Generation Ecch ( 1993 ) by Jason Cohen and Michael Krugman is a period piece that makes fun of all the things that Generation X, those born in the 1960s and 1970s, were into. It’s an interesting book to look back on because so much of what they write about is still around and because much of the culture they write about hasn’t changed much in 15-20 years. Indeed the biggest change by far is the internet. There hasn’t been a new music style that’s taken hold since rave culture took off. Alternative is still there and is still pretty much mainstream. These days it’s hard to imagine a book like this being written, it would just be a web site somewhere. Indeed it looks like Jason Coen writes for Spinner these days. Krugman has gone on to write a few books, quite a few biographies of Wrestlers. Amazingly, when loading Spinner Courtney Love appears, a reminder of someone who was ‘big’ in 1993 who still lingers on.
The book skewers the culture, the TV, the music, the books, the films, the drugs and the comics that were popular in the early 1990s. It’s quite a read. It’s all very well done and bits are really hilarious. When I bought this book at that time and left it around the house friends would come and read it and ask to borrow it. Coming back to it is quite nostalgic.
The book starts with a chapter on the first big reality TV show; MTV’s Real World which will have at least 26 seasons given the current schedule. Cohen and Krugman make fun of the PC choice of characters and the way the footage is manipulated after the series has been shot to accentuate whatever the director wanted. It’s been true of all reality TV since then. The people who appear as people who want to become celebrities is also given a going over.
The movies that resonate with Xers, the John Hughes 1980s films and the shoddy Reality Bites are mocked and skewered. The incredibly detailed description of ‘The Breakfast Club’ and just why it is a contrived film is both hilariously detailed and hilarious in the way all the characters are set up. Even the Coen Brothers come in for some pretty harsh criticism as ’empty, aimless moviemakers for empty, aimless audiences.
Comics come in for the same fun, sharp, savvy criticism next. Again, the deep knowledge of the authors is combined with their amusement at the triteness of comic books. They include the series, Batman, Superman, Spiderman, the Watchmen and the X-men that would get made into ever bigger films as time went on. Perhaps Krugman and Cohen can get together and write a 20th anniversary follow up to the book lamenting how much of what they write about still sticks around and has just gotten glossier.
The chapter on the Generation X books is a hoot. Generation X, the Secret History and Less than Zero come in for treatment. The books really do well here, it’s easy to make fun of these ‘books about nothing’ and aimlessness. There is a fiction parody of the books at the end of the chapter.
The music chapter devotes a huge amount of time to Kurt Cobain and to Pearl Jam. The authors take neither seriously which is fair enough, they point out the short comings of both bands and the figures involved. They go to Lollapalooza (still going… ) and a rave and make fun of everyone there. It’s fun stuff.
The book is a bit like criticism in the New Yorker. Well written by people who know their subject in depth and somewhat loathe it but are never the less propelled to work out exactly what they dislike about it. Here these criticisms are made really funny. You wonder what they would have said if they had known that what they were making fun of would be so enduring. Perhaps existential despair would have set in, or more likely a few paragraphs on making fun of people talking about existential despair.