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07/08/2011

A tribute to Canada’s greatest geek

The original title I used to pitch my book Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America was Super Mario: A Biography. We went with a more traditional descriptive subhead, but I tried to make my book not just a history of video game company but also an actual biography, albeit one of a fictional video game character.

It’s a clever idea, right? Telling the story of Nintendo via its mascot? Very geeky – and I say that as geek myself. I can’t claim credit for the idea, though. I was beaten to the punch by Vancouver’s own Douglas Coupland. In 1998 he wrote Lara’s Book, all about the teal-shirted gravity-defying Tomb Raider heroine Angelina Jolie would play on screen.

Whoa, what was that? My American spy satellites (we use them to spy on friendly neighbors) just informed me that not everyone reading thought, “Oh, yeah, Doug Coupland. We know Doug: Doug’s the greatest geek in Canada.”

For those of you who DON’T know Doug…yes you do. I’ll prove it to you.

Doug’s the guy who wrote Souvenir of Canada, and found Canucks’ shared cultural Madeleine, that symbol of lost youth, to photograph on the cover. The picture is of a stubbie.

Coupland did Terry Fox justice for a biography filled with memorabilia, photos, and amazing facts, such as that when you run a daily marathon, you get a sunburn, but only on one side of your face.

Doug’s novels take place in the sci-fi dystopia and magical realism palace of the real world. His characters work at Staples and EA, they’re astronauts and the unemployed, they measure distance by the number of songs on the radio they hear, and they’re flabbergasted to be where they are in life, no matter where that is.

I said he was a geek: geek to me means breadth of cultural interest. And very few people have been so good so long in so many different fields. Did you like that show "Jpod," with Alan Thicke? Based on his just-as-crazy book. Remember that wonderful photography book of Vancouver, City of Lights? Him again. See this stunning sculpture of the War of 1812? Him. That recent colorful clothing line for Roots? Him. He learned computer coding so well for a book about Microsoft employees that several pages were in binary code.

If nothing else, you know of his first book, by name if not content. That novel, Generation X, literally defined the post-Baby Boomer generation. It begat Generation Y, and a clever name for an X-Men spinoff, and probably an energy drink or video game.

But what’s brilliant about Coupland is you don’t need to put on your Marshall McLuhan porkpie hat to find a common thread through all this creativity. (This is getting tiring, but I have to add it: Douglas Coupland wrote a biography of Marshall McLuhan.)

What Coupland’s trying to say through all the mixed media and mixed-up characters is this: we’re all in this mess together. Family, friends, strangers, enemies are all just trying to figure out if it would really work if you asked the world to stop spinning for a minute. They all hide their true
selves behind masks, and then desperately hope someone will care enough to peek under it.

Apocalyptic visions loom in Coupland’s stories, and to combat them his characters turn not to drink or sex or hate but friendship and kindness. That’s universally true (and quite Canadian, dontchaknow), but rarely acknowledged in a world that pretends that you have to be a bastard to matter.

Douglas Coupland is not Canada’s biggest geek: I’m sure there’s someone who is midway through a 12-volume alternate history where Queen Victoria picked Saskatoon instead of Ottawa as the capitol. But he is Canada’s greatest geek: a celebrant of humanity, a defender of pop, and a lover of the future.

--Jeff Ryan is the author of Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America.

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Danny BradburyDanny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with 20 years' experience. He writes regularly for publications including the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Financial Post, and Backbone magazine. Danny also writes and directs documentaries.

Maurice CachoMaurice Cacho

Maurice Cacho is a Toronto-based journalist mixing his love for tech with a passion for news. He's also CP24's Web Journalist and appears daily on CP24 Breakfast and weekly on the channel's tech show, Webnation, discussing tech news and trends.

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