The Wonkettes, an Experimental Generation

Generation A, Coupland’s near-future text, studies five people who have been stung by bees at a time well after the insect has become extinct. While Generation X is devoted to fictionally documenting the unvoiced cultural zenith of its eponymous generation, Generation A is practically science fiction, a description of a generation and a culture yet to happen. The five characters, Zack, Samantha, Julien, Diana, and Harj live interconnected lives through the uses of contemporary technology, but their temperaments are not stunningly different than the characters of Generation X: their profanities may be grander, but they are still the standard stock of dissatisfied youths, immutable across generational lines. What makes them different is that their generational zenith has not come to pass yet. The story is approaching fruition, bees are in fact dying off, but this is textually just as much an experiment in futurism as it is literally an experiment in documenting just why these five people were stung and what effects it will have on them.

Julien’s monkier for the group, the Wonka Children, carries a chilling analogy both to how the diagetic world will come to view their chance encounter and how Coupland forsees the fruition of our generation. Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was just as subversive a writer as Coupland but communicated to a younger audience. Suffice to say the image of Willy Wonka torturing children in delightfully ironic ways has entered the popular conscious, but in much the same way Dahl was documenting various forms of bad behavior in children across generational divides. Gloop was gluttonous, Veruca was wealthy and self-obsessed, Violet was hyper-competitive and Mike was obsessed with television. Only Charlie, the stock ragamuffin with a heart of gold, has enough character to pass through Wonka’s Divine Comedy unscathed. These four child archetypes are particularly modern: Charlie, a throwback to Dickens, is the only one in Wonka’s eyes with any worthwhile qualities, a nostalgic wink in the shifting landscape of youth culture. The text itself, the Wonka Factory, is a fictionalized test on four of these children, asking whether or not they are worthwhile, in which they are doomed to fail.

The bees of Generation A, functioning not unlike a Golden Ticket, invite a petri-dish of hyper-modern youths in a similar textual experiment, lacking the deliberate fury of Dahl but nevertheless scrutinizing the shifting cultural landscape of today and tomorrow. Each character is loaded with baggage, so to speak, a different, dissatisfied riff on modernity. Rife with profanity, New-Age dilemmas, internet addiction and dishonesty, this introductory slice of text carries a taste of criticism and judgment that was lacking in the empathized listlessness of Generation X’s characters. The five Wonkettes internalize the same distrust of systematic, dominant culture, but while Andy, Dag, and Claire ran from it, Generation A has already been assimilated. They are the image of Andy’s hip younger brother all grown up, self-aware of Mass Media and just as much a part of it.

The Wonkettes’ first-person narratives read like the self-possessed thoughts of Dahl’s bad children, and Generation X is Charlie, the good one in days tinted with nostalgia. To be frank in an affective reading, there is this “hipness” in Andy’s musings that is lacking in the writings of Zack, Samantha, Julien, and Diana. Only Harj seems to carry the unaffected coolness of Generation X’s style, but as there is little of him to read in these first pages it remains inconclusive as to whether he is a part of Andy’s or the Wonkette’s circle. The Wonkettes are each trying to do something of note, constructing and feeding a sense of ego, but the results are just painfully immature, be it Zack’s great corn phallus, Samantha’s New-Agey Earth Sandwich, Julien’s Warcraft avatar, or Diana’s self-inflated honesty complex. Really, there is not much of a difference between the pointlessness and conflated egos of Andy and the Wonkettes, they’re all struggling with the doldrums of a construction of youth in the modern age. But I can’t shake the feeling that Generation X is getting a textual pass, while Coupland puts the qualities shared by Generation A under a much harsher light. While his futurist prediction sees a generation of Tobias-like yuppies winning out the culture wars, is Coupland just entering another tired complaint about kids these days?


~ by benjyblanco on April 17, 2010.

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