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Doug Coupland Speaks On the Trail of Generation X


By Peter D. Pinch

The Crimson recently spoke with Doug Coupland, author of Generation X. The following are excerpts from that conversation.

Q: The characters in Generation X show a lot of frustration with their jobs--they change jobs frequently and tend to choose ones they don't like. What did you do before you started writing?

A: Oh, god. I've had so many stupid jobs in my life I can't believe it. I think the most contented job I ever had in my entire life was pumping gas at Chevron station at the west bound exit off the highway 401. I wore overalls that said Ed. Sometimes people would ask me, "So Ed...?" It was great, like zen.

During art school I once had a job making bowling shirts. That was a recession year, and you'd do anything for money. I'd take chalk and write names like Louella in script so that the seamstress could go over it.

...About 1988 I just fell into writing by accident. I sent a postcard to a friend in Japan and she put it up on her fridge. someone was at a party and read it and thought it was kind of funny. And he asked, "does this guy know anything about art"? She said, "Well, Dough went to art school." So he phoned up and asked if I wanted to do a story. I said, "it's your money." I wrote it. And I did another one, and it paid for the bills...Within two months I got picked up by a magazine in Toronto, which is the art capital of Canada. (That sounds so bad, like the art capital of Mongolia). So I quit my job and ate oatmeal and hotdogs two years, and did the starving writer bit. I wasn't cut out for "work work". If I had lived in the Dark Ages I would have been a troubadour. I'd never work in a" job job".

Q: Why does Generation X roam from job to job? Are the jobs that awful, or are they just not "cut out for it?"

A: Usually because most jobs are easily learned, and once you learn them, they just become stupid and insulting and boring and repetitive and there's no hope of advancement. If there's no hope of advancing you might as well go off and learn something new.

Q: Is that what you meant by "recurving" [Leaving one job to take another that pays less but places one back on the learning curve]?

A: Yeah. Most people I know who aren't from the art school gang, they're off to a new job every year or two. They [the jobs] usually never pay more than 28, 30 [thousand dollars] a year. But they'd much rather do that than sit. I don't think anyone honestly expects to collect a single penny they pay into social security. I think everyone acknowledges that it's going to go bankrupt or kaput. The day you want to go collect your money the system will have just gone bankrupt buying a jewelled stereo system for Jane Fonda's walker.

That's what Palm Springs [the setting of Generation X] is all about. I'd been there once before. It just struck me as being a frightening and genuinely possible version of what the future could end up being: a gerontocracy, with no middle class, broken weather and forced leisure time. If you wanted to see what the future could be like you don't go to Epcot, you go to Palm Springs. Florida is scary.

Q: Would you say that the fundamental dilemma of Generation X is that the life that television depicted for them when they were young is not the one they've found?

A: It's one of them, definitely. TV's like an appliance, like a dishwasher, or a microwave oven.

Q: But a dishwasher only washes your dishes, while a television creates your reality.

A: Inventions of course reformat your life. I've got a microwave oven now, and I've simply cut off the gas to my old oven because I'll never use it again.

TV's here for 10,000 years and it's not going to go away. And it's only going to accelerate, it's only going to become more profound. I wonder what the future is for reading. Someone in Hollywood said, "Well Doug, reading will never go completely out because it's cost-efficient."

Q: What do you think is the future of my generation?

A: I think you're a lot luckier than X. I think you're cusp. The next book is about people your age, and your sensibility....

It's apocryphal, but they say that the information generated by human beings doubles every 10 years. In order to make room in your head for all the new information that's generated, you have to get rid of a lot of the old information. I think younger people maybe tend to simply not see print or text as being as important for psychic survial as older people, or even people my age. I think that's better for them in a way. Nature always ensures the survival of her babies.

Come the year 2010, the way the world's going to be then, you will be less traumatically affected by the nature of information, news and the ways it's transferred, disseminated and generated. Unlike myself, who gets nostalgic for a less frantic, less accelerated information environment. Things have come a long, long way. I remember an era when there wasn't AIDS. And I remember when there wasn't crack. When president did not mean Reagan, and leader did not mean Thatcher. I think young people don't know that it once was otherwise. And so there's none of that sense of unproductive mourning...I think you're lucky.

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