Crisis: Generation X
Generation X is the most misunderstood generation to date. Douglas Coupland attempts to make sense of what sense this generation has been left with. Due to high expectations placed upon Generation X, commonly know as “X-ers”, by the successful “Baby Boomer” generation. Couplands’ writings validate his generation (Generation X) and invalidates the Baby Boomers. Generation X, Shampoo Planet, and Microserfs were written to support the invalidating of the Baby Boomer Generations.
Generation X, a brilliant portrayal of the group with no direction and no hope, tells a tale of three friends who are living the stereotypical Generation X lifestyle. Andy (main character), Dag, Claire are close friends who all work “McJobs” which is defined by Coupland as: “[a] low-pay, low-prestige, low-dignity, low-benefit, no-future job in the service sector” (Generation X, pg.5). They each are misunderstood by their parents and are seen as underachievers in a society “that has it easy.” It is easy for parents of the “X-ers” to believe this because all they’ve know is rise. Rise in population, rise in American business, and rise in overall success. These days all jobs are taken. The jobs out there are low paying and demeaning to overqualified applicants. Left only to scrap by, it is not unusual for an “X-er” to feel “Boomer Envy” described as the “envy of material wealth and long-range material security accrued by older members of the baby boom generation by virtue of fortunate births” (Generation X, pg. 21). The fortunate thing is that “X-ers” have come to realize money is not the key to life and community and commitment are what one should work towards.
In keeping the same “money isn’t everything” slogan, Coupland executes a novel modelled after young “X-ers” who work for the most powerful Baby Boomer of them all, Bill Gates. Microserfs is depicted as a novel displaying the lives of six Microsoft employees living together, dealing with each other and dealing with their meaningless jobs. The main character firstname.lastname@example.org describes himself and his life as follows:
I am a tester-a bug checker in Building Seven. I worked my way up the ladder
1991 helping little old ladies format their Christmas mailing lists on Microsoft Works.
Like most Microsoft employees, I consider myself too well adjusted to be working
here, even though I am 26 and my universe consists of home, Microsoft, and Costco.
Todd, Susan, Bug Barbecue, Michael, and Abe are the five roommates of Daniel and share the common belief or thought that they are in useless jobs and thrive to end the insanity. This is also evident in the lives of Andy, Dag, and Claire in Generation X. All three wanted to end to what had been brought upon them by their peer generation.
It is this peer generation that has created a hard life for the “X-er” to put an end to the uselessness and unimportance that they feel. The Boomers mass produced themselves to a bitter death. Succession and progression are the only two words that matters to a Boomer. Unfortunately they did not contemplate the harmful effects of their constant production and constant waste. Human beings have done more damage to the earth in the last fifty years than had -3-
been done in the previous two thousand years. It is no wonder why people have it rough these days when a thoughtless generation that destroyed an environment the way the Boomers did. It is the X Generation that realizes this and is now partaking in plans for repairing the planet for further generations to start anew.
It is unfortunate that the Boomers did not realize what they were doing to future generations and possibly we wouldn’t be living the way we are today. Yet the Boomers feel that “X-ers” are indifferent to their surroundings and that they need to be more aware to build a constructive future. They could not be more false in their entirety. Generation X has become very aspiring and are on their way to making the future a better place to live, for themselves, their children and their retired, doubtful parental figures. Generation X is unquestionably like their parents, except for one important forgotten factor: they have the amassed knowledge of their parents and their parents’ parents to avoid making the same mistakes. Their parents over-used and over-spent. They did not see the harm in their over-spending and overusing. They were intoxicated with opulence and thought that everything around them was ever lasting. Daniel discusses this in Microserfs and believes “How funny those things that you thought would never end turned out to be the first to vanish-IBM, The Reagan, Eastern bloc communism. As you get older, the bottom line becomes to survive as best as you can” (Microserfs, pg. 41). Not only is Generation X required to handle a bloating problem with the environment, they are also compelled to face the bloating deficit and debt that the fifty-nine million Boomers spent. The Boomers tend to dwell in the past. Generation X feels that it is important to acknowledge the
past, but refuse to live the way of the past.
I think in order to be happy-in order to deal with the future in a correct and positive manner-one shouldn’t go around thinking life isn’t as good as it used to be. Life must be better now than it ever was, and life is only going to get better and better in the future. The past is behind us.
(Shampoo Planet, pg.272)
“Shampoo Planet” follows the adventures of Tyler Johnson, a Global Teen living in the Pacific Northwest with his flaky siblings and Jasmine, their hippie-dippy mother. He is unable to choose between his anorexic American girlfriend or a glamourous French amour who has come to the New World to continue their summer holiday fling. Tyler’s philosophy is “What’s on your head says what’s inside your head” this analogy is created for his love of collecting shampoo. Similar to the beliefs of Generation X and Microserfs Tyler rejects the beliefs of his mother and her hippie friends, who are thought of as naive, irresponsible children. He describes the atmosphere as to a hippie commune “of adults lost in the woods for weeks at a time, stumbling back into the commune, their skin scabbed and broken, their hair tangled like bracken, their eyes blinded by the sun and their speech garbled with talk of Answers”(Shampoo Planet, pg. 53). Jasmine decides to take her kids away from the atmosphere of “collapse and disintegration” and into a house. Tyler’s rebirth or birth takes place as he is amazed at the hard floors and lights that would never fail. It is here that he learns to reject the lifestyle of his mother’s and Neil’s (father). Tyler does not drink, do drugs or smoke, he refrains from this because he believes it will make
him like his parents. The rejection of his fathers morals is more and more evident when he pays visit to Neil’s house on the way to Los Angeles. After spending at short time period visiting his father Neil and godfather Norman it is apparent that Tyler is disgusted with his surroundings “it was enough simply to rinse my hair, change clothes, and peel out through the gates. Now we just want to see the future. Any future”(Shampoo Planet, pg 187). As a result of many years of discouragement from the pessimistic there are many members of Generation X that are caught in a rut. They can not, however speak for the majority who are determined to set things right. Those high expectations will be overcome by ambitious “X-ers” who count on a bright future much like Tyler does.
It is obvious that throughout the three novels both generations have philosophies. The “X-ers” believe that there is no time like the present and the present is what makes the future. The Boomers on the other hand are nostalgic and believe nothing lasts for ever. “As the tree is being shaken, it’s causing a lot of cultural fallout. The most important of which, at the moment, is Fifty-Somethings dropping out of the economy at a frightening rate, which I mentioned in the Wired story. Now the Forty-Somethings are starting to fall out of the economy. The 90s are becoming this enormous battle. If there’s anything that defines this decade, it is the battle for staying and keeping yourself relevant. Are you relevant? Are you an information have or are you an information have-not? Are you a geek? Like a geek is suddenly the coolest thing you could be, because at least it means you’re not losing the race.” (Coupland, Wired, 95)
“There’s something different about human beings that allows us to perceive time differently. Futures, pasts, stories, histories: we’re so lucky to have it. It’s the mystery of life. In the frazzle of modern life, which is getting faster and faster, there’s no denying it, the ability to reflect on it is getting lost.” (Coupland, Wired, 95). It is this type of argument that should be taken into account by both generations and used for focus on the struggles’ of the generations. Although, the struggle should not be between the “X-ers” and the Boomers to cement the generation gap, but the struggle should be for the two generations to work together to end the finger-pointing and repair the damage that has been done.