Generation X

Douglas Coupland


Douglas Coupland was born December 30, 1961 on a Canadian military base in Baden-Sollingen, Germany. He is the third of four sons of Douglas Charles Thomas who is a doctor and C. Janet (Campbell) Coupland who originally came from Winnipeg (no remaining relatives there). Of his family, he has said "I come from an unemotional, undemonstrative family." He returned to Vancouver at the age of 4 in 1965, was raised there. His parents still reside in the same house he grew up in. During his childhood, he had no religious upbringing and sleep was very important to the family: he and other family members often missed class because of the need to sleep.

Coupland graduated in 1979 from Sentinel Secondary School in West Vancouver. After graduating Emily Carr College of Art and Design in Vancouver in 1984 from the studio program in sculpture, Coupland travelled to Hawaii, the European Design Insitute in Milan, Italy and the Hokkaido College of Art and Design in Sapporo, Japan. In Japan, he completed a two-year course in Japanese business science along with fine art and industrial design in 1986. He enjoyed early success as a sculptor, including a solo show at the Vancouver Art Gallery entitled "The Floating World" in November 1987. He was offered a writing job after the editor of a local paper (Malcolm Parry) was amused by a postcard he had written while living in Japan and asked him to do a piece on a noted Los Angeles art dealer. Of this job, he called it a "bottom-of-the-food-chain" with "Our office cubicles were like veal-fattening pens. There was just no dignity."

Coupland's interest in Generation X first emerged in a 1988 article for Vancouver magazine. He continued the project, with cartoonist Paul Leroche, in a strip the two created for Vista in Toronto, the short-lived magazine published by auto-parts magnate Frank Stronach. It was in Toronto that he got into the habit of taking refuge underneath desks. St. Martin's Press in New York asked him to write a guide to Generation X - something on the model of the Yuppie Handbook in the fall of 1989. Instead, Coupland moved to Palm Springs, California, to write his first book, Generation X. He has repeatedly resisted, after the publication of Generation X, to be called the spokesperson for his generation. "I speak for myself, not for a generation. I never have."

He currently divides his time between Vancouver, Los Angeles, northern Scotland and other "psychically strong" -as he calls them- regions. However he mainly lives in West Vancouver in a house designed by Ron Thon. Coupland has won two Canadian National Awards for Excellence in Industrial Design. He refuses to own furniture, collects only meteorites, art objects and letters which are locked in a vault in Vancouver. His ten novels to date, Generation X (1991), Shampoo Planet (1992), Life After God (1994), Microserfs (1995), Polaroids From the Dead (1996), Girlfriend in a Coma (1998), Lara's Book: Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider Phenomenon (1998), Miss Wyoming (1999) and City of Glass (2000) have been translated into 22 languages and 30 countries. Coupland is also a regular contributor to The New York Times, the New Republic and ArtForum. His on-going design experiments include everything from launching a line of furniture to Smirnoff vodka ads for the New Yorker (a fundraiser for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee). His journalism ranges form a short story on Dolly the cloned sheep in Time magazine (U.S. edition) to guest-editing two special issues of Vancouver Magazine on Vancouver's quirky future as a city state on the Pacific.

The western dimension

As Coupland explained in a 1995 interview, "In his final chapter, Fussell named an 'X' category of people who wanted to hop off the merry-go-round of status, money, and social climbing that so often frames modern existence." It was after the publication of Coupland's book that the term began being used as a name for the generation by the media, who introduced Generation X as a group of flannel-wearing, alienated, overeducated, underachieving slackers with body piercing, who drank franchise-store coffee and had to work at McJobs.

In the developing world

Generation X in its conception is originally a western concept, although Japan has its own version of Generation X. Developing countries, which make up the vast majority of the global population, have a generation X that differs from that in the West, due to poor education and little disposable income. However, the version of generation X that the developing nations experience essentially came out of the end of World War II and the subsequent decline of colonial occupation, the changes demanded on social hierarchy that it accompanied among the second generation born since the second world war, and the duality of democratic transition amid increasing information blockade and ever-increasing numbers of people seeking urban life over an agrarian economy.

The version of generation X in the developing world is characterised by:

* its incessant need to redefine social norms to newer socio-economic system,
* the sheer pace at which they need to adapt to new social influences along with the need to integrate it to their native cultural context, and
* the constant aspiration for a more egalitarian society in cultures that were long colonised and have an even longer history of hierarchical social structure.

Global factors defining generation X

The aspects and essence that binds the generation X across economic levels and cultures are the defining points of the 1970's: the Bretton Woods system and its subsequent failure, The impact of the contraceptive pill on social-interactional dynamics and the Oil shock of 1973.

Other common global influences defining the generation X across the world include: increasingly flexible and varied gender roles for women contrasted with even more rigid gender roles for men, the unprecedented socio-economic impact of an ever increasing number of women entering the non-agrarian economic workforce, and the sweeping cultural-religious impact of the Iranian revolution towards the end of the 1970's in 1979.

The global experience of a cultural transition like generation X, although in various forms, revealed the inter-dependence of economies since world war II in 1945, and showed the huge impact of American economic policies on the world.

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