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Douglas Coupland on the Evolution of Canadian Identity

The writer and artist discusses our collective inner brain and what’s changed since Expo 67.

Douglas Coupland

Hometown and Home Base Vancouver

Claim to Fame Twenty-five years of defining the Zeitgeist, including Generation X

Current Projects Bit Rot, a collection of short stories and essays, was published last fall, and he’s collaborating with Facebook on the new Stories app

Travel Tip “Nail clippers. For some reason, the moment I go on any trip, my nails magically grow half a centimetre.”

You’re a novelist, artist, cultural theorist… and since 2000 a vocal Canadianist?
There was nothing out there that represented the way I felt about being Canadian. The options were corny and outdated: “Canadians know how to make love in a canoe.” Our national identity seemed to have been frozen around Expo 67, the centenary. When I began investigating Canadianness in both photography and sculpture, I had a lot of criticism along the lines of “Why would anyone want to explore being Canadian? How uncool. How unnecessary.”

What changed between 1967 and 2017?
The 20th century was all about big changes in the outer world; the 21st century is about big changes in our inner worlds. From 1867 to 1967, Canada went from being a continental forest and prairie to a somewhat more tamed environment. In my 55 years of Canadian experience, it’s our collective inner brain that’s changed via technology.

How has the Canadian identity evolved?
When I was growing up, Canada felt one lap dance away from being absorbed into the U.S. And then by the early 2000s, it all changed; it was the Internet, obviously. Canada started becoming something unique and potent: We believe in health care, ecology, social cohesion; sometimes the group is more important than the individual ego, which to a few people seems horrifying. Remember, Americans were almost a century ahead in fleshing out a national identity. We just needed a bit more time to find ours.

You like writing while on airplanes. Why?
Without Wi-Fi, you’re cut off from earth; it’s a mild version of being in the afterlife. And, of course, there’s the glucose hit of booze and food, the wonderful freedom of no interruptions. It’s almost like a perfect creative storm.



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