Veneration X


From The Washington Post (February 22, 1994)

by Roxanne Roberts

The twentysomethings are searching for God. And their prophet wears army boots laced halfway up, but never tied all the way. "One could but one doesn't," explained Douglas Coupland, struggling to define the nuances of Generation X chic.

Every generation has its mission. This one spends its time contemplating spiritual truth and sartorial sins. Saints be praised and grunge is passe.

At least that was the word last night at the Canadian Embassy, where young and not-so-young Washington intellectuals threw a book party for Coupland, the 32-year-old author of the newly released "Life After God." In 1991 his best-selling first novel, "Generation X: Tales of an Accelerated Culture," made him the wonder boy of postmodern ennui. Now he's being compared to Salinger and Hemingway_until the next baby genius pops up. And so the New Republic, to which Coupland is a regular contributor, swept out its aristocracy including Editor Andrew Sullivan, Executive Editor David Shipley and his wife, feminist Naomi Wolf and a hundred Washington X'ers lusting for their turn in the spotlight.

"One of the great characteristics of Generation X is its incredible ability to market itself," said Richard Blow, the 29-year-old managing editor of the newly revived Regardie's magazine. "And Doug Coupland both writes about that and practices that."

No, no, no, insisted Coupland. "Everything just blurts out of me," he blurted. "I don't calculate anything. I've never, ever done that. Ever."

Blow smiled at his friend. "Say Doug has an incredible ability to coincide with the Zeitgeist."

There are 41 million Americans born between 1961 and 1971 -- raised on reruns of "The Brady Bunch," eager to read anything by someone who understands that everything's a cliche, everything's been done before.

Coupland understands.

He used to be wry and world-weary, but now Coupland is on the search for Greater Meaning, sort of a New Age thing without the mantras. "You Are the First Generation Raised Without Religion," proclaims the dust cover of the pint-size book. His publisher, Pocket Books, printed up more than 50,000 copies; "Life After God" is now on the San Francisco Chronicle's bestseller list. "He's very Bay Area," said a spokesman.

For a guy who gets up around noon every day, Coupland gets a lot done when he's not searching for God. Besides contributing to the New Republic and the New York Times Op-Ed page, he's flacking the book with a series of 30-second "interstitials" on MTV and, Andy Warhol-like, eschewing celebrity while collecting celebrities as friends. A section of the book is dedicated to REM lead singer and new pal Michael Stipe because, as he told Elle magazine, "REM was one of the few things that didn't suck about the `80s."

"Two years ago, I took `Generation X' to the beach assuming it was going to be awful," said Sullivan, who just turned 30. "It was such an individual voice and so great, I immediately called him up and said, `You should write for us.' "

The voice of his generation has his hair cut short on the sides, jug ears, a thin mustache and beard. For his book party, given by the embassy and the New Republic, the Vancouver native wore official Canadian army boots and a custom-made Sunday formal suit of the Hutterites, a religious sect known for its simplicity.

His religion?

"Just call me a Freeway Bradyist," he told the audience with no further explanation.

Later he was asked to elaborate. "We dream of being infinite, we dream of resolution, we dream to give our hearts away," he said.

Perhaps Generation X'ers understood immediately, but a slightly confused thirtysomething reporter had to ask Coupland to deconstruct his answer. "Freeways are implicitly infinite, TV is implicitly half-hour resolution-oriented, and transcendence means giving yourself away."

He is genial, charming. He pauses and smiles like William F. Buckley Jr. "My New Year's resolution this year is to learn how to affect a British accent," he told the crowd.

The crowd was appropriately appreciative, even the ones who couldn't tell if Coupland was serious.

Finely tuned to the use of irony, the X'ers understand but just don't call them twentysomething sheep.

"I wouldn't want anyone to speak for me," said Sam Fleming, 26, a health care reimbursement consultant and motorcycle racer. "I'm a very self-actualized person."

"This Generation X thing is entirely constructed by people in their forties who became addicted to the idea of a generation," said Sullivan. "And I hope it dies with them."