Global Teens


From Newsday (September 20, 1992)

by Laurie Muchnick

Generations are getting smaller and smaller these days. With the shrinking half-lives of pop-cultural icons and the rapid advancement of new technologies, people who are 20 and people who are 27 can listen to completely different music, be nostalgic about different television shows from their youth and have widely divergent outlooks on the future. Whether you graduated from college before or after the stock-market crash of 1987 can dictate whether you are now well up your chosen career ladder or are stuck in a low-paying job with no responsibility and no future - a McJob. In his first novel, "Generation X," Douglas Coupland made a bid to become the first spokesperson for a generation without a name, a generation overshadowed by the baby boomers and without a discernable culture of its own.

Even though, having been born in 1961, Coupland is a few years older than his model Xers, he seemed to be speaking from the heart about such newly minted concepts as the poverty jet set ("a group of people given to chronic traveling at the expense of long-term job stability or a permanent residence"), anti- sabbaticals ("a job taken with the sole intention of staying only for a limited period of time . . . the intention is usually to raise enough funds to partake in another, more personally meaningful activity") and, of course, the dreaded McJob. Coup-land's characters drop out of the rat race before they even enter it, assuming a hip, detached attitude to avoid facing the fact that, after a while, even dropping out can be boring.

Repeating yourself can be boring too. Rather than delving deeper into the generation with which he has become so closely identified, Coupland has chosen, in his second novel, to parse the twentysomething group a little more closely and come up with an entirely new generation, one only 7 years younger than the Xers. "Global Teens," as he calls them, are young enough that they can't remember life before Ronald Reagan, but they are the children of '60s parents - a combination that gives us ambitious young capitalists with names like Harmony, Gala and Skye.

Our narrator is Tyler Johnson, a 20-year-old student of hotel / motel management at Lancaster Community College in southeastern Washington State. Tyler lives with his mother, Jasmine, a twice-divorced hippie, and his younger sister Daisy, who gives herself blond dreadlocks and seems to be at the vanguard of another, as-yet-unnamed generation. Tyler considers himself a citizen of the world: "I see myself participating in global activities: sitting in jets, talking to machines, eating small geometric foods, and voting over the phone. I like these ideas." He calls his room, which is filled with matte-black audio and video equipment, a computer and a well-stocked mini-fridge, the Modernarium, to differentiate it from the rest of the house, which is ruled by his mother's anti- modern candles and spider plants.

A lot happens to Tyler - a love triangle, a get-rich-quick cat-food scheme, a move to L.A., two breakups, possible makeups, a fistfight with his ex- stepfather, a not-so-poignant reunion with his natural father - but none of it really matters. Like "Generation X,"Shampoo Planet" is mostly an excuse for Coupland to coin funny sayings and become a philosopher for a group of young people. In "Generation X," it worked. Coupland really seemed to like his characters, even when they appeared to be feckless and self-absorbed; his portrayal was affectionate, and we could empathize with their search for an identity in a rapidly changing world. "Shampoo Planet," however, doesn't really hang together. It doesn't click, doesn't make you sit up and say, "I know what he's talking about." The Global Teens don't seem like a real group who have finally been categorized; they feel made up, as if Coupland were looking for a new generation and so invented one for his latest McBook.