Year: 2010
Working paper number: 284
Author: Schenk, Jan
Unit: SSU

When Douglas Coupland (1991) published Generation X in 1991. South Africa was undergoing massive political and social transformations. The preceding years had been marked by political turmoil, the danger of imminent civil war and violent clashes between the apartheid state's security forces and angry protesters against the apartheid regime. The government's racist policies were ostracised by the international community – boycotts and sanctions were throttling an economy already at the brink of collapse due to the monstrous costs of an institutionally divided society and the lack of a sizeable affluent and well-educated middle-class. In 1989 Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and at the time of Coupland's writing negotiations were in full motion in preparation for the country's adoption of a new constitution and its first democratic elections in 1994. Thus the characteristics of Coupland's (anti-)heros, their aimlessness, whininess, "slackness" and very fictionality stand in stark contrast not only to the US black and white youth protesters of the 1960s, but also to the ambitions, anger, harshness and the very reality of most young South Africans during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The one thing that South Africans did not suffer from at the time was "Historical Underdosing" : the Cafe Latte in the hand of a slacker lost in a suburban mall replaced by the rock in the hand of a young angry protester on the streets of Soweto as the gaze shifts across the Atlantic.

Publication file: WP284.pdf