Tuesday, July 26, 2016

25 Years after Generation X, a Scholarly View of the Early Coupland Canon

It's hard to believe it's been twenty-five years since I first picked up a low-key, oddly shaped novel about "people our age" called Generation X: Tales of an Accelerated Culture. Douglas Coupland's first novel would go on to name a demographic and tag him as the "voice of a generation," though he would quickly eschew and dismiss that title. A newly-graduated friend working a "McJob" in our college town told me of this new book about three twenty-somethings living in the desert of Palm Springs, telling stories and seeking to make some sense of their lives in the ennui of the early 90s just before the emergence of Kurt Cobain and the rise of grunge. While the great irony of Generation X is that many Xers never actually read the book - which had been originally contracted to a be a 90s update of the non-fiction Yuppie Handbook - the impact of the work and the term cannot be denied. I became an early fan of Coupland's work, and in 2001 I made his first few novels the subject of my Master's thesis, representing some of the first scholarship focused on the Coupland canon. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the birth of Generation X, I've updated and published my critical view of Coupland's 90s era novels - McJob: Life and Culture in Douglas Coupland's Early Novels.

The novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture was, no doubt, a pivotal work and watershed moment for literature and popular culture at the end of the twentieth century. It established an impressive literary voice that brought a fresh look at our media-saturated, consumer- and pop culture-driven world. And, it of course named a generation. Granted, most members of Generation X have never heard of, much less read, the novel, and it was the media and critics who have attached meaning to the term. That said, the novel and term remain a permanent part of the American canon and the American lexicon, and that is no small achievement. Along with Generation X, Douglas Coupland’s early novels deftly captured the zeitgeist of coming of age in the twilight of the twentieth century when the American Dream was suspect, and the world could change in an instant. The prominent issues of consumerism, the workplace, jobs, and popular culture are intrinsically linked within the novels of Douglas Coupland and the demographic of Generation X. As a result, the lasting impact of Douglas Coupland’s fiction cannot be denied.

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