Douglas Coupland’s Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture: an alternative voice

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Douglas Coupland’s Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture: an alternative voice

On production of his first novel, Coupland was labelled by critics spokesman for a new lost generation - “Generation X” - those individuals aged between mid-twenties and mid-thirties who have come of age in an increasingly technological and materialistic bureaucratic society. As a consequence, they are emotionally scarred and alienated, reject conformity and search for some kind of meaning to life. When asked about this label, Coupland stated that he spoke “...for myself, not for a generation. I never have”, arguing that he addresses issues relevant to himself and his peer group who grew up in Vancouver (Hall, Sharon K. “Douglas Coupland” Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 39, 29). The subsequent success of Generation X both in America and Europe, indicate that the experiences Coupland records are global, appealing to a wide audience who share his fears and expectations.

While the debate about the lack of a distinctive Canadian voice continues, the critical reaction to Generation X illustrates the problems inherent within Canadian literature. Coupland wrote the novel in America, and it was here rather than his native country that it was actually published. In “Malaise of the Mall-Raised”, Brian Fawcett details the reasons for Coupland’s initial lack of success in Canada, indicating that it was the book buying public rather than the literary establishment who put Coupland on the literary map:

...the book couldn’t find a Canadian publisher, that the Globe and Mail didn’t review Generation X, or that Books in Canada...rejected [it] for having an attitude problem (Fawcett, Brian. “Malaise of the Mall-Raised” Books in Canada, Vol. 21, 44-6).

Typical of this critical reaction, Laurel Boone in a Books in Canada review of Generation X, is scathing towards the novel which she describes as “shallow”, and for the fact that its Canadian characters do not translate the French phrases they use (Boone, Laurel. “Review of Generation X.” Books in Canada. Vol. 20, 50-1).

Boone also faults Coupland’s use of cartoons, definitions and slogans within the work. One of these pop art cartoons shows a young man reading a real estate magazine and telling his father: “Hey, Dad, - You can either have a house or a life I’m having a life.”

In contrast to Boone’s opinion, it was the actual format of the novel as well as the content which appealed to the reading public.

The reason Coupland was overlooked may be due to the fact that his novel was viewed as the antithesis of conventional Canadian writing.

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While there is a Canadian dimension to Generation X and all of Coupland’s subsequent fiction, he suggests that in contemporary society regional and national identity have become blurred. His observations of life in the late twentieth century indicate that all post-colonial societies have merged, as those in control ultimately share the same mind-set. Detailing an era in which divorce, diminished expectations and the threat of nuclear annihilation are prevalent, Coupland moves away from the standard view of garrison mentality, concentrating instead on issues which relate to the lives of a considerable section of global society.

The protagonists of the novel are products of their upbringing, and in their desire to escape from the restrictive society they inhabit, move way from civilization to the uninhabited desert, the promised land which represents freedom. In an attempt to make sense of life, they tell each other stories, which provide entertainment but also serve as a commentary on contemporary consumerist society. Rejecting the established order and with little respect for the older generation who are responsible for “...handing over the world to us like so much skid-marked underwear” (Generation X, 86), the characters create their own rules and attempt to live by them. Forging their own identities they recall their earlier existences, realizing that many within the collective mass routinely and monotonously continue to live similar lives, but due to the nature of society are powerless to escape:

...the realization that the smiles that they wear in their daily lives are the same as the smiles worn by people who have been good-naturedly fleeced, but fleeced nonethelessand who are unable because of social convention to show their anger (Generation X, 7).

In contrast to the norm within Canadian literature, Coupland indicates that there is a voice with which to speak, a voice which many within post-colonial society share. For the literary establishment the question is whether they actually want to hear this voice.


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