Generation X and the Myth of the American West

Epistle to Evan Leet:  Love Searle.  Kindly ignore the inter-class-ic nature of this post that only you will catch.  Baptists in a liquor store.

Douglas Copeland’s Generation X joins a collection of works concerned with varying aspects of the novel’s namesake contrasting the American West from the East.  Like House of Leaves and its predecessors (western films, Kerouac novels, gold-rush-era newspapers I reckon), as well as the work authors like Bret Easton Ellis, Gen-X discusses a ‘freedom’ ‘liberation’ or ‘escape’ from the hardships of, say, New York City’s (any eastern-style city–minimal sky, no hellos, no tans, coughing, cigarettes, dirt snow dirtysnow etc) pace and ruthlessness, or some imagined oppression of the northeastern universities.  In these narratives, the West is a strong symbol of hedonistic liberty, where (mostly) men are free to wander aimlessly in senses geographic, sexual, spiritual, beginning with the cowboy and growing into the aspiring show businessperson, the beat-style road tripper and, finally, in dejected young people (like our Andy) looking for a kind of social asylum, escape.

The heritage of the American West has a certain coherence in earlier conceptions: gunslingers, beat drifters, gold-rushers, ‘hippies’ and even early film execs seem to share in a common bravado and boldness that is exclusively American in its abandon of ties and past in order to achieve personal success or satisfaction.

Gen-X’s leading trio don’t seem at first to fit within this model…  Palm Springs is perhaps the most exemplary of the class of ‘community’ to which it belongs.  Small, rich, white, old, warm–a handful of time-sharing old golfers with more money than most people (possibly including them) could ever imagine, lying in sunhats and topsiders around swimming pools sipping frozen cocktails.  This is of course a heinous generalization, but that is the image that Palm Springs inspires, (or did inspire–before it became a realworld craigslist for wealthy homosexual men) and the one that much of Generation X depends on.  Andy isn’t saving a family of farmers from outlaw horsethieves.  He’s not out to make himself and win his fortune.  He goes to the West for many of the same reasons that the old rich people the three main characters carefully resent–escape.

Perhaps this is complicated by Andy’s hailing from Canada, but as his place in the “Poverty Jet-Set” establishes West as a place (historically, economically, socially as much as… no MORE than geographically) more than a direction.  As the Rabbi in Angels in America declares in the opening eulogy, that journey (the journey west) is no longer possible as it once was.  Bill Shatner helps us make it for $299 roundtrip in the off-season.  Does this mark the evaporation of the Great Western Movement, Manifest Destiny et al in Generation X?  Or is it the culmination of the Western experience?  Is it just QFD?  With no more meaning?

It seems that it’s just a different kind of Fucking Drag.  The West we (especially those raised in the Northeast) see in its varied presentations in film, on television and on album covers more probably never existed.  It’s always been desert, struggle, disappointment.  Jay’s infamous green light is replaced by a red light bulb that is “fun but tiring.”

“Nostalgia is a weapon.”

The fruits of the traditional West, or the mythic West, are not to be resisted for Coupland, but should re recognized as non-existent.


~ by dukerogersnelson on February 21, 2010.

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