taking this position they embody the rejection of the “American Dream”; they reject what this dream has become- materialism, greed and self-grandizement. The storytelling between the novel’s characters also reflects a type of corruption. For the three protagonists storytelling becomes a corruption of personal truth between a small community of friends.
These three central characters take refuge within their small group friendship- hiding rather than facing the struggle, happiness or any potential fulfillment. Group Friendship is raised above all other types of companionship.
All married couples in the book, in different degrees, end up In a place of significant loss of both self and individual integrity as a direct result of marriage. Friendships are seen above spousal relationships as they are seen in Generation x as a catalyst for the eventual emergence and/or revelation of personal truth. By the end of the novels narrative their seems to be an unconditional acceptance of one another, flaws and all.
“We live small lives on the periphery; we are marginalised and there’s a great deal in which we choose not to participate. We wanted silence and we have that silence now…. We had compulsions that made us confuse shopping with creativity, to take downers and assume that merely renting a video on a Saturday night was enough. But now that we live here in the dessert, things are much, much better.”- Douglas Coupland Generation X: Tales of an accelerated culture1991