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Shampoo Planet:

Not what we want

Shampoo Planet, a novel by Douglas Coupland, pretends to be, according reviewer Katie Gardner, "an engaging and perceptive look at a generation of young Americans," -- our generation. Forget it.

Tyler, the main character, is essentially a Yuppie-in-training. His only dream is to one day work for Bechtol, "a fine company in the growth mode and they offer fast advancement potential and a shockingly good pension." Tyler, obviously, is planning for the future.

Though he believes "you have to think ahead", he occasionally views the world honestly. "What freaks me out," he tells his mother, "is what if the world ever turns bad? There are no safety nets. No wisdom. Just fear." While that's edging closer to what our generation thinks, most teenagers today, most members of Tyler's generation, wouldn't bother asking that question.

Gardner says Tyler is "anything but a rebel", but most members of our generation are, although often we're passively rebelling against authority sometimes to the point where if we know it's self-destructive to do so. If we don't want to do something, quite simply, we won't. And often we make no excuses for it.

Tyler is passionate in his search for success. He thinks of his future employer with the pride of a new parent. "Bechtol, for that matter, is involved not only in hotels these days, but in genetic research, poultry ranching, fish farming, chromium mining, ready to wear sportswear, and a myriad of other exciting and profitable ventures."

The only things our generation as a whole, or even large segments of it, gets that passionate about will not effect our future. They are rarely (if ever) important things. At one point in 1991 there was nothing to talk about on Friday morning if you had not plugged into Beverly Hills 90210 the previous night.

At one point Tyler wonders, "What sucks the ambition out of the kids here?" It is the closest Coupland comes to the truth about American youth in the novel. Ironically, Tyler isn't talking about American teens but their European counterparts, who are a lot more ambitious than we are. An LHS student who spent ten days with European students this year commented, "European teenagers have a lot more motivation that American kids."

In response to a question about the future, Tyler answered, "I think in order to be happy -- in order to deal with the future in a correct and positive manner -- one shouldn't go around thinking life isn't as good as it used to be. Life must be better now than it ever was before, and life is only going to become better and better in the future."
 
Well, at the moment, our generation does not agree, and Mr. Coupland's character is certainly not the person who will make it possible, as Gardner says, "to figure our the new American generation."