Generation X (novel)

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Generation X is the title of the 1991 episode novel by the Canadian writer and artist Douglas Coupland . The translator is Harald Riemann .

Content and structure

The protagonists of the novel, Andrew Palmer - he studied Japanese at the university -, Dagmar Bellinghausen, former marketing expert, and Claire Baxter, daughter from a wealthy family, live in rental bungalows in the Californian city ​​of Palm Springs . They get by with low-paying jobs for which all three of them are overqualified: one works as a perfume seller in a department store, the other two are bartenders. The “members of the poverty jet set”, as they call themselves, entertain each other by telling each other stories: stories from their lives, family stories, but also fantasy stories and life dreams that they indulge in, and terrifying visions of a possible nuclear strike, of which American society of this time is haunted. And they spend a lot of time in front of the TV. At the end of the novel, the three are on their way to Mexico to open a hotel there.

The text is divided into three parts with a total of 32 short chapters. The last chapter Numbers is no longer part of the novel, but contains statistical data on population and the environment.

Diagnosis and criticism of the affluent society

According to Coupland, it is characteristic of this generation that for the first time without the effects of war they have to be content with less prosperity and economic security than their parents' generations, but on the other hand they atone for their economic and ecological sins. The novel tells “stories of the hangover mood in America after the last big break under Reagan and Bush organized on credit” (Deutschlandfunk) about a generation with “too many TVs and too little work” (Newsweek). Coupland criticizes the affluent society of the previous generation with his key novel, which "dies at 30 to be buried at 70". Originally, the term Generation X was intended to indicate that this generation has so far successfully escaped the naming frustration of the advertising and journalistic trade. Coupland's book hit the bestseller lists and the title became a catchphrase for the generation that had not been named before.

In addition to the title, other vocabulary from Coupland's narrative style became commonplace. Actually, Coupland should have written a lifestyle lexicon about the "Twentysomethings". The former art student, however, abandoned the idea of ​​an entertaining non-fiction book and instead presented an anecdotally told novel whose heroes refuse "to make little monsters so keen on a hamburger that their enthusiasm lasts beyond their puke" . The first sketches from the original project were incorporated into the novel as marginalia , which should explain Coupland's word creations in a “lexicon of non-functioning culture”. Coupland also coined the term McJob , defined in the novel as “a low paid job in the service sector with little prestige , little dignity, little use and no future. Often referred to as a satisfying career by people who have never had one ” .

Coupland contrasts the ingrained lifestyle created by social and economic constraints with a philosophy called “lessness” , which does not measure the value of life by the accumulation of status symbols. The 'new' value system is also ironically referred to as “exhibitionist modesty”. Because of this attitude towards life of refusal to consume , Coupland's Generation X (e.g. by the Seattle Times ), based on Gertrude Stein, would also be referred to as the “Lost Generation of the 90s”. Coupland supports his observations at the end of the book with some statistics and quotations from various journals.

The title and its historical background

Since the early 1950s, the term Generation X has been used variously in connection with the respective contemporary youth; the term was so to speak "in the air". See the section on conceptual history in the article on the sociological term of the same name .

Coupland himself provided various explanations as to who suggested the title of his book. Coupland, then an art student, was supposed to write a non-fiction book about the American youth of the time for a Canadian publisher, but instead delivered a novel. However, he added a glossary of neologisms for the “scene” described. The book was rejected by the publisher, but was then published by Simon & Schuster , after a hesitant start it developed into a bestseller, and the author advanced to become a spokesman for the sensitivities of his generation and a diagnostician of the zeitgeist .


A few of the large number of definitions in the book. These have not passed into common usage, but describe the attitude towards life of Generation X, as Coupland sees it:

  • A harbinger of today's situation, where everything seems to be allowed and even styles that used to be used for self-exclusion are socially accepted, is the description of the typical clothing style of Generation X as decade blending : For clothing: the indiscriminate combination of two or more items from different decades to create your own style.
  • Analogous to the midlife crisis , Coupland postulates the mid-twenties breakdown : a period of mental collapse between the ages of twenty and thirty, often triggered by the inability to function outside the university or a well-structured environment, coupled with the knowledge of the essential aloneness in the world . Often characterized by the ritual use of pharmaceutical products.
  • The Now Denial follows the deep pessimism and idealism of Generation X: convincing yourself that the only time worth living was the past, and that the only time that could be interesting again is the future and the Ultra Short Term Nostalgia: Homesickness for the very recent past: 'God, the world looked so much better last week.'
  • The me-ism follows from a need for religious experience in a secularized age: the striving of an individual for a self-tailored religion, triggered by the absence of traditional religious principles. Mostly a mishmash of rebirth, personal dialogue with a nebulous god, naturalism, and karma-related eye-for-eye behavior.
  • The paralysis option follows from the lack of direction and lack of decision-making due to excessive demands in the affluent society : the tendency not to decide on anything with unlimited choices.


Coupland's new word creations were eagerly picked up by the US media and marketing firms and used as a "guide to categorizing and understanding the elusive age cohort". Even today, the buzzword is used by the publisher as a marketing tool when he publishes his marketing book about the so-called baby boomers (born between 1943 and 1960) under the title Marketing to Generation X. Strategies for a new era .

Der Spiegel assessed the literary quality of the novel rather cautiously, but considers the author to be an “intelligent observer of everyday life” and a “master at assigning concise labels for current phenomena”. In the opinion of the Spiegel, the book could not have become a cult book read and cited worldwide without a glossary . The novel was translated into 16 languages, printed in several editions and sold over 300,000 copies in the United States alone by 1994.


  • Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture . St. Martins' Press 1991. [first edition]. ISBN 0-312-05436-X .
  • Generation X - Stories for an ever faster culture. Goldmann Publishing House. ISBN 3-442-41419-9 .


  • Martin Gloger: A generation to end all generations. To demythologize the generation label "89er". In: Operations , No. 182, Issue 2, 2008, pp. 139–147, ISSN  0507-4150 .
  • Edmund Fröhlich, Susanne Finsterer: Generation Chips. Computers and fast food that drive our children into obesity . Hubert Krenn Verlag, Vienna 2007, ISBN 978-3-902532-30-5 .
  • Jürg Pfister: Motivation of Generation X. The potential of Generation X as a challenge for Christian communities and mission organizations (= Kornthaler series. Volume 1). Publishing house for theology and religious studies (VTR), Nuremberg 2003, ISBN 3-933372-64-X .
  • Guido Jablonski: Generation X: a generation's description of itself and others. A literary study. Phil. Dissertation. Düsseldorf 2002. ( Full text ; PDF; 1.3 MB)
  • Inken Bartels: Generation X. On the inflationary use of the term “generation” in the current media discourse. In: Folklore and cultural studies writings . (VOKUS), Volume 12, Issue 1, 2002, ISSN  1437-8698 ( full text ( memento of October 29, 2013 in the Internet Archive )).

See also

The term Generation X is also used in sociology or in marketing for a population cohort. Generation Y was derived from this .

Individual evidence

  1. Generation X - Stories for an ever faster culture. Goldmann Publishing House. ISBN 3-442-41419-9 (information on the structure)
  2. 1991 edition, p. 27.
  3. ibid., P. 45.
  4. ibid., P. 63 .; ibid., p. 136.
  5. ibid., P. 180.
  6. ibid., P. 197.
  7. a b Bartels 2002.
  8. Karen Ritchie: Marketing to Generation X . Simon & Schuster, New York 1995, ISBN 0-02-926545-2 .