Locating Generation X:Taste and Identity in Transitional South Africa

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University of Cape Town

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 welleducated 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-)heroes, 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.