Generation EX-tinct?

Allow me to pronounce, once and for all, Generation X officially dead. I suspect you'll agree with me in closing this tired four-year chapter of American history with a conclusive ENOUGH ALREADY. But in order to properly lay young man X to rest, and for the sake of our own peace of mind as Americans-X or no X-we must first determine just what it is-or was-we're bidding adieu to. There seems a great deal of disagreement over who belongs to X and who doesn't-and over the very existence of X in the first place. Douglas Coupland, who originated the generation with his 1991 sleeper phenom, Generation X (which took its name from an even earlier Billy Idol band), much to our relief, refuses to take credit for either terms GenX or twentysomething (which, itself, takes its name from the annoying turn-of-the-'90s TV show, thirtysomething). And while we laud Coupland for his selflessness, at the same time we wonder why we can't get a handle on just who X is. And our X grip loosens more with each flashy article about the allegedly distinctive age that finds its way onto the pages of Newsweek and Vogue, and as the media does its best to keep X fresh by de-aging its members-keeping the concept marketable by keeping its membership young. In the foreflap of Coupland's famous debut, Xers are defined as a generation born in the late 1950s and 1960s. Now, four years and countless books and Newsweek covers and Sarah Dunn (author of The Official Slacker Handbook) tributes later, St. Martin's Press, the very publishing house that put out Coupland's generational watershed (which Coupland had pitched and sold to them as non-fiction), recently has put out Geoffrey T. Holtz' Welcome to the Jungle: The Why Behind Generation X and presumably the book St. Martin's had wanted Coupland's to be. Welcome to the Jungle perpetuates the Generation X age mystery by describing the group as people born between 1960 and 1980. Adding mystery to intrigue, in a recent Vogue interview with Coupland, Richard Rayner describes Xers as "41 million Americans born between 1961 and 1971." By their statistics, an Xer could be anywhere from middle age to adolescence-leading one to wonder if X exists at all. Douglas Coupland, a Vancouver native, now 33, can't really be blamed for the bastardization of the buzzphrase he made famous. When he took it for the title of his first book (or when his editors did), he couldn't possibly have known it would catch on like it did-and persist on the tongues and the minds of such industrious non-slacker champions of slackerdom as Sarah Dunn and Welcome to the Jungle author (and law school student) Geoffrey T, Holtz, four years hence. But enough already. No more. Next week, Coupland breaks new ground with Microserfs (Harper Collins, $21), a decidedly anti-slacker tale that transcends Generation X's trio of protagonists who held disappointing "McJobs" and whose lives consisted of random, disconnected experiences sometimes described as "cool." Coupland's hard-earned thirtysomething maturity brings Microserfs' disenchanted twentysomethings to Microsoft's suburban Seattle office campus, where they toil away-often in 16-hour workdays spent crunching "code" into computers-at the expense of having real lives. Real Lives, as they've experienced them-via childhoods jaded by the realities of divorce, parental unemployment and Charlie's Angels-have proven disappointing. Though Coupland has transformed 1991's slackers into 1995's computer geeks, the final picture is the same: the confluence of modern lives devoid of family, religion or any true meaning-essentially lives without lives-within a made-up culture of virtual experiences and technology parks that Coupland celebrates as he condemns them. Devoted followers of trendy young American fiction have already picked up on the irony of such overachievers as Dunn and Coupland purposely penning the anthems of a lost generation whose members have all but given up hope on becoming anything but flannel-wearing, college-educated latte-makers dedicating endless lines of rhyming verse to the late Kurt Cobain. It is clear that these generational representatives are anything but the kind of people they purport to speak for. Unlike their fictional creations, they are possessed of enough hope for the future to think such seemingly slacker pursuits as writing could actually lead to rewarding and lucrative lives. Good thing for them, the very society they have spent their brief careers indicting has proven them right. Now let's see if they can do something else.

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