Generation X (the book) revisited

Just finished reading Douglas Coupland’s novel, Generation x: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. After reading X Saves the World, I figured it was time to return to it. It’s been almost 18 years since I first read this book. I’ve reread it maybe once or twice since then but my memory of it is fuzzy. Still, I’ve toted it with me wherever I’ve gone since it was presented to me as a gift by a college friend. I’d forgotten just how good a book it is, how affecting (or is it effecting?) it was/is for me. It must have impressed me, right. Otherwise why hang onto it for so long?

Though the impressions are vague, I do remember being excited by Coupland’s first novel. And I remember being eager for his next work, which was Shampoo Planet, and then being sort of disappointed by it. But I’m thinking now that I should read it again. Perhaps there was something I missed. I mean, that was true for Microserfs, which I didn’t finally read until this past year, after reading several new books by Coupland — Elanore Rigby, jPod, and The Gum Thief, all of which I enjoyed. I don’t know what kept me from reading Microserfs. Perhaps it was the disappointment over Shampoo Planet. In any event, I am pleased to have returned to Coupland’s work, and since I’ve neglected it for so long there are many works that I have yet to read, and I look foward to doing that. I just hope that I can find the time now. Before “adulthood” — marriage and children and mortgages etc — I had much more opportunity to read and yet I think I actually read less. Well. Nothing to be done about that now.

Anyhoo… one of the really cool things about Coupland’s book are the GenXisms that appear in the margins of the pages along side the narrative. Little terms usually with accompanying definitions that help to define the X ethos as portrayed in this novel.

For example, here’s a rather famous one, which is not part of the popular lexicon:

MCJOB: A low-pay, low-prestige, low-dignity, low-benefit, no-future job in the service sector. Frequently considered a satisfying career choice by people have never held one.

I’ve hgad my share of these. Like when I was grad student in the MFA department at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. When I wasn’t teaching English 105, WMU’s version of Freshman Comp, I worked at a Oasis Hot Tubs, doing cleaning and maintenance. It was considered a semi-cool job because it was kind of exotic and you got to tub for free, plus the owners threw kick ass and sometimes wild Christmas parties, but at the same time it was drudge work and it wasn’t as if I was going to make a career out of it or anything. I had bills to pay. But here’s the kicker: my TA position with the university didn’t pay much better, and in fact probably paid less, considering the time and brain-power that went into it. But still it was kind of prestigious to teach at a university, my high school classmates seemed to think so at my 10 year class reunions, anyway.

A lesser known Xism, but one of my favorites is:

EMOTIONAL KETCHUP BURST: The bottling up of opinions and emotions inside oneself so that they explosively burst forth all at once, shocking and confusing employers and friends– most of whom though things were fine.

I’m guilty of this one. Ask my wife and daughter. Every once in a while I’ll just bust out with all this crap that’s been festering in my head for God knows long.

I’ve been considering some of my own Xism to add to Couplands. Like something like:

GENERATIONAL HOSTAGE TAKING: The tendency to co-opt members from a different generation and ascribe them membership in one’s own generation in order to boost one’s self-esteem or position in the world at large by association with said person.

Supposedly I am guilty of doing this with Barack Obama, whom I insist is a GenXer, but whom I’ve been told by a responder to one of my earlier postings on this blog is actually a member of Generation Jones, whatever the fuck that is. Of course, I refuse to accept this nitpicking relabeling. Obama is X. Because he sure as shit ain’t a Boomer. And next to no one knows what the hell Generation Jones is. I’ve asked. People give me blank stares and then say to me: “I’m going to go over here now.” And then walk a few feet away to stare into space.

A variation on this idea is when members of another generation tries to convince you that you are in fact a member of their generation because their idea of your generation is a static cliche in their addled little minds, combined with their fear of aging and becoming increasingly irrelevant and in the end dying, leaving graves to be pissed on by a younger generation still pissed off because of all the bullshit that they had to put up with at the hands of the previous generation. Of course, I’m speaking primarily of the Boomers.

I came by this notion when I was participating in a blog discussion on slate.com that turned into a flame ware when self-righteous Boomer assholes didn’t like me confronting them with some of their generations uglier tendencies. They tried to dismiss me as young and juvenile, to which I replied that I was 40, married, had a healthy happy daughter, owned a house, worked a full-time job etc. This was met with the smug remark that because I was 40 I was a Boomer. Of course, I felt the need to explain that in fact I was not. I am a GenXer who has simply turned 40, while reminding these jerk offs that Boomers were now turning 60 — i.e. Hilary and Bill and W. Needless to say that they did not appreciate being reminded of their state of decline, both physically and mentally. The self-involved, self-centered, solipsism of their attitudes that Xers are perpetually 20-something without jobs, living in their parents basements, was fucking astounding. Although you’d think by now a cynical Xer such as myself would no longer be able to be surprised by the depth of self-centeredness that Boomers can exhibit. Also the clumsy mental move to pull a younger cohort under the umbrella of their generation smacks of a neurotic-bordering-on-psychotic generational tendency to thwart extinction.

Nice try Boomer Boys and Girls. But it ain’t gonna work. You got to, and will, die some time. (Aw, how sad for you.) Of course some not soon enough, for some of us.

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2 responses to “Generation X (the book) revisited

  1. Terrific post, …stumbled upon it in a random Technorati search. Thanks.
    I myself am also a Coupland fan. I’ve also found myself using McJob and other Xisms (Xerisms?), and forgot that his book is where I picked up some of these.
    My favorite books of his, besides Gen X, are Life After God, and All Families Are Psychotic (the title alone is amazing, and the plot and characters are even better).

  2. Thanks for the comment Mark. I have to admit I haven’t always been the most loyal Coupland fan. Of course, I loved Gen X, but I was not that impressed by Shampoo Planet, afterwhich I more or less ignore Coupland’s career. I’d not his new books but rarely got around to reading them until a few years ago when he came out with Elinore Rigby, which I really enjoyed. After that, I finally read Miscroserf, which I loved. Then came jPod, which is one of my favs, and I hear has been made into a TV show on Candadian televsion, although I have not been able to catch it yet. Don’t watch much TV these days.

    The Gum Thief was also good, and if you go on youtube you can catch little vidz based on the novel that the character in the book is writing. I went back to an older novel of his, Miss Wyoming, and I think it may be one of his best.

    In any event, I look fwd to reading the rest of his stuff and hope that he does not slow down his production any time soon.

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