As you might know from reading my blog, I am a Canadian and proud to be one. There are many reasons to be proud of Canada. It’s a beautiful country. We’re down with gay marriage and universal health care. It’s awesome here.
However, what is not awesome here is our messed up version of Canadian celebrity, specifically when it comes to the world of words. There is a system that has been established over the years with publishers which pushes certain authors forward. If your writing or your style fit a certain bill, they brand you “theirs” and show you off to the world as an example of Canadian literary success.
One of the authors that has benefitted from this virtual literary caste system is the author Douglas Coupland. Coupland was something of a post-modern poster child in the 1990s as he wrote a number of snappy pop culture books that sold reasonably well in the national and international literary market. He was also deemed something of a nomenclator as he added the terms “Generation X” and “McJob” to the modern venacular.
Woo for him.
In any case, the way our system is designed here, once an author is in the upper echelon, they are pretty much guaranteed that everything they produce from then on out will be a success. While on one hand, this quaint insular system is nice because it promotes national talent, on the other, it also screws things up because, once someone is pushed to the forefront, they stay there. Whether or not they turn out to be a flash in the pan or they lose all inspiration doesn’t matter. Name recognition is a greater force than merit, so once you’re in, you’re in.
And, unfortunately, it seems as though Douglas Coupland knows this and, as a result, it seems he has pretty much given up trying when it comes to his writing. His last three books have consisted of two sequels (one of which he wrote himself into as a character – megalomaniac much?) and a book where it turns out that the entire story didn’t actually happen but was instead the result of someone’s adult education writing assignment.*
In any other case, mining old material for new and using a cop-out ending like that would be cause for concern. I can almost guarantee that, were I to have handed in any of these three texts to my old creative writing professor, she would have handed them back to me with the words “try harder!” written in big, bold, red letters on the front.
But coming from a notewothy author like Coupland, this literary laziness is perfectly acceptable. In fact, it’s lauded. It’s nominated for literary prizes. It’s worthy of fame and acclaim and works as a platform for other endeavours. Want to make a movie? Sure! Want to design a park? Great! Want to produce, not one but two pretentious art photography books depicting plastic loons drizzled in Maple Syrup? Fan-freaking-tastic! (In fact, why don’t you do a follow up book called “Turds in Tuques”? That’ll be super-subversive!)
I don’t know if it’s because people are still residually dazzled by his decade-old successes or because people are too afraid to admit they don’t get it anymore, but as far as I’m concerned, someone needs to cut through the unyielding circle of sycophantic f*ckwittery that surrounds the man and tell it like it is . . . so here goes.
Dear Mr. Coupland,
As someone who read and enjoyed your earlier work, I am writing you to today to ask that you stop believing your own hype and go back to writing decent fiction. If it takes a while to write another book, so be it. Do not let people confuse you into thinking that you are an industry first and an author second. This is very wrong. Read, recharge and renew yourself before you ruin your legacy with watered down knock offs of your original successes.
Thanks and best wishes,
** This is basically the post-modern equivalent of the old “It was all a dream” ruse, a trick Coupland actually pulled in “Girlfriend in a Coma” where part of the book turns out to be based on someone’s apocalyptic coma dream. *sigh*