Back in college, 15 years ago (as I remind myself now), the term Generation X was proposed for my generation, those born after the Baby Boomers. The source of the term is a fictional work, Generation X by Douglas Coupland. Mr. Coupland, by the way, is not in this Generation under the commonly accepted definition; he was born in 1961, generally labeled a late Boomer, not in the 1965-1980 range of my peers. Plus, he’s Canadian. That makes his perspective a little different. Like many artists, he seems to not enjoy that popular culture picked up terminology from his book.
Anyway, back in college I found the library’s copy and read the book, a fairly short read. I recalled it as moderately interesting and humorous, with a highly cynical style. In 2008, as part of the Millennial discussions at Bellarmine, I mentioned this book, so I thought I should own a copy and reread it to see how my impressions had changed. Back in February, I wrote on how the Boomers are sacrificing my future through debt. Now, well, the old people are talking about a Trillion dollar deficit this year. Let me write that out: $1,000,000,000,000. Many, many zeroes there are, all put onto the younger generation’s plate. The more I look, well, things aren’t good. It’s tough for me to see myself ever collecting Social Security, for example. Math teachers will always be needed, at least, so I don’t have to learn a full career with my hands. I’m not that good with tools.
But this is not an entry about finance, or how Boomer greed makes us Generation X people cynical; there’s plenty of work on how X isn’t just for slackers. This note is about the book. The book, well, is a set of stories about adults in Palm Springs. They have low-end jobs, and deliberately live small lives. The happy times come from telling uninterrupted stories about Texlahoma, where “the year is permanently 1974, the year after the oil shock and the year starting from which real wages in the U.S. never grew again.” The book, well, has almost no plot. It’s not about the epic; it’s not intended to be. There are no Beren and Luthien. There’s not even a Clarisse. Mr. Coupland doesn’t do uplifting. The one place where he tries, well, it’s very soppy. Totally out of place, it weakens the book. The writing wasn’t great literature to begin with, and it cannot recover. Overall, today in 2009 the book gets a 1 out of 5.
In 1991, when this book was first published, the narrative of my peers was less known, and so this fiction defined the concept. For that I am thankful, and this book would have rated more highly, possibly even a 4. In 1995, when I read this, cultural awareness was growing, and I picked up some things. It was a 2 or 3. Now, it’s less necessary. History changes things, like the perception of Generation X against the boomers, and my perception of the book Generation X.