|Life After Generation X|
The Express (March 11, 2000)
We're sitting in a hotel bar talking about his work, when suddenly Douglas Coupland does something a little bit strange and unexpected. Asked if he's seen a recent piece about him in a magazine, he picks up an ashtray, takes a mouthful of his ginger beer, spits it into the receptacle, then drinks the contents. From the ashtray.
it's like for me reading interviews with myself," he smiles. "It's kind
of from me, but it's not really me. There must be a technical name for what
I can only guess is a pathology I have, but I just cannot bear to read anything
about myself or hear my own voice."
There's something about this action that seems perfectly in keeping with the expectation-confounding career Coupland has been pursuing since his 1991 debut, Generation X. Apart from being the book that launched his career, Generation X quickly became for Canadian-born Coupland much more than a debut novel. With its story of over-educated twentysomethings stuck in menial jobs, its alienated vibe struck a chord, and before long, the term "Generation X" had been adopted by everyone from kids to marketing executives as a label for smart, disenchanted youth. Like Kurt Cobain at the same time, Coupland was promptly tagged as a "spokesperson for a generation".
"Thank God that Generation X thing is over," sighs Coupland. "It was a tough road to navigate for a while. I felt like if I made mistakes or lapsed or did something wrong I'd quickly become nothing more than an answer on a Trivial Pursuit card."
Perhaps in an attempt to avoid this fate, Coupland began to distance himself from his role as a hip cultural commentator, with his work beginning to take on what can only be described as a "spiritual" tone. In novels like Life After God and his two most recent works, Girlfriend In A Coma and the just released Miss Wyoming (where a Hollywood producer and B-list actress attempt to find each other and a better life for themselves), Coupland has characters blatantly struggling to reach some kind of transcendence in their lives; to reach beyond the everyday in a desire for something bigger and greater than who they are. The hip references and witty style that are his trademark remain, but alongside there's a gentle and near spiritual recognition of the limits of irony and popular culture.
"Sometimes I feel like I'm torn between revelling in pop culture, in the filth and muck of it all, and this more Life After God stuff," laughs Coupland. "There's these two spectral ends and I don't think I can have a stable existence at one or the other. It's always like a needle going back and forth.
"The thing is I get really jealous of people who have had a religious upbringing because they have something very clearly established that they can work in opposition to or in association with, while I didn't grow up with any orthodoxy at all. I think everybody needs to find something bigger than themselves that takes them out of themselves - however you want to define it.
"But you know, in the end I love pop culture," he beams. "I mean, can you imagine growing up in 17th-century Ireland or something, with no pop stars, no TV, and no magazines? That would just be too weird." Miss Wyoming (Flamingo, GBP9.99/GBP6.99) is out now