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Patrick McEvov-Halston ENG 5733HF ProfessorRedekop 11 July 2006 SoothingSatire: Mending Our Way to Better in Douglas Coupland

's GenerationX GenerationX purportsto offer "tales for an acceleratedculture," but it really offers tales which service the needsof a select group of people-those who constitute GenerationX. Its aim is therapeutic-it seeksnot so much to scold but to heal; but if we care about suchthings, it may yet still be judged a satiric text. For healing requires the construction of a group surround, a secure,distinctive senseof themselvesas different from all others, and recent scholarshiphas it that is something satiresare wont to do too. Though *. Luy not be preparedto imagine satires as as much about the construction of groups as they are about criticizing them, in The Literature of Satire CharlesKnight arguesthat eighteenth-centurysatires,at least, did work to help develop of a specific kind of group-nations, and they did this by "celebrating" "the characteristics one's nation" while "mock[ing]"'othoseof others"(58'9). GenerationX cultivatesa generation'sidentity rather than a national one, but it works in the sameway Knight believes eighteenth-centurysatire once did: that is, those select group of twenty/thirty somethingswho aim to simply their life, to opt out of a society bent on the mindless acquisitionof more and more, aremade to seemsalutary,while those who either chooseto remain within or are unaware of the problematic nature of their society, become


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as subjectsworthy of mockery. SinceGenXers like to seethemselves nicer thanother people, they 6f-{ they would haveto take carewhenthey mock. And thoughI think they do this because )u w ----_---J_ really arejus that rtamned nice,the fact that after they mocli they (or at leastthe narratordoes) often pull backafterwards reprimandthemselves being unfair, doesserveto makethem and for seemconcemed not be too mean. An exampleof suchpulling backoccurswhen,after Claire to


assesses old patronswho visit her store as "endlesswavesof gray hair gobbling up the jewels the and perfumes at work," and as "greedy little children who are so spoiled, and so impatient, that they can't even wait for food to be prepared" (9), the na:rator admits that however much he "a enjoyedClaire's characterization them, it was nevertheless cruel, lopsidedjudgment of of what Palm Springsreally is" (9-10). But given how frequently membersof generations which precedeand follow their own are charactenzedas not just shallow and unconsciousbut as barely controllable entities with insatiable oral needs,we are being guided to conclude that though it
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might be cruel to mock, it would be beyond hope to try and redeemthem.

just as those deemedintrinsically debased-i.e., slaves-kept the American plantation south and ancientGreece"going," commercial societies'peonscan be trustedto work, work, work so they can buy, b*y, buy. All of them--even Andy's parents,who count amongstthe text's few nonGen Xers who aren't characterizedas creaturesof appetite-enjoy the fruits of commercial society: all of them can at leastbe trustedto keep things moving, to keep dramaticchange atbay,


andtherebyserviceGenXers' foremost need-to feel that the groundthey standon won't all of a sudden shift awav.
Cleary evident in this text is how much Gen Xers fear the future. Atrdy admits to having this fear, but the margins as much as the primary text inforrn us of such. The margins-Gen X's territory-inform us of their attemptsto overcometheir fear by doing one thing or another-like

of switching lifestyles, for example(26).The marginstell us of Gen X's awareness the "false senseof security fprocured] among coworkersin an office environment(111), of their suspicion needto believe that "you might not count in the new world order" (159), and of their desperate that someoneout there will take care of them (34). But the margins tell another story too: namely, that the behemoth commersial society, its ways and its products, will last and last, that clearly laid outas the path of the future, as depressing it might ostensiblyseem,is nevertheless certain. Shoppersmight "pretend that the large, cement blocks thrust into their environment do that not, in fact,exist" (71),but they manifestly do. Thrust into our face is the text's message society's "the love of meatpreventsany real change"(10; emphasisadded). And because cannibalisticcarnivoresenjoy "stuff'as much as they enjoy "steak," "BrazTliftssffen"-4 widening of the gap "betweenthe rich and the poor" (11)-is madeto seemas if it cannotbut be the future. This is not to say that everything made to seempennanent is not subsequentlymadeto

seemperishable-for example,Andy statesthat his parents' home has been in essentiallythe samestate for decades,but also that much energy has been put into "staving off evidenceof time's passing"(137), and that for all such effort it could very well be victim to a sudden

that not catastrophe. thereis a sense shouldsuchoccurit would be precipitated by othersbut But by Andy's parents themselves, of a felt needto provetheir fearswell justified. Fearof the out by futureprecipitates disaster, again, but thoughthis fear is registered somewho don't count

for amongst GenX set-by Dag's formeroffice mate,Margaret, example-the buying the thereis anythingto fear or deemcatastrophe exciting an hordeseitherseem blissfully unaware do thrill ride. Tyler'sgeneration not fearthe future. Nor, seemingly, Phil andIrene-that does (ll2). Andy admitsto envyingTyler for his lackof 1950s" is, thosewho live in a "permanent (112)by him ashe is by Phil'sandIrene'sgenerational fear,andhe maybejust as"sooth[ed]" presence. andneighborly
Within the main text, in a chaptertitled "It can't last," we find further evidence of why it-commercial society-is madeto seemas if not only can but probably will last. Claire, discussinghow pained sheis to be visiting Disneylandwith her cousinsat the age of twenty seven,looks to the resort she's staying at and says,"I can't believeI let myself get draggedinto this. If the wind doesn't knock this place down first, it'll implode from a lack of hipness"(37). The resort,La Spade Luxemboug, might indeedvanish one day, but it would surely be instantly replacedby somethingequally obnoxious. The needsof obnoxiousbut unrelentingfamilies like do the one she's burdenedwith, who, though they talk about disasters, so in a "spirited" (34) manner, ensurethis will prove the case. And we should not believe that Claire would have otherwise. For though both she and Andy imagine blowing apartthat whose staidnessoffends them, the text suggests they would be upset if any such disruption actually occulred. When it turns out Claire's father is truly having a heart attack rather than just another one of his faux ones, when Andy describeshis parents' fear that their never changing house could be vandalized, the na:rative does not turn towards gleeful celebration-instead, it veers in the opposite direction. It is not that Gen Xers do not desirefor their families, the outside world, to undergo dramatic alteration-they very likely do, but not beforethey're (i.e., Gen Xers) ready. And Gen Xers won't be ready until they've dressed damagelife had inflicted upon them beforethey chose the to opt out.

) Preparing themselvesso they're ready for changemay in fact be a large part of what Gen Xers are up to behind the walls of their constructedgenerationalsurround, within their established sanctuaries. That is, with the semi-conscious slavesof commercial societygoing abouttheir business, with the outsideworld, in its routineness, its predictableness, in seemingin someways akin to the day to day life of those living within boring but safe Texlahoma, Gen Xers are not using their free time as plantation owners and Greek aristocratswere wont to do

though their stories may function to make themselvesseemenviably cool, worthy of admiration, though their stories do work to make them seemworthy of celebration in the way Ifuight argues satiric tales once helped make Britons feel (at the expenseof the French),they stitch more to repair than they do to construct. But maybe we should expect such from story tellers these days-even satirical ones. That is, though scholarssuch as John Clare (who no doubt would disagreewith Knight's thesis that satirescan, in effect, be feel good stories) arguethat wars betweennations in the twentieth-century have ensuredthat not just satirists but all writers will be drawn these days to write of entropy, of inevitable dissolution and decay, it may in fact be more reasonableto expect exactly the opposite-that is, that national tragedieswould lead to sustained efforts by authors and readersto use stories to help recover from a lengthy period of unrequited disquiet.
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It may be that shocks .f

b:. qTtted tllrdughpotentiallydisquieting means, though. It

\'---" may have been beneficial for Andy to have chosento recall, ffid thereby come to associate, his memory of when his Americanness lead to him to being subjectto a crowd of Japanese coworkers' jealous EMa, with his just having made a carloadof Japanese tourists feel vulnerable




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and fearfuI. But clearly the stories themselvesand/or the nature of the environment in which they are told helps easeqr quit glro.L, by meansmore readily identified as medicinal. Indeed,he \-_./' executive,not tells us about the drawbacksof being selectedfor specialattentionby a Japanese just after aconfrontation, but amidst a group of friends who've agreednot to critique one another'sstories. Andy borrowed the practice from alcoholicsanonymous;but while those in AA used it at one another's expense,Andy and his friends use it help one another heal and improve. Told within a nurturing atmosphereof friends who genuinely want to help one another live better lives, the awfulness that emergesfrom their groups' stories about the sun, for example, lead to Andy's decisionnot to partakein*suchawfulness,and to Claire's decisionthat they ask for more from themselvesthan using storiessimply to constructa"carapaceof coolness"(8). Cushion lining can also be found within someof the storiesthemselves. For instance, Evlina finishes her telling of Tyler's distressfullife story, with her beamingrestorativewarmth and love into his eyes. Andy's story of how Edward's room becameanightmaric enclosure,also ends-with Edward emerging into a world which promisesthat you can "move about with ease" (51) once you've learnedyour way-soothingly. So too his story of his distressfulencounter

with the Japanese executive,which has him back in Portland"breathing less crowded airs" (59). But as evidencedby Claire's reactionto the natureof their storiesabout the sun, the stories themselves neither needbe warm or end warmly for them to assistAndy's group of friends "live

life" more "healthily'' (8). Indeed,very often it seems their storiesfi:nction primarily to h"tn point out the exactnatureof their wounds,so tha! within the confinesof their sanctuaryh"yl ,


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with, and very likely can be addressed.Andy's fictional and true life storiesrevealhis obsession also his fear of, "vandalism," of suddenand violent intrusion-for instance,he has his character

Edward bar doors againstall others(but the intruder is alreadyinside his enclosure),his own encounterwith executivemade him'ofeel as though [he] t. . .] hadjust vandalizeda house" (58),

and he attendsto his parents' fear that "a drifter [would] t. . .] break its way inside [their home] and commit an atrocity" (144). In his stories,vandalism,break-insare catastrophic; in his but Palm Springs' enclosure, with Dag and Claire (especiallyClaire) forever "invadfing]" (5) his space,break-insbecomeroutine and more a sourceof stimulation than upset. Messesalso upsetAndy, but Dug, who creates them, showsin his storieshe fearsnot messes the possiblereactionshis messmaking might effect. Dag's gasolinespilling story but likely wouldn't be his favourite story had Dag not known all to well what it was for him to draw lesspleasingreactionsfrom thosewhose love and supporthe needed. He was pleasedhis father didn't get angry, but though the incident pleasedit evidently did not heal: for afterwardsDag continued to be drawn to precipitating disasterswhich might draw fire from others. His "accidental" dumping of radioactivewaste into Claire's bungalow seemsby design. And Claire endsup offering him what he may have beenlooking for when he'd precipitatedsimilar upsetsin the past,that is, clear rejection-but rejection which could be assuaged through his own efforts: Dag allows Claire somerevengeby allowing her and Tobiasto spoil his bed; he and Andy "sweep,sweep,sweep" (S4) all the dust up; and eventuallythings do return to normal.

her Of course, thingsreturnto normalin part because onto Clairereorients attention
Tobias, onto dealing with the hold he has on her. Her mission moves her outsideof her enclave; and the fact that she and Andy so enthusiasticallyrejoice or quickly reset after they have returned from engaging with outsidersin the way of their personal evolution, helps make their sanctuary

a safe and certain place to return to; and seemingly becauseit is such, Claire and Andy feel emboldenedto engageand dispensewith those outside its walls who were or are a sourceof connectionas well a sourceof distress. Claire travels to New York and rids herself of her interestin Tobias, who had been depictedas being quite skilled at using her, by using his

8 seemingwillingness to identiff himself as an offensive Other to conclude she can no longer have any contact with people like him. Andy travels "home" to Portland, to his parents,who offer both support and belittlement, by using demonstrationsof their inability to "understand" him as an excuseto conclude that they would not and should not be apart of his future. Ironically, like all other constifuentsof commercial society, Tobias and Andy's parentsare not so much caricaturedas they are packaged: they are made ready in an almost ritualistic fashion, to be cleanly dispatchedfrom Gen Xer's lives.

from Suchdetachments from familiar "fixtures" may assisttheseGenXers' detachment a much more faithfrl "friend"-their Palm Springs' sanctuary.But eventhoughit provideda safehaven,Andy andhis friendsdo endup leaving it behindthem in their pursuitof better. , VXr,z I' u in happenings their real lives, alsohelp them preparefor sucha move. We note that sometime after Claire tells her Texlahoma story in which two sisterswatchanotherof their sisters"escape" into space, Evlina successfirlly leavesPabn Springsfor a betterway of live. Upon leamingof this, Andy andDag feeljust like the sistersin the Texlahomastorydid, that is, jealous,left leavingthe familiar in pursuit behind. But perhaps, also,a bit betterprepared seethemselves to of paradise, sometime the future. in Sanctuaries desirable, they don't prorniseparadise-and this fact may indeedhelp are but them function asplaceswhereinone can expectto recuperate.While woundedandvulnerable, in the last thing you want to do is drawthe attentionofpredators,andthe text seems agreement with RobertBrowning's Caliban'sconclusionthat "the bestway to escape . .] ire, / is to not [. 256-7). Not only do someofthe storiestold (suchas seemtoo happy" ("CalibanUpon Setebos" Dag's story ofhow a man followed up suddenlyfeeling freed ofa lifelong fear of sudden apocalypse finding anotherfearto obsess by over) evidencea needto follow one's sudden with Thereis a sense that someofthe storiesthey tell one another,in conjunction/cooneration

9 happinessby hurriedly finding meansto make oneself feel miserable again,the text repeatedly suggests that standing out, having too much of what others desire,really will invite upon oneself a catastrophic visitation. We learn, for instance,that Tyler's infidelities invite an angryolder woman's pursuit; that Tyler's mercenarycompanion'sgem-like blue eyes,doom him; that Andy's Americanness also to a makeshim subjectto acrowd's jealous eyes(andperhaps Japanese executives' sexual advancements);anAthat the Texlahoma sister who leaveshum drum in pursuit of true love, is usedby her (ostensible)lover and dies. Best be at your best before drawing upon oneself that kind of heat, and Andy, especially, his seemsto know this all to well. That is, the reasonAndy describes Palm Spring's sanctuaryas such a compromisedplace,may be to convince himself that thosewho might take a close look therein wouldn't find too much to interest them. Andy seekscamoufl age;, no doubt about it, but really aren't quite real treasurelurks behind his narative veils. For instance,though possessions their "thing," strip away their conjoined adjectives and Andy and his gang are left with bungalows,a Saab,andjobs, ratherthan'ocleanbut disorganizedlittle bungalow[s]" with 'oserviceable (and by no meansstunning)furnishedroom[s] fwhich require] t. . .] cheerfing] up by inexpensivelow-gradeNavajo Indian blankets" (6), a "syphilitic Saab" (74), and "McJobs" (5). The adjectivestell the real tale? Maybe not as much as you might think: little bungalows can be quaint, syphilitic Saabscan be endearing,and McJobs seemsufficient to keep their lifestyle going. But Gen Xers might well be pleasedif such a thought crossedyour mindespeciallyif they'd count you amongstthe devouringplentitude. They do leave their safe world behind them, perhapspreparedto pursue better-and perhapsalso to attend more fairly to those they've used along the way from here to there. That is, though Attdy does "shape" others so they seemdifferent from and inferior to Gen Xers, he is sensitiveand self-awareenoughto know at somelevel what he is up to. Even if it is Coupland,

10 and not Andy, who in the text's margins notes that membersof one generation are wont to characterizemembers of others so they seemclearly inferior, Andy, who knows there are things about his own friends that he ought to but is reluctant to explore (such as the implications of his realization that his friends' smiles give them the look of the fleeced), who can suddenly size up and assaulthis friends with a menacing but acute estimation of their failings, who is aware of their tendency to narrate everything as from hell, surely is aware of this need too. We note that he disposesof Tyler and Tobias in his na:rativesa little too neatly and a little too loudly. His written estimation of them could possibly both service current purposesas well as potential future ones: that is, when he's preparedhimself to take in the world anew, they might serve as quick pointers to all that he might want to re-appraise. Might he come to decidethat most people-that is, not just Tyler and Tobias-are not bestunderstoodas slavesto commercialculture? Might he re-assess Brazilification as only the latest thing, a madnesswhich would pass? I would hope he would. But-and even if this would

for him lost muchof its appeal. WorksCited Browning,Robert. "CalibanUponSetebos; Natural Theology in the Island." 987-94. The or, NortonAntholog,t Literature.Ed. M.H. Abrams. Yol.2. NewYork: Norton. 1968. of Clare,John. TheModernSatiricGrotesque: And lts Traditions. Lexinston: The Universitv Press Kentucky,1991. of Coupland, Douglas.Generation Tales anAccelerated X: Culture.New York: St.Martin's for Press, 1991. Knight,Charles TheLiteratureof Satire. Cambridge: A. 2004. Cambridge UniversityPress,

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