In 1991, Douglas Coupland wrote the best-selling novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, popularizing the term, well, Generation X. Gen Xers are roughly defined as those born between 1965 and 1980. At the time of Mr. Coupland’s breakthrough, they were in their early 20’s, fresh out of college, hanging onto the bottom rung of the company ladder. Now, 15 years later, they are in their late 30’s or early 40’s, more likely to be buying up market share than using dad’s gas card at the mini-mart.
Mr. Coupland, meanwhile, is adapting his work for television and, when the pressure gets to him, he takes a boat to his “hideaway” in the Queen Charlotte Islands. At least, that’s his day according to the new BlackBerry Pearl campaign: Mr. Coupland is its “generational” spokesman, the kind that makes it O.K. for sensitive types to adopt the accoutrements of investment bankers and Web designers.
This evolution from critic of “accelerated culture” to its face is perhaps the latest movement in the repackaging of the generation that Mr. Coupland helped to define. Those who were once sores on the body of the system are now selling its Band-Aids.
“Generation X” has come to mean more than just a specific group of post-boomers, more even than a marketing demographic—people who will go see Last Days one evening and drop $5 on a pumpkin-spice latte the next morning. It has also come to serve as a marketing model, in this post–Reality Bites world, for how all young Americans should live out their 20’s. Now we are all Generation X.
According to OnPoint Marketing and Promotions (whose clients include Ford, Microsoft and Pepsi), Gen Xers are 50 million strong, make up 17 percent of the population and spend $125 billion on consumer goods each year. Whereas Mr. Coupland’s characters removed themselves from families, schools and potential career paths to tend bar and dwell in bungalows in Palm Springs, grown-up Gen Xers retreat into gated communities, planned developments and luxury loft condominiums. They used to be obsessed with other people’s money; now, they obsess over their own.
Articles about generations have an inherent fault, for what little is left of individuality defining people as an age group or cultural cohorts is at best a note on trends. This article and those on baby boomers end in the same smug conclusion that ultimately people “sell out”. The sell out chapter to every generation has become a period on the end of a sentence rather then an acknowledgement of how vulnerable people are. When people are young – late teens to mid twenties – money means a little less or the convenience of money means less then to their parents because they still have their youth, their health, and have sometimes naive, but enviable hope for the future despite any pretense at a cool cynicism. In their late twenties and early thirties set backs, failures, unrealistic ambitions, a friend with breast cancer, a parent in poor health and a myriad of life’s realities set in. Money cannot make cancer go away, it cannot make you the great artist, inventor or innovator you wanted to be, but it can buy you health insurance and some physical comfort. That physical comfort isn’t necessarily a mansion, but a decent place to live, a nest, a bunker with a cushy sofa to protect against all the bumps and bruises that gen-xers or baby boomers or whatever went through and will continue to endure. No doubt some of each generation gets a little too material obsessed and act culturally and politically out of fear rather then genuine principle and that is highly lamentable. Never the less we are, each generation flesh and blood that requires work, shelter, food, and medical care and those that pursue those things are not automatic sell-outs. There are people from every generation and every economic class that fight the good fight. The sad thing is that there is never enough of those, it is not remotely remarkable that Tony Hawk is building the world’s largest skate board park or that Winona Ryder is past playing teen heroines.
An unusual discussion about movies where one of the man charcters dies in the end. Tons of spoilers like this one – in the DVD version of Bladerunner Rachel apparently dies in the end.