As America comes to terms with the mass marketing of check shirts and twentysomething angst, yet another Generation X movie hits the multiplexes in Reality Bites. Tom Lappin asks what’s the deal here.
ou can’t miss ’em. Looming around every mall coffee shop from Daytona to Anchorage, they ﬂick their lank locks. linger their incipi- ent goatees and wax lengthy on topics that cover every base from Baudrillard to skate punk, Tlte Brady Bunch to Herman Melville.
They are the new Beatniks. the Gap Generation misfits who woke up (around noon) to realise that their non-lifestyle has become validated by a host of hit movies. Richard Linklater’s no budget semi-documentary Slacker horned in on the Welfare check shirt set and acted as a style guide for the star-heavy features that followed. Cameron Crowe’s Singles had the best soundtrack and Matt Dillon as a comically moronic Seattle grunger, Bodies, Rest And Motion conveyed the essential listlessness of slackdom. and the latest example, Reality Bites. reminds us that amid all this apathy and millennial gloom. there’s still room for the old-fashioned boy meets girl lurve story.
When generational ennui hits Hollywood, you know it’s gone beyond a cult item, and by that stage the whole thing has been mutated out of shape anyway. The hip accessory that kicked offthe phenomenon. Douglas Coupland’s 1991 novel Generation X .' Tales For An Accelerated Culture was a witty and well-observed style report from those 26—34 year-olds finding themselves trapped between the ruthless materialism of the 80s yuppies and the vacuous passive consumerism of their younger siblings. Coupland identified a core group who felt disenfranchised from the American dream and countered it by refusing to live in the real world. escaping instead to a half-life of media- saturated aimlessness. ‘Withdrawing in disgust is not the same as apathy’ was the soundbite catchphrase from Slacker but the dedication which the X-ers devoted to ‘sucking up time’ went beyond fear of escalating capitalism. and became a complex style choice in itself, with as many rules and regulations as any equivalent youth movement.
Over-education is the sine qua non starting point. Rejecting all-American values requires a supercilious sense of being above all this Taco Bell. K-Mart. sitcom tack or at least only relishing it for its kitsch value. X-ers are Europhiles with an intellectual disdain
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Reality Bites: Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke ponder the global importance of the potatochlp.
problem. Conversation is a rambling stream of
literate name-dropping. confessional and neurotic in a way that is only possible in a country where therapy is a status symbol.
Enter Troy. existential slacker anti-hero of
Reality Bites. played by Ethan Hawke with a neat line in moody pouts and ill-advised facial hair. He‘s supposed to be a tormented soul (plays in a rock band. practises serial casual sex and his Daddy’s dying) which he expresses by way of moody soliloquies on the essential hopelessness of it all. and how he takes comfort in the details of everyday life. This profundity is somewhat undermined by the fact that the details appear to be a steady diet of beer and Snickers bars. Winona Ryder. as the preposterously-named Lelaina. kinda likes him though. in the way cute movie girls have fallen for objectionable self-obsessed slobs ever since the silent days. Reality Bites is tons worse than either Singles (did i mention the great soundtrack?) or Bodies
‘Troy “is a 90s equivalent to the troubled kids from the wrong side of town in all those 80s
John Hughes high school fantasies, the tragic gang kids
of the 70s, or Brando and Dean as the leather-clad surly silent rebels without a subordinate clause of the 50s and 605.’
Rest And Motion (reasonable depiction of scuzzy lifestyle and great place names like Enlield. Arizona and Butc. Montana) but the most explicit attempt to date to push the generational angst line. At every opportunity the characters spout their essential uncertainty about relationships. work. America and life itself. it’s all confined to the dialogue of course. These characters’ idea of letting themselves go is to share a joint and watch sitcom reruns on TV. Come the morning they’re reporting to work at The Gap or watching the breakfast show. Reality Bites confirms the suspicion that the Generation X movie is aetuallyjust Hollywood practising a zeitgeist makeover to an ancient genre. the youth ensemble movie. Troy is a 905 equivalent to the troubled kids from the wrong side of town in all those 80s John Hughes high school fantasies. the tragic gang kids ofthe 70s. or Brando and Dean as the leather-clad surly silent rebels without a subordinate clause of the
14 The List 17—30 June [994