Generation X

Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture

Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, published in 1991, is the first novel by Douglas Coupland. It is Coupland's most famous novel, partially due to the fact that it spawned the term Generation X.

The original publishing of the novel was presented in a wide-paged dual column style. In one column is the storyline, and in the other were neologisms (along with definitions for each of them) used to describe the lives of Generation X members, as well as small illustrations. Some later editions of the novel were produced with in a more traditional style, but the margin notes were retained as footnotes.

Plot summary

The novel is a social satire about three members of Generation X - Dag, Andy, and Claire - who have moved to Palm Springs, California to get away from an overly commercialized world and rediscover themselves. In the process, they tell each other (and the guests who drop by now and then) stories, some about their lives and some made up to represent aspects of their lives.

Through the main story as well as the stories the characters tell, we see examples of how life is for members of Generation X. Stuck with their only career choices being in the service industry, being forced to live with the commercialism that is all around them, and being unable to afford housing, their generation lives a bleak life that is only getting bleaker. The only hope for the characters is to leave behind the lives they live and find new ones without the trappings of modern society.

Cultural impact

The novel became widely popular after its first publication. The assortment of neologisms presented in the book would help in this popularizing. Some of these terms, such as McJob, became commonly used by both the media and the public. More notably, however, was the widespread use of the term "Generation X", which began being used as a name for the generation by the media after the publication of the novel.

Coupland took the X from Paul Fussell's 1983 book Class, where the term "class X" designated a region of America's social hierarchy rather than a generation. 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." This would become a popular view in the media of what the Generation X's attitude was like at the time.


• Andy - The book's narrator and main character. Andy works in a bar (a McJob, as he describes it) and lives in a small bungalow. He's close friends with Dag and Claire. As in the case of Dag and Claire, Andy is trying to find a way to live his life without the trappings of modern society.
• Dagmar - Dag for short. He works with Andy at the bar and lives next door to him in his own bungalow. Dag left an office job in order to find himself a better lifestyle. He has an odd obsession with the possibility of a nuclear apocalypse.
• Claire - A friend of Andy and Dag (though not in a romantic relationship with either of them) who lives in a neighboring bungalow. She wants to live life as Andy and Dag are trying to, but finds it hard especially because of her boyfriend Tobias.
• Tobias - A superficial yuppie who is Claire's boyfriend. He finds the lifestyle of Andy, Dag, and Claire interesting, but is unable to commit to it. Neither Andy nor Dag likes him.
• Elvissa - Claire's best friend. She joins the group at one point in the story to tell her own short story.
• Tyler - Andy's younger brother. Tyler is a young Generation Xer who doesn't seem to take his life seriously but deep down inside wishes he could as Andy does.

Other books from Douglas Coupland

Shampoo Planet (1992): Shampoo Planet is the rich and dazzling point where two worlds collide - those of 1960s parents and their 1990s offspring, "Global Teens," the generation after Generation X. Tyler Johnson is a twenty-year-old MTV child. Once a baby raised in a hippie commune, he now sells fake Chanel T-shirts, collects shampoo and studies hotel/motel management in a small northwest city saddled with a dying mega-mall and a collapsed nuclear industry. An ambitious Reagan Youth, Tyler dreams of escape and a career with the corporation whose offices his mother once firebombed.

Tyler's soon-to-be-single mother is the fortysomething Jasmine, a "hippie chick" with a Woodstock heart full of love - but also full of confusion because her 1960s dream has turned sour. Burdened with two failed marriages, three kids at home and job layoffs, Jasmine wonders if the 1960s dream alone can protect her from the 1990s. It's a life . . . until two figures with secret agendas - Tyler's yuppie-land-developer stepfather, Dan, and "Princess Stephanie," his summer fling from Europe - emerge, unleashing Tyler on a dizzying journey into the contemporary cultural psyche, a voyage full of rock videos, toxic waste, fatherlessness, celebrity detox centers, french-fry computers, quack get-rich-quick cat food schemes, clearcut forests and much, much more.

Shampoo Planet's six-month chronicle of Tyler's life takes us from his Washington State hometown to the ongoing party beside Jim Morrison's Paris grave, to a wild island in British Columbia, to the freak-filled redwood forests of northern California, to a cheesy Hollywood, to ultramodern Seattle and then back home. On the way we meet a constellation of other characters: Anna-Louise, Tyler's post-feminist girlfriend with an eating disorder; Neil, Tyler's Deadhead dope-ranching biological father; Daisy, his neo-hippie sister; Murray, her dreadlocked boyfriend; and Harmony, a rich computer hacker with a fetish for Star Trek and the medieval.

Life After God (1994): What happens if we are raised without religion or beliefs? We are all living creatures with strong religious impulses, yet where do these impulses flow in a world of malls and TV, Kraft dinners and jets? How do we cope with loneliness? Anxiety? The collapse of relationships? HOW DO WE REACH THE QUIET SAFE LAYER OF OUR LIVES?

Microserfs (1995): Microserfs: a hilarious, fanatically detailed and oddly moving book about a handful of misfit Microsoft employees who realize that they don't have lives and subsequently become determined to get lives inside the lightning-paced world of high-tech 1990s' American geek culture. Amid a Seattle backdrop of software corporate cultishness and the financial terror of San Francisco and Silicon Valley tech startups, the members of Coupland's quirky ensemble "stick a piece of dynamite inside themselves, like a cartoon cat, in the hopes that when they reassemble their exploded pieces they will be somebody different."

Coupland gives readers an intimate, deadly accurate and profoundly funny view of a way of life that is quickly becoming the dominant lifestyle: friends, families and lovers falling through trapdoors of the new electronic order and becoming involved in an engaging, awkward scramble toward love and success in a brave new world.

Polaroids From the Dead (1996): Douglas Coupland takes his sparkling literary talent in a new direction with this crackling collection of takes on life and death in North America - from his sweeping portrait of Grateful Dead culture to the deaths of Marilyn Monroe, Kurt Cobain and the middle class. For years, Coupland's razor-sharp insights into what it means to be human in an age of technology have garnered the highest praise from fans and critics alike. At last, Coupland has assembled a wide variety of stories and personal "postcards" about the pivotal people and places that have defined our modern lives. Polaroids from the Dead is a skillful combination of stories, fact and fiction - keen outtakes on life in the late twentieth century, exploring the recent past and a society obsessed with celebrity, crime and death. Princess Diana, Nicole Brown Simpson and Madonna are but some of the people scrutinized herein.

Girlfriend In A Coma (1998): "The future's not a good place. It's cruel. I saw it last night. We were all there: we were older. 'Meaning' had vanished. And yet we didn't know it. I looked at us up close. Our eyes were without souls . . . like a salmon lying on a deck, one eye flat on the wood, the other eye looking straight to heaven."

After making love for the first time, high school senior Karen Ann McNeil confides to her boyfriend, Richard, of the dark visions she's been suffering recently. It's only a few hours later on that snowy Saturday night in 1979 that she descends into a coma. Nine months later, she gives birth to a daughter, Megan, her child by Richard. Karen remains comatose for the next eighteen years. Richard and her circle of friends reside in an emotional purgatory throughout the next two decades, passing through careers as models, film special-effects technicians, doctors and demolition experts before finally being reunited while working on a conspiracy-driven supernatural television series.

Upon Karen's reawakening, life grows as surreal as the television show. Strange, apocalyptic events begin to occur. Later, amid the world's rubble, Karen, Richard and their friends attempt to restore their own humanity.

Lara's Book (1998): Lara's Book Lara's Book is a unique publication for Prima Games. It chronicles the amazing popularity of Lara Croft (the lovely leading lady of the Tomb Raider series). This book has original work by Douglas Coupland (author of Generation X and Girlfriend in a Coma) who gives his thoughts on the phenomenon and an original story about Lara. The book also includes thousands of pictures of Lara from around the world, some never before seen in print. Plus, strategy guide author Kip Ward has created new gameplay strategies Tomb Raider, Tomb Raider II, and Tomb Raider Gold for exclusive release in Lara's Book. It's a treat for Lara fans and an introduction for those who have yet to be acquainted with the perky Ms. Croft.

Miss Wyoming (2000): Coupland's fifth novel modishly matures the generation he christened (Generation X) via a lonely pair of thirtyish Hollywood burnouts in search of meaning. Devotees will recognize the characteristic blend of hip cultural references, ambient low-grade humor and an unravishing love tale involving dead-enders living in hope of hope. The romance is a fragmented affair that resolves itself in this concluding, nullifying phrase: Whatever came to them next would mercifully erase the creatures theyd already become as they crawled along the plastic radiant way. What leads up to that F. Scott Fitzgerald envoi is the story of John Johnson, a maker of mega-selling trash flicks for teens, who falls ill, has a vision and leaves Hollywood behind for the joys of dumpster diving in the Southwest; and Susan Colgate, a veteran of kiddie beauty pageants whose generous half-hour of sitcom fame has ended and whose airliner takes a nosedive into a field in the Midwest, leaving her miraculously unharmed. The two meet in a restaurant, take a walk down Sunset in the afternoon and are mutually enchanted. Despite their efforts to meet again, flashbacks, flashforwards and sitcom misfortunes intervene. Susie's mom Marilyn, broke, deprived of an airline settlement and abandoned by her resentful daughter, kidnaps Susie's infant Eugene, a child conceived and born during her anonymous lost year immediately after the plane crash and John, with the help of young lovers Ryan and Vanessa, begins his search for Susie. They all end up in Wyoming, mother and daughter reconciled, mother and infant reunited and Susie and John heading out for the plastic radiant way.

Other Non-fiction books

• City of Glass (2000) — a collection of essays and photographs of Vancouver.
• Souvenir of Canada (2002)
• School Spirit (2002)
• Souvenir of Canada 2 (2004)
• Terry - The Life of Canadian Terry Fox (2005)

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