Generation X explains itself to the rest of us


From The Boomer Report (March 15, 1992)

by Michael Smyth

The experience of the generation that follows the baby boom, and has so far lived in its shadow, has finally gotten some exposure through the publication of a new novel, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture (St. Martin's Press). Even its author, Douglas Coupland, has been surprised by the book's success.

It is an irony that would not be lost on Coupland - with everyone paying so much attention to the baby boomers, opportunities to market to the next generation are being overlooked. Its numbers may be smaller, but with baby boomers turning their attention to families, debt reduction, and retirement savings, Generation X may be the answer for the purveyors of some goods and services.

It helps, of course, to understand Generation X if you are to be successful in marketing to them. Coupland's novel shows the world of Generation X through the eyes of three young people. They are remarkably idealistic, but perhaps not surprisingly, the children of the seventies and eighties are seriously jaded and cynical. The lingo of the generation (definitions are included in the novel) reflects this cynicism and some of its roots.

McJob: A low-pay, low-prestige, low-dignity, low-benefit, no-future job in the service sector.

Veal-Fattening Pens: Those partitioned off workstations for junior staff.

Option Paralysis: The tendency, when given unlimited choice, to make none.

The setting of the novel, a Palm Springs retirement community, reflects what Coupland sees as the future of his generation. "Palm Springs is a vision of the future. You have a lopsided geritocracy -- 60 percent senior citizens, enforced leisure, and no middle class. It's like a condensed version of what 2010 could well be like." The novel's campy packaging reflects its target audience. Illustrations are comic-book style and the dust jackets come in different colors. Its success, however, is probably not the result of good packaging. It is because it is directed at a neglected market that is ready for some attention.