Generation X
Generation A
Player One: What Will Become of Us

Douglas Coupland

For those not aware, Coupland was the mind who invented the neologism of “generation X,” which either gave a name to the wedge between generations, or created the wedge entirely and enabled further marketing-based wedges to be non-consensually applied to future generations down the line. All this belies the fact that Generation X was only Coupland's first novel, which makes its wild success all the more baffling. And despite the clear and very-established danger in so doing, he nonetheless attempted much the same act in later works anyway.

It reminds me, in some ways, of how Catcher in the Rye was purported to be somehow “representative” of the teenage mind. How once the unfortunate label of “teen-ager” came to be, it forced all high school students to be compared against Holden Caulfield, who was but one person in one point of time with little regard for the circumstances of others. The characters of Generation X belonged only to themselves, yet somehow they became the same sort of measuring stick for which huge swathes of people would soon be subject. ... perhaps with an even worse measure of quality.

I'm grouping each of these three very different books in a single entry simply because I've become convinced that Coupland's writing suffers from the same problems all-around. While they are very enjoyable to read in the moment of reading, once you are finished with them there is surprisingly little left to actually reflect on. There might be a moment or two that provokes thought, but when you actually dwell on it for a while, it eventually reveals itself to be little more than fluff or mere fashion.

This is more or less an effect of how hyped Coupland's “brand” has become after his first book's breakout success, especially within Canada. He exists only within his own marketing. One cannot read a Coupland novel and be truly satisfied simply because the books are over-advertised and cannot meet the wild expectations they set for themselves. The power of his own marketing was exemplary in his biography of Marshall McLuhan, opportunistically written and released close to the centenary of his birth; but I found it to be so offensively terrible for its Chapters-Indigo 30 dollar price that I've since expunged it from my shelves and will never allow it to return.

For a while, I thought I liked Coupland, but the more of him I read, the more frustrating I found him to be. How Coupland got to perform one of his books as a Massey Lecture on CBC Radio has less to do with his ability to evoke new or genuine thought and more to do with the fact that he merely plays the part. Perhaps it is because I've fallen from his graces that my opinions of him are all the more harsh, but one cannot be co-opted by the massive mainstream marketing machine and live to tell about it unscathed.


Some part of me really, really wants to remove all traces of Coupland from my library. I read this books honestly, and even thought they were “fine” for what they were, but I kept running into issues with Coupland as an author and writer. It's not even the sort of thing with one definite event or unfortunate mishap that ruined my opinion of him, but a constant rash of small and seemingly petty things. Each single one of them would've never been anything worth bothering about, but under the weight of it all, something gives.

What caused me to hang on for so long, continually giving Coupland the benefit of the doubt, was that I couldn't tell if I just disagreed with him. Coupland's actual writings were forgettable, so it was never really clear what I was disagreeing with. His positions were not coherent to me, but also obviously not just entertainment for its own sake, and that was having an effect... somewhere, somehow. I could plainly see the effect that Coupland's writings were having in the larger world, and my gut instinct was telling me that this was a bad thing, yet the functional incoherence within the books themselves made it impossible to argue against them. Trying to fight Coupland felt like holding back the tide, only to get swept away by the anonymous mass of perfectly clear water, and with nothing but the taste of salt in your mouth.

Maybe the problem was mine, objecting to some vagary I couldn't quite give an explanation to; that I had a strong and reactive feeling, fueling some mostly-incomplete philosophical position, which somehow saw Coupland in opposition. If that was the case, then the malcontent lied only with me, not with him. Perhaps with some degree of time and reasoned assessment, I would've eventually identified precisely what that vagary ever was, maybe offering a counterpoint which would further illuminate and seek redress of the issue. In a perfect world, it would've gone that way, but ours is not a perfect world.

As for the proverbial straw which broke the camel's back... In the wake of the Twitter social network crashing and burning under the imposed rule of a narcissistic leader, I discovered Coupland once got published in The Guardian for writing an unironic defense of Elon Musk, deriding Musk's critics as little more than childish whiners. Musk came to be known as “the world's richest man” through trickery and fraud, making most of his money from defrauding investors and enacting large-scale multi-level marketing schemes. Yet after misrepresenting these fairly obvious criticisms, Coupland saw fit to retort with nothing more than: “Grow up.”

I think a younger version of myself would've considered calling him “the anthropomorph of capitalistic indifference” a touch too hyperbolic, but my younger self wouldn't have anticipated Coupland giving up the veil and making things so explicit. Perhaps in response to the continued debasement of our standards, we all do need to “grow up?” That's more or less the central thesis behind his “generation X” as a concept: to “grow up” in a way that best suits our profitseeking-betters. Grow up, to maximize the decay.

In retrospect, I think it was because I wanted to better understand the processes of mainstream media publication in the late-capitalist hellscape I was born into, that I willingly swallowed my own better judgment to try and entreat him honestly — this person I had come to understand as the avatar of what that entailed. Thus was the present logic: he was able to publish that drivel in the European Union's most wildly-read news publication, so it must be worth something, right? And he had the same ear of many other mass-media systems before that too, right? Surely these massive media systems couldn't exist if there wasn't some good intent operating behind them, right? ... right?

The more time has gone on, the more convinced I become of the opposite. If I only ever end up hearing about someone as a result of their work in the media, that should actively be considered a mark against their character. I really, really should have never given Coupland the time of day.

If there is any value left in keeping these books listed here, it would only be as a warning: do not read any books by Douglas Coupland. There's no “there” there.

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Book Metadata

  • ISBN: 978-0-88784-972-5
  • ISBN: 978-0-307-35772-4
  • ISBN: 978-0-312-64678-3

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