Girlfriend in a Coma, Douglas Coupland

Probably written Late 90s?

Just finished Girlfriend in a Coma. In some ways, this book seems to me like Coupland’s response to Microserfs. If Microserfs was saying,something is really friggin’ wrong here, but I can’t quite put my finger on it, Girlfriend represents Coupland’s having had time to think and cultivate a seriously good answer to the question: What is missing from the lives of late 20th century not-quite-adults? The answer, as I read it in Girlfriend, is that there is nothing at the center of our lives. 

This lack of a center keeps us from being whole, from really growing up and becoming adults in the true sense of the word. True, most of the adults in the generation that came before us were truly lousy role models, but that is no reason to give up on the idea that maturity is not something that we should aspire toward. At most points in history right up until most of the people in my generation were born there was always something large and powerful at the center of most peoples’ lives. I’m not saying that whatever it was at the center wasn’t illusory or wrong or whatever. But so anyway, a really long time ago maybe it was the church, in more modern times maybe it was the church and the state, some combination of both, or depending on where you happened to be born just the state. Having something large at the center of your life gives you something to aspire toward. It gives you the inspiration to believe that we are here for reasons greater than: 

making money

watching TV

developing our individual personalities.

Having something at the center makes it easier to ignore the ridiculous but powerful mental enema that the modern media assault us with on a daily basis. Something at the center helps to resist wants that are unnecessary and encourages us to behave in a manner that indicates we have a bright future that is worth looking forward to.

Coupland’s take in Girlfriend is that somehow we’ve lost that center. I believe that what is important and meaningful to us must be passed down from generation to generation and somehow or another that torch got all but extinguished by the selfish hands of the generation that came before us. I’m not saying parenting was bad or crap like that, I think that the whole world went to crap when a generation of people started asking the question (in the most annoying, whining voice possible): But what about me?

Anyway, the point is, we’ve grown up without a center and now we’re screwed in the most royal way. I look around at the incredibly diverse group of friends that I’ve made, and I can count on one hand the number of people I know who go to church. I can count on one hand the number of people who are openly spiritual. Interestingly enough, the ones who are openly spiritual are not the ones going to church. But anyway. I can’t count among my friends or acquaintances anyone who is even remotely interested in politics. As such, I have to really wonder:What the hell is at the center of each of our lives besides our own ego? A sickening silence sort of takes over at that point.

It’s strange that it is easier, more acceptable for people today to get exited as hell over a pair of sneakers or an athlete or a talk show host, than it is to be exited about something sublime like God or nature. Display even the slightest trace of real faith in any religion and people are bound to look at you as some sort of freakshow. 

The previous generation worked at breaking down barriers, distilling freedom for their generation and for generations to come. Now we can talk about sex on TV. Big deal. Part of the reason there is a void at the center is because it is not socially acceptable or socially comfortable to fill that void with anything but crass materialism and self gratification. In a world like this, how free are we really? If we can pursue wealth, sex and power regardless of our race, sex or whatever, but can’t pursue God without being regarded as social outcasts, how far have we made it?

Coupland’s suggestion to his characters in Girlfriend is to rebuild this center via an unwavering commitment to questioning why things are the way they are. It is not just enough to tell people that they are selfish, materialistic collections of cells taking up oxygen on an otherwise lovely planet. If money and materialism are currently the center of people’s lives, we can’t take that center away without offering an alternative. And if that alternative is any brand of spirituality, we have to rethink our culture and make it a place where spirituality is not just condoned or accepted, but actually encouraged.