[Claire]: Either our lives become stories, or there’s just no way to get through them.
- Generation X
How I managed to get through university studying literature – including a course on 20th Century works – and not read Douglas Coupland’s seminal piece, I’m not entirely sure. Or perhaps I’m doing my professors an injustice and it was on the reading list, but I was just too busy sleeping/partying/cheerleading that week to bother turning up.
Either which way, I just finished it and yes, it does live up to the hype. In short (and it is short, so won’t take an inordinate investment of time), it is well worth a read. As is well-known (expect to me apparently), Generation X captures the bleak, hopeless emptiness ensconcing the lives of three children born to the baby-boomer generation, who find themselves to be utterly directionless on the cusp of turning thirty in the early ’90s.
I couldn’t at first place what it reminded me of but I think it might be the similarly blank, borderline-terrifying nothingness at the heart of Don DeLillo’s White Noise. And in the same vein as DeLillo, while the pointless and demoralising existence can become a little much at times (surely no one can give up so completely of really living?), there are hidden gems within the text that are worth sharing.
Many authors are credited with ‘defining’ a period, a theme or indeed a generation, but Coupland actually does – peppering his narrative with footnotes providing a glossary of terms of his own/popular culture’s invention that go some way to defining the times in which the characters find themselves.
Some of these are ace. So, for all those who know my tendency to obsessively record astute quotations of personal significance (or else, they’re just cool), here are a few to give you a taster of the book:
Cult of aloneness: the need for autonomy at all costs, usually at the expense of long-term relationships, often brought about by overly high expectations of others
Derision Preemption: a life-style tactic; the refusal to go out on any sort of emotional limb so as to avoid mockery from peers.
Option paralysis: the tendency, when given unlimited choices, to make none
101-ism: the tendency to pick apart, often in minute details, all aspects of life using half-understood pop psychology as a tool
Rebellion Postponement: the tendency in one’s youth to avoid traditionally youthful activities and artistic experiences in order to obtain serious career experience. (Sometimes results in the mourning for lost youth at about age thirty, followed by silly haircuts and expensive joke-inducing wardrobes)
Tele-parabalizing: morals used in everyday life that derive from TV sitcom plots (‘OMG, that’s just like the episode where Jan lost her glasses!’)
Obscurism: the practice of peppering daily life with obscure references (forgotten films, dead TV stars, unpopular books, defunct countries, etc.) a subliminal means of showcasing both one’s education and one’s wish to disassociate from the world of mass culture
Native aping: pretending to be a native when visiting a foreign destination
Personality Tithe: a price paid for becoming a couple; previously amusing human beings become boring. (‘Thanks for inviting us, but Noreen and I are going to look at flatware catalogs tonight. Afterward we’re going to watch the shopping channel.’)
And then a few fab little tit-bits from Andy’s narrative:
- ‘Nothing very very good and nothing very very bad ever lasts for very very long.’
- ‘We spend our youth attaining wealth and our wealth attaining youth.’
- ‘Give parents the tiniest of confidences and they’ll use them as crowbars to jimmy you open and rearrange your life with no perspective.’
How many of those can you apply to people you know, or even (like me) yourself? Kinda scary, huh. If you like it, buy it. It’ll be a fiver well spent.