Shin Gin Rui, The New Human Beings
by Thomas Kelly
introduction: the sun is your enemy
It is ironic that ,in their efforts to be different, to escape the live-to-work environment and above all, to be individual, distinct and oneself , the Shin gin rui are all painted with the same brush and herded into a single personality fold; the X-generation. The fact is, however, general traits are exhibited by all Xers and, though this bears a trace of stereotypage, it is a notion that can be usefully applied to most aspects of the Xer lifestyle and culture thereby yielding some modicum of insight - a pop-explanation, at least - into their character.
The X Generation phenomenon lends itself to being hijacked and usurped by all manner of ill-informed 40somethings eager to jump on the bandwagon and cast "MTV", "loser" and "slacker" onto a page and use them like some pliable vomitus to create the impression of having an authoritative knowledge about a generation that they themselves are neither part of nor have any connection to. Coupland's declaration in an article in June 1995's Details, where he declared "a moratorium on all the noise", was hardly surprising. Generation X, the term if not the idea, is out of control, it has transcended its initial position within popular culture, providing the base from which such monsters as "Friends" and "Ellen" have mutated. Though these programmes may not be genuine X their poaching of the X friends-unit as the central social model around which all other interaction must take place illustrates how far Generation X has been appropriated by those who do not understand it. It has become a product, a t-shirt slogan and a joke.
In an attempt to get back to the roots of what is the essential Gen X, this essay examines the origins, relationship,working and living conditions of Xers. Arguments presented do not draw on the raw text of Coupland's novels nor are these novels used to legitimate or substantiate these arguments - for they are simply more observations, more pop-anthropology, -as to do so would involve a complete deconstruction of Generation X and this would yield nothing , as essentially there is nothing there. Gen X is much like the yuppie or hippie subgroups, it is more a state of mind than a lifestyle, though the lifestyle is begotten from the abstract ideal. Much - infact practically all of this paper - draws upon my own philosophy of Gen X, though it is firmly based on the interpretation of the text of Coupland's novels, largely due to the fact that little work of any worth has been written on this subject: the examination of the Xer as opposed to the phrase "Generation X". Control is the predominant theme that runs through this essay. Control is fundamental to Xers' philosophy, their underlying insecurity being somewhat alleviated by being in control, though control itself is never completely secured. Frequent conversations about the end of the World, Armageddon, eschatological trivia, are the manifestation of this; the complete chaos of the end married with one's desires to stay calm and sane when it happens, thereby illustrating the subconscious need to be in control or to mitigate the chaos.
The predominant justification for this essay is that Coupland, a writer whose work seems genuinely new and different, has been subject to few examinations into the social models that his work presents nor to a discussion of the origins of these models nor the people they represent, Generation X. This essay concentrates exclusively on the Xer, on exploring the conditions of possibility that allows Gen X to exist and proposes that what caused it to arise in the first instance are arguments focussing on socio-economic and cultural-environmental conditions that were present in the sixties and seventies and that shaped the Xers' view and organisation of the world around them. The essay examines this in preference to spotlighting the nowstate of Generation X, their characteristics, their idiosyncracies, who and what they are.
'I don't want any things in my life"
Xers seem to gravitate towards jobs in the services industry, where they are essentially selling and creating nothing -there is no physical product being manufactured. This lack of end product leads to the inevitable "what am I doing?", the absence of an answer, an end product to corroborate the fact of their activity, leaves them to contemplate the sterility of their job, fruitless in its creation of no-thing. It is from this that their association to stuff springs - though any attachment to individual pieces may be minimal - stuff is important in so far as it exists in the real world, on the material plain. You can see,smell and touch it. It gives one a sense of pride and accomplishment when one looks upon it. You may not have made it but at least you bought it. This association to stuff has an irony : most Xers are pseudo-minimalists, trying to escape from the stuff in their lives, to leave consumerism behind. But they can't quite manage it, the world is a scary place without stuff, very barren and empty.
The seventies-TV conversation is a by-product of stuff attachment, the need to convince oneself that one actually comes from somewhere, that one has a past, is satisfied by reminiscing about the television, common to the origin of all Xers, the physicality of the TV being easier to grab, hold and make sense of than events and ideas that have become warped by time. Conversation involving themes that are part of the common memory give a tremendous sense of belonging; "these people are me", eradicates much of the insecurity that is felt as a result of the abandonment of the certainty of a dead-end career and incites one into making the leap to Shin gin rui.
Insecurity lies at the root of the X generation, perhaps the desire to be in control rather than secure is what leads them to escape. The Xer lifestyle is all about control, employment in a job for which one is over-qualified facilitates extreme control, being fully aware of how far one's job goes in defining 'who-you-are', one is automatically in control in deciding which one of you the world will see, the working you, and thus how one is viewed by the world. Occupational slumming allows for the setting of limits of one's public persona without compromising one's private self, the real-you that is exposed only fleetingly to family and that is full frontal when it comes to friends.
'I've always wanted to do that'
The most complex aspect of Gen X is relationships, their claustrophobia, controlled environments though not sterile, asexual yet highly emotive,a substitute for the family or the next level. The ultra-intimacy of Xer relations springs yet again from the desire to control, to be in control. Friendships replace the work environment as sanctuary, as escape, but having escaped the inhibitive slow death of work coupled with that of Airfamily; the false sense of community experienced among co-workers in an office environment, escape is now to the milieu of friendship which, though more dynamic and alive, is nonetheless stable; security for the insecure. Thus friendships are a surrogate in the dysfunctional family ecosystem in that they replaced what replaced it; a career. Brought up in the age of divorce, the nuclear family having gone into meltdown, friends represent a higher state of consciousness, a new level of emotional and sensual interaction, to touch or hold your friends is quite unlike doing so with your family, and while never descending to the level of touchy-feely, these sensory experiences accentuate the emotive bond one has with one's friends. They are visual metaphors for one's emotions.
This physical intimacy is further complicated by the asexual nature of X relationships. Sex no longer influences demeanour towards friends, there is no personality conversion when one changes from same sex to opposite sex to mixed sex groupings or conversations. Inter-group couple relationships are treated with asexual apathy, all are aware of the double bed situation but it is as inconsequential as the sex of the people themselves. Casual sex, with outsiders, usually no Xers, is the only time a person's sexuality becomes overt or explicit. That is they leave asexuality behind for the period of the affair, returning with a greater ambition to stay sexual and apart from ugly, sex-based non-relationships.
Residential slumming, a practice whereby one lives in an area where one is markedly different, giving one a sense of superiority and apartness, an extension of occupational slumming, the physical difference in appearance pointing up the intellectual and emotional disparity between Xers and others. The three slummings , occupational, Residential and Recreational, find their origins, it can be contended, in what is essentially snobbery. Xers choose to live and work in dead-ends because they can. They wanted to escape and now they have and with this new freedom comes a certain amount of flippancy as one still sees oneself as being distinctly middle class, no matter what one's living and working conditions may be. If you have a middle class mindstate then you are forever middle-class. Hipster syndrome is an offshoot of this, the belief that one is intrinsically cool and that indulging ion any of the three slummings is imply ironic and de facto cool.
There is also a definite tendency among Xers to locate in recently created settlements,
-suburbs with contrived names, new towns sprung out of the earth - without there being a geographical or logical reason to locate them there. These are places that one moves to as opposed to comes from, their lack of history or past. The lack of belonging to anywhere being in their value system is what attracts Xers to these places that similarly don't belong. Such spaces aid and abet one in being oneself, the real-you can be made known to friends in an environment free from extended communities of any kind, thus one does not feel obliged to keep a sense of decorum or civility in order to feed into the image of oneself that is held by family, casual acquaintances or friends from school. One is in control in these places since one has chosen to live here and can leave on a whim, move more than once, usually to a place of hyperminimalism, a farm, motel or store in the back of beyond. Moving to places that involve forsaking almost all of one's possessions and leaving all one's stuff behind; perhaps too great a disassociation from the consumerist universe for most Xers to handle.
The association with stuff does not extend to abstract stuff, politics or current affairs. None of these milieuc have any role to ply in Xer culture. Current affairs ceases to be current, they exist in another world where people feel an affiliation for others they don't know and for events that they themselves will never experience. As Xers live only for themselves, and their friends, politics -which dictates events in the socialised external world as opposed to the parallel now of X - is discounted. The parallel now is similar to the real now in appearance, but not in time. Time ,for what ever reason, - apathy, aporia - has no bearing on events. All events are now. There is a continuous present. Age, by default, remains static. The old are always old and the young are imprisoned by their youth. This perpetuity of the present is supported by the dearth of community interaction; interaction between the Xer sect and those living in their vicinity. As these people are only casual acquaintances one leaves them on the peripheries of the social environment that is occupied by the Xer's friends-unit. The inconsequentiality of the values of these people for Xers is their alienness and this serves only to fixate the nature of the relationship, the X mindstate.
This set of relations pertains with people geographically close to them ; the more remote these communities are physically the more unchanging is the X perception of them; they become unimportant in the scheme of living. Yet one feels inclined to visit family at traditional holidays, religious festivals, birthdays, deaths. One can never completely separate from family, one cannot divorce oneself from emotion.
Now begins the transition from control to affected arrogance. The complete control enjoyed by Xers, if allowed to expand to create an environment more sterile than the one that one has bolted from, leads to a vicious contempt for those who are slaves to the world left behind. Conversation becomes deadened and lifeless, rehashing the same nonsense again, each time with increased bitterness, such sterility coupled with egotistical behaviour implodes to create the post X-er. Escapism is no longer relevant, ignorist apathy towards the world precluding the need. Simply to pretend that it doesn't exist is not enough, one now begins to think with a swagger and this new superapathy bleeds from outside and leads to a disintegration of the Xer unit and invariably to a return to ones previous lifestyle; God yes Timothy, It was just a phase I was going through!
Acknowledging the existence of post X is in no way to state that Generation X is dead; it is merely to imply the instability of the X state. Control is minimal, operates superficially. To make - at last - a direct reference to Generation X; Tobias is the embodiment of the post Xer; too shallow and clever for his own good, never going fully Shin gin rui. And so perhaps post X are in fact pre X, the leap never having been made in the first place, the whole notion simply a product of masterful prestidigitation...
It is fitting that post X should be based on bitterness and anger. Gen X seems to have completely eliminated anger as an emotional response. Permitting oneself to become angry is an admission of failure in the drive to control. It is a hark back to the purposeless flare-ups that characterised pre-escapist living. Gen X harbours no angry-young-men (or women), having not the capacity for anger, nor the stuff with which to get angry. The Xer is not indentured to a job that stultifies him-her through it's procession of sterile tasks, phony friends, or the self-deception that leads them to think of themselves as a deep, understanding, alternative family. Gen X is characterised by the absence of these things.
A life of minimal stress is embraced. Anything that resists this inertia, this impulse to dissociate oneself from the outside world, is eschewed. There is little left to rouse one to anger. The accepted pointlessness of anger helps to cement the Gen X friends-unit. Anger manifests itself in a kind of ironic, passionless expression of frustration that acknowledges the need for phatic expression. Anger is expressed in instances where it is least likely to cause emotive harm ; one invents things to be angry about and avoids issue of a putatively real importance. That's the third time in the past 27 days that you left the dishes undone until the morning.
conclusion: Jan, 01, 2000
What to conclude? Perhaps at this point the lack of direct reference to Coupland's novels warrants some explanation. Coupland, it might be claimed, did not invent Gen X, he simply explored the area and coined the phrase. Gen X, Planet Shampoo and Microserfs, while providing a starting point from which to explore the Xer universe, by no means affords the definitive guide to character or lifestyle. They are, to reduce them to their most base, case studies onxers, psychological profiles and insights into the individual that expand toward the general, engulfing and then regurgitating philosophy that can be applied to the X Gen group as a whole. To return to the beginning of the end, one wonders if any real conclusion can be drawn on Generation X, though the common theme of control links all aspects of their being, is one word sufficient to delineate an entire social group? Thus it is surely appropriate to furnish the single letter generation with a single word, control.