On Chris McCandless

Copyright © by Jessica Schneider, 10/24/07


  I am feeling a little agitated. Ok, so I found out that on September 21, 2007 the release of Into the Wild will be coming to theatres, and then opening nationwide in the U.S. on October 5th. What is this all about, you ask? His name is Chris McCandless, and—well let me just quote myself from my own blog to give you a bit of background:

  One of the few books I've read in the past year that have had an impact upon my writing has been Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. It's the story of a young guy from the East Coast who, out of college decides to drop out of established society and essentially become a 'tramp abroad' for two or more years. He spends most of his time hitchhiking across the country, getting odd jobs for spare cash, living on meager needs, and all the while meeting people along the way, (but telling him his name is 'Alex' or rather 'Alexander Supertramp) and keeping those he meets at just the right emotional distance (I've done this too) where he has no expectations to fulfill. But his life ended in 1992 where he went to Alaska unprepared and with only a bag full of books, a ten-pound bag of rice, and 'lived' in this bus till he eventually starved to death at the age of 24. Once word got out about his death, Krakauer did a story on him in Outside Magazine, followed by this book Into the Wild.

  So now there is going to be a film. The reason I am a bit peeved is because no one seems to mention the fact that this kid made poor choices. The film, although I’ve not seen it yet and so I probably shouldn’t bitch about it (but will anyway) from what I gather, the film seems to be stressing this idealistic attitude of “getting out of your comfort zone and taking risks.” Sure, great idea, you think. Why the hell not? But who is our example? A young guy who lived off the land for 2 years and ended up dead.

  I think McCandless’ story certainly should be told, for I enjoyed the book very much and recommend it. I also don’t think he’s a bad guy, but probably was a very nice and genuine person (albeit juvenile and selfish). But I get annoyed with these folk who call this guy a hero. Most of us do not have the privilege of just dropping out of society and not owing up to our responsibilities because we don’t feel like it anymore. Also, McCandless is a rich, white kid who comes from a privileged family. He rebels against materialism, but I should also note that this is largely a thing rich people do. It’s like that line in Scorsese’s The Aviator when Howard Hughes tells Katherine Hepburn’s mother (after she’s told Howard that they as a family ‘don’t care about money’ and Howard’s response is, ‘because you have it’).

  I’m all for taking risks in life and living it to the fullest and all that crap, but I suppose now at the age of 31 and seeing how most can’t pay their mortgages and nor can most afford health insurance in the U.S. and how many Katrina victims are still living in formaldehyde-laced FEMA trailers and how in Iraq the citizens can’t even walk outside their homes without risking getting shot—it’s hard for me to celebrate these reckless ideals. For the same reason I despise New Age psychobabble for its shallow remedies (although I don’t despise Chris because I do want to see the film) I think that not acknowledging this guy’s foolishness is doing a disservice. Timothy Treadwell went to Alaska and got eaten by a bear and there was a film made about it. Dick Proenneke went to Alaska, built a cabin with his own hands, built the tools even, and survived because he was smart, intelligent, and most of all prepared—and he is talked about the least. Where is the film about Dick Proenneke?

  I would love to go hiking across the country and see moose and elk and all those fury creatures, but…I’ve lost my point. Maybe I’m just wishing I were 20 again. Do I? Hell no. My 20s sucked. I am so happy to be over 30. Thank you 30!

  Anyway, see the film…read the book…or not. Just think twice about calling Chris McCandless a hero.

  Although I do want to go to Alaska before I die, just not in the way he did. Thoughts, anyone?

[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Van Der Galien Gazette website.]


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