Friday, January 05, 2007

Bloodless Coupland

I mentioned in a post that's already been dismissed by the fashion police as "sooo last year" how I'd expected JPod, by Douglas Coupland (Bloomsbury) to end up as my favourite book of the year, not least because it seemed to have the potential to encapsulate the whole Web 2.0 thingy.

It doesn't do that, though. I mean, it touches on some aspects of online existence, such as the narrator's karaoke embarrassment going viral, and the delights of unexpected e-mails from Nigeria. But it's either nodding backwards to a previous generation (Coupland himself makes several appearances, which serves only to remind us that Martin Amis was cutting edge once, as well) or stabbing at futurology (Ethan, the narrator, travels to China, which sets us up for a droll contemplation of the coming Asian Century, but this never really happens either). As far as contemplating now goes, Coupland hovers on the surface, content to watch, rather than engage and dissect in the way that Pelevin does. He is the anti-Forster: ”Only disconnect.”

It wasn’t always thus. Coupland began in the very early 90s as the wry, detached chronicler of wry, detached people who peppered their speech with phrases that sounded mighty Couplandy. Later, though, he diversified into less detached, almost tender depictions of suburban families with unusual dysfunctions. In JPod he finally unites his two favoured genres. His main characters are underachieving geeks working for a video gaming company; but there's a backdrop of batty Moms and crushed Dads, not to mention a ballroom-dancing people smuggler named after an actor who appeared in Hawaii Five-O. A previous novel proclaimed that All Families Are Psychotic. In this version of Coupland's Vancouver, All Mothers Are Dope Farmers.

There’s a sense that Coupland’s really not trying that hard any more, being content to slap his characters into freaky scenarios and watch them sweat through their ironic t-shirts. At times, it’s like Carl Hiaasen on autopilot, or a low-budget Coen Brothers, but with more Morrissey quotes. However, even if JPod doesn’t exactly work as a novel, it still made me laugh more than any other book last year. It’s as if he’s spent the last 15 years jotting down droll aphorisms and non sequiturs, and then tried to cram as many of them into the story as possible, with the barest reference to context or relevance.

Since Coupland also has no qualms about padding out his narrative with found text, like a too-cool Bryon Gysin (page 10 is the phrase ‘ramen noodles’ on apparently infinite repeat; 213 to 228 comprises nothing but prime numbers), I am unashamed about filling the rest of this post with the author’s best one-liners. In fact, this could be the basis for a Random DC Aperçu Generator, but the existence of such as beast is so archly Couplandesque in itself that I’m not sure it doesn’t exist somewhere in his fictional world. (A self-parody of a self-parody? The mind reels at the upitsownarseness of the concept.)

Anyway, here are some slivers of JPod that would have adorned my school folder were I currently 17 years old, although, come to think of it, maybe kids don't have folders. OK, here are some slivers of JPod that may at some point end up in that oh-so-self-consciously-deadpan zone just under the blog title:

I feel like a refugee from a Douglas Coupland novel. | The buzzword is so horrible I have to spell it out in ASCII. | It’s like casual Friday at the Asian Studies department of a Midwestern university. | I suggested North Korea should change its name to something friendlier, more accessible. | Greg tells me that all you eat is Doritos and fruit leather. | En route to Costco, I was phoned by John Doe for details on an upcoming Tetris tournament, but we got sidetracked and ended up discussing work. | Drinking Zima is something Douglas Coupland would do. | I wanted to pretend I was living inside an Archie comic. | You’re always making these ironic comments that don’t quite work. | Sim City? That’s pretty vanilla, John. | Everyone looked awkward, as if Angela Lansbury's aging collie dog had noiselessly passed wind. | Haven’t you noticed how nobody ever allows their forearms to be exposed here? | If I ruled the world, every day would be a Thursday. | I caught Evil Mark licking his stapler. | In the future, everybody will mime to the Backstreet Boys between ironic fingers on YouTube for 15 minutes. | I’ve come to the conclusion that documents are thirty-four percent more boring when presented in the Courier font. | Is it so wrong to like toast? | You look like the host of a faltering Japanese game show. | Carrots coast through life. If they were any colour other than orange, they'd be extinct by now. | Toblerone's not just for mini-bars any more. | Wears yellow-lensed Fendi sunglasses that make him resemble a repeat sex offender. | This doll is the spokesmascot of Japan's most beloved mayonnaise company. | How strange that all you have to do sometimes to meet somebody is to walk up to their house and ring a doorbell, and magically they appear as if from nowhere. | Acupuncture's one of the few Chinese things that actually works. | I hereby strip you of the ability to perceive cartoons. | Wired? How 1996. | I bought a bootleg DVD of outtakes and bloopers from the making of Schindler's List. | In order to prevent confusion, the 2003 strain of SARS that appeared in China and Toronto is now being called "SARS Classic". | I looked into Coupland's cold eyes; it was like looking into wells filled with drowned toddlers. | I hate guys who flaunt their eighties geek credentials. | We take the unwanted girl babies, dry them out, and then grind them into a powder, which we mix with latex paints to make anti-skid coating for the military's helipads. | Tell me something about mini-bars I probably don't know. | I've already gotten an advance for the novel I'm going to write based on the contents of your laptop. | I honestly don't know how gore websites could exist without contributions from Mexico and Southeast Asia. | What do lesbians have against capital letters? | Just don't try to give a clever answer on any topic at all. | Let's go and buy a statistically average meal from a large multinational restaurant chain. | The plan was to rig the condo lights of a tall, empty downtown tower to simulate the Tetris grid. | I'm so fucking sick of Google. | Dad showed up and got whacked out on Japanese apricot sake and some leftover date rape drug from a Chanel frangrance launch the night before in Hong Kong. | I think I hear the sound of someone who didn't make the high school math stream. | You look like a 1982 liquor store clerk with herpes. | The air smells like five hundred sheets of paper.

Taking a lead from Coupland (see pp 212, 237-8, 331, 352) I've included a line that is not a Coupland original. The first person to identify it wins something branded, worthless and trite.

And please, whatever you do, don't regard the list above as any kind of plagiarism. Rather, it's a meditation on the fluidity of notions of intellectual property in a Wiki-universe. See, Mr Coupland, I am so much more 2.0 than you.

PS: And at CiF, the latest twist in the Danish cartoons saga, and the ramifications for postmodernism in the British legal system.

18 comments:

Billy said...

Aaagh! This is very difficult. It's probably wrong, but I'm going to plump for "Let's go and buy a statistically average meal from a large multinational restaurant chain." That just seems too much Coupland.

Anonymous said...

That was the first book in eons that made me laugh out loud reading it.

My fave part is always the I AM RONALD MCDONALD, LORD OF MORDOR!!!!!

dh said...

I think since 'Hey Nostradamus' Doug has matured that's all. HN was a serious book. Now he's become the middle-aged uncle who wants to keep in touch with the young folk. He keeps coming up with some great one-liners but I found JPod a bit uncoordinated.

I'm going with the 'statistically average meal' one.

llewtrah said...

Haven't read Jpod, but I borrowed and read Microserfs a while back. There was an excellent quote in there about geeks not understanding women - something about them waiting for the next version with a better user interface. It appealed enough to me to be my sig for a couple of years (and I wanted a barcode tattoo).

Tim Footman said...

It's not the meal one. Sorry. Plenty more to choose from.

Coupland is very funny, but I don't know if he's ever written an entirely successful book. Or indeed, whether that matters.

Spinsterella said...

You do an awfully good impersonation of Douglas Coupland.

JPod hasn't appeared in the charity shops round Bedminser yet. I'll be reading it in 2010.

Anyhow - CiF stuff reminded me of that bit in Presumed Innocent where an exasperated Harrison Ford says, 'Yes, I did it' to the prosecution lawyer, who then tries to use it as a confession.

Spinsterella said...

Bollocks, I meant 'impression'.

Oh, you've change your thing-under-the-title, maybe I got away with it...

Tim Footman said...

Don't bother to buy it, Spin. I've harvested the best bits for you.

Corey Redekop said...

Boy, it's been a while since I read it (I reviewed it for the Winnipeg Free Press), and I agree, it's too surface. Then again, sop are we all, so maybe it's deeper than I thought.

I'll go with the liquor store/herpes line. Just a guess.

Billy said...

Is it "The plan was to rig the condo lights of a tall, empty downtown tower to simulate the Tetris grid."?

Tim Footman said...

Corey, Billy: No, those are the real deal.

Corey Redekop said...

OK, the Angela Lansbury/dog thing.

How many times can 1 person enter for something trite and branded?

Tim Footman said...

As the greatest ever Dutch pop-techno duo in history put it, Corey, there's no limit.

Billy said...

"Toblerone's not just for mini-bars any more."

I'm trying too hard with this, I can't help thinking.

Tim Footman said...

OK, I'll give you all until 1200 GMT. Get your guesses in, layznjenmn, get 'em in.

Spinsterella said...

I'm so fucking sick of Google

???

Or the date-rape-drug one. But that seemed a bit too obvious...

Anonymous said...

I'm going for, It’s like casual Friday at the Asian Studies department of a Midwestern university.

Anonymous said...

Reviving this to say it's definitely the backstreet boys line. I've read enough Coupland to know that's not really his style.