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So You Have Nothing, Douglas Coupland?

Written in response to Ross Thompson’s article “How to Cope With Postmodernism: the Books of Douglas Coupland.”
by Paul Swaddle 

“My secret is that I need God…” Life After God

“I was raised in a totally secular environment. You are presuming that I'm some lapsed Christian, I'm not. I’m working from zero. You look for some sort of brainwork, foundation or underpinning to make sense of your life, which is usually not too positive. You have to construct some sort of rational system of making sense of everything.” Interview of Douglas Coupland by Alexander Laurence

Everyone, everyone, should read Girlfriend In a Coma. In fact, everyone should read Microserfs, Life After God and Generation X as well. Those with time on their hands can read Shampoo Planet, Miss Wyoming and Polaroids from the Dead. Those with nothing to do can fit in Lara’s Book and City of Glass, read his short stories, watch Close Personal Friend, his video, and visit and might say, I have nothing to do.

But I truly believe Coupland is the most important writer alive today. He’s not just “the voice of the MTV generation,” “Mr. Zeitgeist,” “profound,” or “pop-literature,” he’s raising issues far more important than many contemporary artists and writers. His parables of loss and love plant in us a hunger that strives for redemption.

The books of Douglas Coupland are an excuse for the world to discuss its insecurities and doubts and fears about life, God and the future. We live in a fake and depraved generation with messed up ideals, hunting for answers in anything that provides a security, no matter how false. Were Coupland not writing, would we be bothering to raise these issues? Of course, I don't believe it is exclusively Coupland who is sparking these discussions, but without him actually taking the time to study our culture, constantly thinking and analyzing, forcing us to question our life, I think many of his readers would be missing something. Coupland is making our hearts really speak our minds and redefine who we are and why we are. You only have to look at the discussion boards, web-sites and mailing lists that analyze his work. Every second message is about love.

Our Gapathetic Culture

The evangelist, Dawn Reynolds, once said, “Cynicism and apathy are the two biggest killers of belief in our generation.” Not only do we live in a cynical world but rather than fight and stand up for our belief, the general consensus today is to whimper a half-hearted “whatever…” and condone an attitude of “you can believe whatever you like, but this is my life.” We, as Christians, are becoming just as guilty of this. How many opportunities are lost by telling people, “that’s cool,” rather than discussing where beliefs are grounded? We've got to get out of our comfort zones, not condoning what we know as wrong, and providing an alternative for those in pursuit of revelation.

Moby once said, “I’m just a little guy who will be around for like, eighty years, on an earth billions of years old amidst billions of people, so who am I to suggest the nature of God?”

Sadly, this apathy is the post-modern plague. The stereotyped slacker generation cares as much about what I believe, as what’s on TV tonight. This is where Coupland gains the advantage. It’s his very personal search for God, for love, for acceptance, for purpose and for peace that we can empathize with. He encourages us to dig deeper and to search for the answers to life’s big questions, even if he doesn't hold those answers himself. This is seen famously in the final chapter of Girlfriend In a Coma, where a constant journey of analysis is declared our true purpose, but it occurs throughout all his books, even if not said directly.

In Generation X, Andy, Clair & Dag are overeducated and disillusioned and need out. In Shampoo Planet, Tyler weighs up working for today versus working for the future. In Life After God, numerous accounts of hopelessness, despair, faith and love lead to a need for God. In Microserfs, Microsoft employees decide to get a life and find friends, love and success. In Polaroids From the Dead_, Coupland studies North America, life, death, celebrity and culture. In Girlfriend In a Coma, Karen, Richard and their friends hit the edge of humanity and search for love and their purpose amidst an apocalypse. In Miss Wyoming, Susan and John both hold a desire for love behind artificial identities and careers. So, why the constant focus on relationships, be it with self, with others or with God?

I think the saddest part of any of Coupland’s writing is "In The Desert" from Life After God, when our driver listens to the Christian radio stations. (In fact, compare this chapter and its dedication to Michael Stipe, with the REM song "Low Desert". Stipe’s own search is scarily similar.)

"I decided to pay attention to these stations, trying to figure out what exactly it was they were believing in… I was feeling a sense of loss as I heard these people. I did not deny that the existence of Jesus was real to these people - it was merely that I was cut off from their experience in a way that was never connectable. And yet I had to ask myself over and over what it was that these radio people were seeing in the face of Jesus. They sounded like their lives had once been so messed up and lost as they spoke; at least they were no longer so lost anymore - like AA people. So I figured that was a good thing."

This is how close the world gets to Jesus. Us. Our example and our testimonies. God is like a river, and although a man can walk along it and feel its spray, see it and try to understand its formation and meanders through academic study, it is only by submerging ourselves that we fully understand. Interesting therefore that Life After God ends on the image of skinny-dipping, a kind of pseudo-baptism.

At the count of three forget everything you know…

Coupland once spoke of Karen Carpenter by saying she lived with ten feet of Plexiglass surrounding her. My knowledge of Coupland's stance on Christianity springs only from interviews and books, but I imagine that this is how Coupland must feel about knowing Jesus. How anyone so close to finding God must feel, if they feel constantly separated from the love of Christ and hear others who rely so wholly on their faith, but still hold that quest for some mega-epiphany. There’s a line in a Pedro the Lion song, ‘Letter From A Concerned Follower’ on the EP The Only Reason I Feel Secure which goes;

“I hear that you don't change, so how do you expect to keep up with the trends? You won't survive the information age, unless you plan to change the truth, to accommodate the brilliance of man.”

I love that song, because it is the kind of request we bring to God everyday. We worry that the image of Jesus in our culture is wrong. That we've got to make Jesus look hipper than his stereotype. That we've got to improve our church's graphics, get in new technology, find catchy slogans, the right faces for the posters and the Christian TV and film characters before we look to the bible. When did we learn this? We're in the world, but we're not of the world. God can do all things to a man's heart, no matter what we put on a poster. The salvation of Jesus comes first from the knowledge of the unfailing love of God.

Joe Public doesn't want to know that "ours is a holy God," what Jesus said about the Last Days or what we can learn from Habukkuk; we have to realize that what Joe Public wants from Jesus is a close personal friend. He wants to know that he is loved, that not only does God exist, but that he knows Joe individually, every heartbeat, every hair on his head, and values his love as much as the dedication of Isaac, Abraham, John or Paul. This is how I came to know Jesus, when I first knew his love and
the love of other Christians and this is what the majority of the people around us, including Coupland, are searching for. Only a fool would believe our generation craves confusion, loneliness, loss, a house on the sand and a constant feeling of homesickness, but this is all it’s ending up with, no matter what it puts its faith in. Coupland's books reveal an empty hole that is left when only work, appearance, sex, money and possessions are used to fill the rooms in our heart. As Philippians teaches, our standing in culture means nothing when compared to the security and purpose of knowing Jesus, and it is this that should be our inspiration and energy as we dream inside the bubble of a cynical, material and spiritual world.


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