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January 18, 2014 7:58 PM   Subscribe


 
This is awful...and borderline criminal. Chris has a family and people who loved him. Whatever mistakes or petty crimes he may have done does NOT justify this.
posted by shockingbluamp at 8:08 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


What is criminal about the truth?
posted by hal_c_on at 8:13 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


My wife and I are on opposite sides of this. She thinks McCandliss represents the spirit of human adventure incarnate. I think he represents the spirit of human stupidity. It would have been so easy for him to make so many preparations that might have saved him -- learning ANYTHING about the park, taking a two dollar map with him that would have shown the self-rescue bridgeline eight miles away, knowing cold weather game meat preservation techniques.

It is not a test of your mettle to toss yourself into a blast furnace and see if you can survive. McCandliss went into an area where humans can only survive with good knowledge and careful preparation without the knowledge or preparation. Some people get away with that once or twice by sheer dumb luck. Hell, Timothy Treadwell got away with it for thirteen years. But you keep being stupid and one day the stupid will eat you. McCandliss just ran out of luck a lot quicker than Treadwell.
posted by localroger at 8:16 PM on January 18 [23 favorites]


She thinks McCandliss represents the spirit of human adventure incarnate. I think he represents the spirit of human stupidity.

Maybe these two concepts are not completely mutually exclusive?
posted by telstar at 8:20 PM on January 18 [43 favorites]


I'm just reading the first article, but...

GOD DAMN PEOPLE: CARRY IN, CARRY OUT!!!
posted by XhaustedProphet at 8:23 PM on January 18 [10 favorites]


Whatever one's opinion about McCandless, the author of the "beatification" article comes across as a first class "kids these days" jerk. As the saying goes, "you're not wrong, Walter..."
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:24 PM on January 18 [4 favorites]


Maybe these two concepts are not completely mutually exclusive?

No, not completely. There is a sense (to me at least) in which anyone who needlessly subjects themselves to danger is not exactly making an optimal life decision. But if you are going to subject yourself to danger, you prepare. Preparation is all we humans have; we have no other innate talents. To not prepare is to surrender to random fate. To cross the Teklanika without knowing exactly what you are doing is exactly like Russian Roulette. There are things McCandliss could have learned very easily that would have saved him, that he actively avoided learning.

In that sense, to me, the stupidity part outweighs any noble sense of adventure.
posted by localroger at 8:28 PM on January 18 [5 favorites]


"This is awful...and borderline criminal."

Whoa, there pardner. That's a serious accusation. Which is insane, so we can totally disregard it.

I couldn't get very far into the Alaska Dispatch piece, repulsed much less by its hostility to McCandliss than by its raging Tea Party politics. What I found interesting, though, was how the writer views Krakauer and his book, as if it glorified McCandliss.

It's been a long while since I read it, but that's not how I remember the book and my reaction to it. I came away from it mostly thinking that McCandliss was foolish. Maybe foolish in some slightly admirable respect, but foolish nevertheless.

I didn't watch the film and I'm weirded out by how many people view McCandliss. It makes me wonder if part of the divide in responses is the divide between those of us who have a lifelong experience in the remote woods and wilderness, and those who are very urban and have a very strange and mythologized relationship to it.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:31 PM on January 18 [17 favorites]


To not prepare is to surrender to random fate.

Many would argue that a surrender to the unknown is a more honest (not to mention romantic) notion. I'm not saying one is better or worse, but I think that's part of why the McCandless story has affected so many people.
posted by fishmasta at 8:34 PM on January 18


Many would argue that a surrender to the unknown is a more honest (not to mention romantic) notion.

More honest than what? We're not talking about a fucking leap of faith here, for two dollars he could have bought a map that would have saved his life. He walked up to Two-Face from the Batman saga, handed the dude a coin, and asked him to flip it.
posted by localroger at 8:44 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


His family sounded pretty messed up to me. They loved him, but the dynamic read like torture. I always got the sense Chris was running away/avoiding it. He was borne out of an affair his dad had with his mom while having a bunch of kids with his then wife. He even fathered a kid with his ex wife after Chris was born and after he'd gotten a divorce from her (while married to Chris's mom). And the fighting and lack of communication and family secrets.

Dad sounded like a real piece of work. Chris seemed like he wished he didn't belong to any of them.

But I'm not a psychologist, of course. And maybe he was trying to figure out how to feel like he had an identity that couldn't be compromised.

Eh, I'm just spitballing. He just seemed unable to want to connect with people. I don't think he was/is an easy person/character to relate to or understand.

I feel like I reread and reread that book trying to understand how he felt but I never do (probably because I get cold easily and live for fun and creature comforts). And I'm glad I don't. And maybe he didn't fully get it either.
posted by discopolo at 8:44 PM on January 18 [8 favorites]


If he'd walked off the deck of a cruise ship in midocean, or managed to get the door open of an airliner at 40,000 feet and "surrender to the unknown" there, there'd be a bit less disagreement about the balance of adventurous spirit vs stupidity. What he did differed from those principally by taking longer to kill him.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:44 PM on January 18 [17 favorites]


And maybe he was trying to figure out how to feel like he had an identity that couldn't be compromised.

Look, I get this. I get it better than most people. I had overcontrolling parents who tried to micro-manage my entire future career and the end result of that was a blowup and not talking to them for 17 years. I get having crappy parents really, really, really well.

But I never felt that meant I needed to put myself in mortal danger to prove to myself that I was alive. I have travelled and seen things most Americans will never see. I have gotten great benefit from this. But I have never, ever gone to a place without educating myself first and having some idea what my exit strategy would be.

I even reconnected with my parents eventually. It's kind of hard to do that when the bear has eaten you.
posted by localroger at 8:52 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


I'm also not surprised about his committing crimes, not caring about permits, etc. when he was at Emory, his political views seemed to be very libertarian leaning, or so his articles for the Emory school newspaper seemed. Of course he didn't care. He's also drive around DC and give tips to homeless people on how to improve their lives (pretty cringeworthy for a rich kid from NoVa to do).
posted by discopolo at 8:54 PM on January 18 [6 favorites]


to surrender to random fate

What else is an adventure?

There was a thread about the gent a few months ago, and it still perplexes me, so I'll ask it again: If McCandless had walked out of the woods that spring would he still be a fool?...the risks would have been the same. The test would have been the same. Why does death v. life = fail v. pass when deciding to take the test at all is the only choice that matters? Why does his death seal the moral of the story?
posted by Diablevert at 8:54 PM on January 18 [9 favorites]


I dunno, you can feel like there's something noble and tragic about him and also that he was kind of an idiot. At least I can.

When I was that age I was all full of turmoil and problems and stubbornness and I thought about doing that kind of thing kind of a lot. Fortunately, I guess, I lacked the gumption, or the desperation, or something, and muddled through instead. Oh, I did a lot of stupid things, but nothing so epic, and in such isolation, as to get myself dead.

I guess I'd feel differently if I had a kid who for some reason idolozed him, but as it is I get kind of puzzled by the vitriol. I guess there are dead people I'm mad at but he isnt one of them.
posted by hap_hazard at 8:55 PM on January 18 [8 favorites]


Nice to see the Outside cover again. Reading that article marked a turning point in my life.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:57 PM on January 18


localroger, McCandless had a map.
posted by humanfont at 8:59 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


Why does his death seal the moral of the story?

Because it's not a story if he doesn't suffer or die. It took Timothy Treadwell thirteen tries to become a story.

Being the protagonist of a story SUCKS. It sounds all sexy and shit when you're thinking of being that guy but IRL actually being that guy SUCKS.

If Treadwell had bought his map and rescued himself like any sane and danger-conscious person would have nobody would know who he is today. That he is idolized for making that mistake just flummoxes me.
posted by localroger at 9:00 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


localroger, McCandless had a map.

OK I read that. It reads very much like the work of someone who is grasping for justifications, but there is a possibility that the argument is correct. Not knowing any of the principals I can't judge whether this account or that in the novel / movie is more accurate. But if this account is accurate it would be a little mitigating; he didn't walk up to Two-Face, he went walking in the part of town where Two-Face is known to hang out and Two-Face tapped him on the shoulder. It's less stupid but still not exactly smart.

The thing is, crossing the Teklanika is very dangerous but it's not exactly Lewis and Clark surrender to the unknown. There was a fucking school bus there FFS. There was nothing original, nothing new, nothing worth dying for to be found where McCandliss died. If it was his last refuge from his horrible parents I can understand that better than most, but I'd still say there are better ways to do that. I found one.
posted by localroger at 9:14 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


I like how the 3rd article is all "btw he donated 25,000 dollars to Oxfam once but remember HE SPENT SOME TIME PANHANDLING, SO HE WAS THE WORST PERSON TO EVER PERSON"
posted by threeants at 9:16 PM on January 18 [11 favorites]



If Treadwell had bought his map and rescued himself like any sane and danger-conscious person would have nobody would know who he is today. That he is idolized for making that mistake just flummoxes me.


I assume you mean McCandless, Treadwell had other issues....

When I said it perplexes me, I mean that straight up. McCandless seems to inspire such a fury in some people, such contempt. People have such certainty that if only he had done this that or the other he would have been fine. But there were a 100 ways for him to die alone in the wilderness, even if he had taken considerably more precautions. It was 1991, or thereabouts, if I recall. No cellphones in the Alaska backwoods. Sure, there were things he could have done to raise or lower his chances. But the core of his quest was to test himself, alone. So long as you leave that as the premise, is there really a way of doing what he did that could be considered safe? But even the people who think he's an idiot don't seem to question the premise. They question the method: A better map, a better plan, more knowledge of the local fauna, a flair, a compass, if only, if only, if only.

Is there a moral obligation to always act to reduce your risk of death? If there is, how can there be such a thing as "an adventure"? How can one test one's limits without risking death? Why is the locus point of judgement the result - his death - and not the choice - to go into the woods alone?
posted by Diablevert at 9:17 PM on January 18 [19 favorites]


I'm an urban dweller with a fairly mythologized view of nature, but I'm also an Eagle Scout who grew up spending a lot of time in the woods and mountains in pretty remote places.

Was he representing the spirit of adventure? Was he representing foolish hubris? Yes. He was very perfectly young. That exact stage of being young which encapsulates both. And then he was played by Emil Hirsch in the movie, so he's ethereally beautiful as well. Of course his story is romanticized.

WHat he did was foolish, and it's one of those things where it's hard to say that his tragedy is of anyone's making but his own. Emulating him is dumb as hell and people need to stop doing it. But it makes some sense - he is the symbol of that time of life where one feels the need to just do something in order to find out if one naturally has the skills or not. Hopefully most people just pick a more sensible, less clearly dangerous challenge.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:19 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


Ivan Fyodorovich: What I found interesting, though, was how the writer views Krakauer and his book, as if it glorified McCandliss.

When every half-cocked "pilgrim" that gets rescued by the park rangers mutters "Into the wild" as catalyst for their fools errand, you have to wonder if the book said what Krakauer intended it to say.
posted by dr_dank at 9:20 PM on January 18 [5 favorites]


"McCandless seems to inspire such a fury in some people, such contempt."

Yeah, that's pretty weird. The adulation and fascination is weird. Both extremes represent something that is pretty alien to my worldview.

They both creep me out, to tell the truth. There's a kind of moral and spiritual impoverishment in both cases.

One, with regard to the expansiveness of what it means to be human, reducing the scope of finding meaning in adversity and the unknown to a guy stranding himself in the wilderness and starving to death, something that uncountable people have done to better purpose.

The other, with regard to generosity toward the folly of youth, finding a unsettled young man's journey and death an opportunity mock and boast.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:31 PM on January 18 [10 favorites]


Imagine fragments of your life story get taken by a talented writer, adapted to fit the formula of Outside Magazine, then repurposed into a book and movie. I doubt you would recognize yourself afterwards. Direct ire at Krakauer and Hollywood, they made this myth.
posted by humanfont at 9:38 PM on January 18 [8 favorites]


How can one test one's limits without risking death?

Is there nobility in just ignoring the risk of death? What are you proving? Your luck?

It's 15 degrees (F) and dropping towards an expected 0 here. "Here" is about 2 city blocks south of the shore of Lake Ontario. I could certainly "test" myself against the unknown by walking out in my shirtsleeves, stealing the canoe hanging on my neighbor's garage, and paddling north. I don't have to go to Alaska. But it wouldn't make me brave, it would just make me dumb. Maybe there's nobility to be found in testing oneself against the elements with the odds against you -- if there's some compelling reason. Throwing yourself, unprepared, into the face of death just because your life is empty seems to me more to be pitied than admired.

A round of Russian roulette seems easier.
posted by tyllwin at 9:53 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


I assume you mean McCandless

Yep, conflation is a hell of a drug.

But there were a 100 ways for him to die alone in the wilderness, even if he had taken considerably more precautions.

This is not really right There are really only a handful of ways you die in that environment. Thre's hypothermia, getting eaten by a predator, starvation, or injury. Dehydration isn't much of a deal in a landscape covered with snow, but it contributes to the hypothermia problem if you have to thaw it by chewing.

You have to understand where your failure points for each of those modes are. He took a pack of food in but not enough to sustain him for the entire season. Injury is always a possibility in such a place. I'm not sure I buy the idea that he had a map and knew of the rescue line but couldn't use it because he was injured; I think that would have been in his diary pretty explicitly. To me, testing yourself in a situation where a shoulder injury means death is kind of extreme. But putting yourself in a life or death situation without knowing all the options, if he did not in fact know of the self-rescue line, is just stupid.
posted by localroger at 10:04 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


The book emboldened me to head out into the wild one night, which was the sketchy streets around the apartment I'd been given on Alameda Island, during an extended work project.

A homeless black guy emerged from under a bush to deflect what was turning into a mugging, and we became friends. We drove across country together for two weeks, or I should say he drove me, as I didn't touch the wheel until after he was dropped off at JFK for his flight back to that bush.

A most memorable person with amazing skills and an amazing life story -- and a true, loyal, and loving friend. So thanks for that.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:16 PM on January 18 [15 favorites]


I've never really been able to take seriously people who can still quote "poacher" like it's a major crime unless the creatures involved are, like, elephants or black rhinos. I think most of us stopped seeing killing deer on the king's land as being a serious moral issue around our first exposure to ye olde Robin Hood. Something we should all do? Certainly not. But I have no idea how "hunted in an unauthorized manner" is something to demonize him for, any more than I have any idea how "took an extended camping trip that went badly" is something to canonize him for.

I'm starting to feel like someone's opinion about Chris McCandless seems to say more about them than it does about him.
posted by Sequence at 10:18 PM on January 18 [8 favorites]


A homeless black guy emerged from under a bush to deflect what was turning into a mugging, and we became friends. We drove across country together for two weeks, or I should say he drove me, as I didn't touch the wheel until after he was dropped off at JFK for his flight back to that bush.


Uhhh I'm sorry, what?
posted by pwally at 10:19 PM on January 18 [12 favorites]


More like Alexander Supertroll?
posted by peeedro at 10:24 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


I sort of get his appeal, in a low budget pseudo-Thoreau kind of way, but in the book and in these articles he mostly seems dumb and young to me. The movie doesn't focus as strongly on the dumb parts, and I can see people fixating on it.

There's a point where it will be cheaper to put in a bridge rather than keep paying for helicopter time for the rescues. Like the fire chief in the second article says, though, it'll probably take a few more deaths first.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:27 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


Has anyone read the book, "Into the Wild?" Like actually read it?

Wherein Krakauer does (and has continued to do since) a very thorough job of debunking all the "he was an inexperienced idiot who had it coming" arguments, from both a factual and moral point of view?

I'm not sure why it's necessary or interesting to keep kicking dirt on the grave of someone who caught a bad break and died, especially when so much of it is based on dubious assumptions and "facts."
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:33 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure why it's necessary or interesting to keep kicking dirt on the grave of someone who caught a bad break and died, especially when so much of it is based on dubious assumptions and "facts."

Clickbait, journalism these days, etc.

I'm not going to read the Outside article. The intro only allows for extremist hysterics by way of faux polarization.
posted by MillMan at 10:38 PM on January 18


In case anyone's wondering Craig Medred is a total crank. He used to be an actual journalist of sorts but these days he's just a ranting troll.

I've never really been able to take seriously people who can still quote "poacher" like it's a major crime unless the creatures involved are, like, elephants or black rhinos. I think most of us stopped seeing killing deer on the king's land as being a serious moral issue around our first exposure to ye olde Robin Hood.


Poaching is still a pretty big crime and a lot of people go to prison or pay large fines when they break the myriad of hunting laws in place in every single country in the world and enforced by a vast number of game wardens, troopers, wildlife officers and the like. And it's a HUGE moral issue to everyone who lives in a rural area, trust me. There are places you will be shunned if you poach as well as places you will be shunned if you don't. It's a very ancient and very legally and morally complex issue.
posted by fshgrl at 10:39 PM on January 18 [24 favorites]


This asshat again.

Chris McCandless was an inconsiderate vandalizing jackass. Boo hoo, his soul hurts. No shit, jackass. Life sucks and then you die. Get over it.

Dick Proenneke showed how to do that sort of thing and not die. A modern role model for self sufficiency by any definition. But he's not totes adorbs bro because he didn't die at 25.

McCandless is the same as those idiots who commit suicide by jumping in front of a commuter train. If you wanna die, it's cool. Why do you gotta involve other people in your drama ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:43 PM on January 18 [11 favorites]


But even the people who think he's an idiot don't seem to question the premise. They question the method: A better map, a better plan, more knowledge of the local fauna, a flair, a compass, if only, if only, if only.

I think he was an idiot and I question the heck out of the premise. Romanticizing nature or "the unknown", and his taking lack of preparation as a precondition for the authenticity of his little nature trip is the product of a whacked value system.

I don't look at McCandless any differently than I look at somebody like Jeanette Sliwinski - an overpriveleged kid doing something stupid, rash, and self-involved to get back in some way or another at their parents. The only honorable thing about McCandless is that he at least made sure he was the only victim.
posted by anazgnos at 10:47 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


Wanted to add that the consensus in Alaska is that if you cavalierly break hunting laws you are kind of a dick. If you waste game meat? then you're a huge dick and people are embarrassed to know you. It's why Medred brings it up so much, it's up there with drowning kittens and stealing from old ladies. It's indefensible.
posted by fshgrl at 10:54 PM on January 18 [10 favorites]


Boo hoo, his soul hurts. No shit, jackass. Life sucks and then you die. Get over it.

Hey, hey — don't be mean. We don't have to be mean. 'Cause, remember: no matter where you go...there you are.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:38 PM on January 18 [11 favorites]


I read the book and found it captivating

he was young, searching for some kind of connection and people do strange things when they're young

can't say I understand the copycat folk trekking out to the bus and putting themselves and others in danger when they've obviously read the book, seen the film and should have understood the dangers
posted by hopefulmidlifer at 11:47 PM on January 18


I never read the book, but if I am reading the Alaska Dispatch article correctly killing a moose with a .22 is not something anyone with any respect for nature would do. Especially not when he seemed to be picking off small game pretty regularly at the time.
posted by roquetuen at 11:56 PM on January 18


...I didn't touch the wheel until after he was dropped off at JFK for his flight back to that bush.

Uhhh I'm sorry, what?
posted by pwally


It was a really, really nice bush.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:58 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


anazgnos: How is a single person playing with his life at all equivalent to a drunk driver like Jeanette Silwinski killing three people?
posted by SakuraK at 12:12 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]


I couldn't get very far into the Alaska Dispatch piece, repulsed much less by its hostility to McCandliss than by its raging Tea Party politics.

It struck me as less Tea Party politics, and more an orientation of the practical reality of living somewhere like Alaska.

What I found interesting, though, was how the writer views Krakauer and his book, as if it glorified McCandliss.

It's many years since I read the book, but that was exactly my sense of what Krakauer was doing. Indeed, the very act of writing about him, selecting him as somebody worthy of our interest and attention will do that to some extent.

And if you don't make him a somewhat sympathetic character, people won't care enough to carry on reading, so I think it's hard to write about him and not glorify him -- unless you deliberately use your time to show what a dick the guy was.

I hadn't actually thought about this guy since I read the book, but following another comment about McCandless on here a couple of weeks ago, I found myself digging out and watching The Call of The Wild. While it spends too much time on the filmmaker's issues, and not enough on McCandless, it was still a useful corrective to Krakauer's hagiography.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:13 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]


I've never really been able to take seriously people who can still quote "poacher" like it's a major crime unless the creatures involved are, like, elephants or black rhinos.

In Calgary recently, a husky and a cat have been found dead in an alley, in the winter, with masking tape sealing their mouths shut. Basically, they were confined and starved to death, and disposed of.

So, a dead dog and a dead cat. Waste of life, and cruelly done in, for no good reason. How is that different than shooting a moose in the wilderness and wasting the meat? Just killing it so you could get a picture of yourself, and then not even surviving off the kill because you didn't bother to learn how to do so? In both cases, animals are dead, no greater purpose is served, and the only visible difference I see is that in the latter case, the perpetrator had visions of metaphysical grandeur, while in the former, we're not sure.

As I said in the previous thread, I'm less bothered by McCandless, who was obviously working through some intense issues, than with the lionization of him as a prophet of authenticity. Finding out that people are actually dying on pilgrimages to the fool's bus is just... Jesus Christ, Darwin out before you make more innocent animals and people suffer.
posted by fatbird at 12:21 AM on January 19 [5 favorites]


I found the book and movie to be very different works of art. The movie was problematic to me. The biggest issue I had was leaving out Krakauer's own story almost dying in Alaska, which was key in the book changing the moral of the story from one of adventure to one of recklessness. Then there were all the other problems that come with a slick hollywood movie - a handsome charismatic star, dreamy folk rock songs by Eddie Vedder, the cinematography of the landscape ... I get that they were trying to make a powerful film, but that's where the consequences of influencing a generation of young people to try the same thing come in to play.

3 years ago or so I was up in the Yukon with a group of mid/late 20s people, one was a friend but the rest I had only recently met. After dinner around a campfire, they had the idea to cram into a pickup truck and watch Into The Wild on a laptop. It was fucking bizarre. We were more less in the place mythologized in the movie itself, and they still wanted to watch it on a screen. That says a lot to me about the influence of the movie.

The book though ... I must have gotten a very different message than many other people from it, because it basically told me "Don't ever go into the wild unprepared, dipshit!"
posted by mannequito at 12:24 AM on January 19 [9 favorites]


anazgnos: How is a single person playing with his life at all equivalent to a drunk driver like Jeanette Silwinski killing three people?

Silwinski was attempting suicide, not driving drunk. But in both cases, you have a puffed up idiot engaging in absurd recklessness to the point of self-destruction. The big difference is that McCandless succeeded in killing himself, while Silwinski failed.

As I said in the previous thread, I'm less bothered by McCandless, who was obviously working through some intense issues, than with the lionization of him as a prophet of authenticity. Finding out that people are actually dying on pilgrimages to the fool's bus is just... Jesus Christ, Darwin out before you make more innocent animals and people suffer.

That's pretty much the thing. If there's a lesson in McCandless's death, it's list of things not to do when you go off into the woods. Backlash against the whole thing is directed less at him personally - people Darwin out all the time - and more at the glorification of his protracted suicide, the people blathering about how inspirational he is. Or, like Krakauer, about how he was a blameless innocent and how dare those ignorant Alaskans have led him to his death with their lies.
posted by kafziel at 12:31 AM on January 19 [2 favorites]


Honestly, if instead of heading to picturesque Alaska, he had gone urban, his story would have been completely different.

After starving to death in an alley somewhere, no author would have written a book about him, there would be no movie, there would be no pilgrimages to his dying place. If it had been in San Francisco, maybe a startup CEO would have complained about how homeless people were too visible.

But the thing is, McCandless managed to die while involved in the highly marketable "Call of the Wild"crap. Hence he gets posthumous fame.
posted by happyroach at 12:43 AM on January 19 [3 favorites]


I somehow have remained until now ignorant of this story so the Alaska Dispatch article was the first one I read, but it seemed like a dude really, really angry at a young man clearly suffering from mental illness. The other links put it in context, and I get why it angers locals, although it still just seems sad to me, and like maybe we should not keep assigning Thoreau to teenagers. (And also none of the articles quoting the Roger Miller lyrics note that they're Roger Miller lyrics.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:12 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]


"A homeless black guy emerged from under a bush to deflect what was turning into a mugging, and we became friends. We drove across country together for two weeks, or I should say he drove me, as I didn't touch the wheel until after he was dropped off at JFK for his flight back to that bush."

That's a moving story and my favorite part is when we learn the homeless guy was black.

"Has anyone read the book, 'Into the Wild?' Like actually read it?"

Yes. I read it and Krakauer portrayed a young man who was foolish in a way that a lot of young men are foolish. Did he have it coming to him? I don't think that.

"And if you don't make him a somewhat sympathetic character..."

Sure, he was "somewhat sympathetic". But he wasn't glorified. I don't think that Krakauer portrayed someone who ought to admired and emulated. The people who carry that out of the book have carried something of their own into it.

I mean, if it had been about an idealistic young man who'd only heretofore been hiking and bought a plane ticket to Nepal and tried to just walk up Everest and died, I can imagine other foolish young people thinking that this was a brave and romantic thing to do because foolish young people tend to think that many foolish, quixotic things are brave and romantic. That doesn't make them any less foolish, quixotic, self-indulgent, and often dead.

"It struck me as less Tea Party politics, and more an orientation of the practical reality of living somewhere like Alaska."

This bit doesn't seem to be beyond merely the practical reality of living in Alaska?
World-class freeloader

[...]

The phrase "itinerant society" refers to folks commonly called "bums" or "street people." They survive on handouts of the governmental or panhandling sort, and often a little thievery.
Also, the majority of Alaskans live in an urban metropolis, including that writer.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:14 AM on January 19 [3 favorites]


Pogo_Fuzzybutt: Dick Proenneke showed how to do that sort of thing and not die. A modern role model for self sufficiency by any definition. But he's not totes adorbs bro because he didn't die at 25.

Counterpoint: Hannah Hauxwell. Who is also a modern role model for self sufficiency, has lived to 87 (and counting!) and is totes adorbs by any sort of objective measure.
posted by the latin mouse at 4:26 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]


I'm broadly in favour of a strong welfare state, but as a New York taxpayer I wish to hereby rescind that part of my income on which Craig Medred personally relies.
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:02 AM on January 19 [2 favorites]


I think what this post has in common with the Indian sex tourism post is that in both cases, some people mistake authorial *empathy* for the wrongdoers as *approval*.
posted by Slothrup at 6:56 AM on January 19 [5 favorites]


Seems to kind of miss the point for all these "fans" who are supposedly blazing their own trail/taking the road less traveled/finding themselves ... to be retracing the steps of someone who they learned about through Hollywood, Eddie Vedder, and the internet.
Trash—an empty marshmallow bag here, half-burned toilet paper there—is littered about, though much is consolidated into old oil drums and garbage bags that overflow with wine bottles, ravioli cans, and spent bags of dehydrated backpacking meals.
Because what's an authentic wilderness experience without marshmallows! Of course someone'll be along soon to empty the trash bins, right?
posted by headnsouth at 6:57 AM on January 19 [7 favorites]


I gave up on the Dispatch article at this:
Krakauer, the maker of the literary magic and a man who seems interested in nothing in life so much as book sales
An author wants to be read? Oh, the heck you say.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:34 AM on January 19 [6 favorites]


McCandless is the same as those idiots who commit suicide by jumping in front of a commuter train.

Bus 142 was not delayed.
posted by humanfont at 8:00 AM on January 19 [2 favorites]


fatbird, I could have cheerfully gone the rest of my life without learning about that husky and that cat.
posted by dogheart at 8:03 AM on January 19 [11 favorites]


You and me both, dogheart.
posted by fatbird at 8:23 AM on January 19


maybe we should not keep assigning Thoreau to teenagers.

Or teach Thoreau honestly. Thoreau often went back into town for supplies and nights at the pub. He also paid no rent at the R.W.Emerson-owned property on the pond where he received guests and wrote his book.
posted by headnsouth at 8:25 AM on January 19 [10 favorites]


Krakauer only glorifies the story of McCandless in the Truffaut sense by depicting it in the first place. Otherwise, the book actually portrays a fairly complex portrait of a fairly complex person. I didn't see it as glorifying or condemning, and as an outdoorsman who's been trapped in terrible, deadly circumstances himself, I can imagine Krakauer would have a great deal of sympathy for McCandless' end.

Much like On the Road (two desperate alcoholics drive around aimlessly in a futile attempt to stave off despair) or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (same) or hell, even Scarface, a work reaches a point where people become fans of what its image means to them regardless of its content.

Which, come to think of it, is kind of how McCandless regarded nature. Except its content killed him.
posted by Ndwright at 8:29 AM on January 19 [6 favorites]


It's mentioned a couple of times in the articles, so it's interesting to look at the Stampede Trail website. It's a window into what information the people are heading out there with and how the bus site is discussed.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:48 AM on January 19


It is very unlikely that the appeal of the McCandless legend will diminish anytime soon. Perhaps rather than grouse about the annual mishaps that befall pilgrims, the NPS and local wilderness rescue folks could come up with a plan to improve trail safety. Signage, a depth guage at the river crossing and improved trail reports in the short term. Then hold a fund raiser and put a pedestrian bridge over the river.
posted by humanfont at 11:07 AM on January 19 [3 favorites]


Also, the majority of Alaskans live in an urban metropolis, including that writer.

Uh, no. Less than 300,000 live in Anchorage. The next two largest cities are Juneau and Fairbanks which have 30,000. There is no other town in Alaska with more 9000.

Even from Anchorage, in an hour on foot you can be in an environment as desolate, harsh and deadly as McCandless.
posted by JackFlash at 11:15 AM on January 19


Alaska Park Ranger Peter Christian, on Mccandless:
Some like McCandless, show up in Alaska, unprepared, unskilled and unwilling to take the time to learn the skills they need to be successful. These quickly get in trouble and either die by bears, by drowning, by freezing or they are rescued by park rangers or other rescue personnel – but often, not before risking their lives and/or spending a lot of government money on helicopters and overtime. When you consider McCandless from my perspective, you quickly see that what he did wasn’t even particularly daring, just stupid, tragic and inconsiderate.
Some people have an urge to find out how little preparation/skill/resources they they can get away with in the face of Nature before Nature kills them. In the end, Nature almost always obliges.

We are hairless, short of nail and tooth, crappy smellers, but we have these thumbs and this brain that allows us to compensate with tools, planning, and organization (being that Humans are among the most social animals on the planet, and we leverage numbers well).

"Nah, fuck all that. I'm gonna go with pure ego and desire as my only preparation. I, alone, am enough. Because: me! I shall face Nature on her terms, alone all but naked, and she will embrace me, and my noble romantic heart."

Yeah. The flies and scavengers are Natures embrace. They embraced his body as a source of calories.

The contempt some of us feel for Mccandless is the idea that he walked into that situation thinking there was some kind of "Win" scenario at the other end, when we see nothing but a young man hitting the "How long till this kills me" clock.

Wilderness skills do not arise from some noble spirit buried within the pure heart, they're learned and practiced. As a former Russian Spetznaz soldier once opined:
Under pressure, nobody rises to the occasion. They sink to the lowest level of their training
Under stress, McCandless sank to the lowest level of his training, and died there, alone, scared, and and in pain where someone with a bit of training and proper tools could easily have survived.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:17 AM on January 19 [10 favorites]


"Uh, no. Less than 300,000 live in Anchorage. The next two largest cities are Juneau and Fairbanks which have 30,000. There is no other town in Alaska with more 9000."

In 2010, Alaska's official US census population was 710,231 and the Anchorage Metropolitan Area's was 380,821, which accounted for 53.6% of Alaska's population.

I'm not going to write something like that without looking it up first.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:07 PM on January 19 [5 favorites]


The McCandless obsession has nothing to do with adventure and everything to do with being young, beautiful, and doomed.
posted by evil otto at 12:13 PM on January 19 [5 favorites]


"The contempt some of us feel for Mccandless is the idea that he walked into that situation thinking there was some kind of 'Win' scenario at the other end, when we see nothing but a young man hitting the 'How long till this kills me' clock."

That could have been his "win". People do things that are worthwhile to them which end up being fatal all the time.

The challenge, which includes the possibility of death, is very often its own justifiable motivation. I'm not going to say what challenges are or are not individually worthwhile to people, which they will count as a "win".

I'm willing to say he was foolish insofar as he didn't actually know what the challenge actually was, and what risks he was taking. I don't really have a strong sense of this, but I'm moderately inclined to believe that he was foolish in this way. But then, everyone almost always is foolish this way, including a large number of people who do more dangerous things. So that, too, on its own is not even remotely enough for me to take the condemnatory, superior attitude that you are expressing.

What does inspire my contempt is what the ranger you quoted expresses — that McCandless's choice impacted many other people in negative ways and could have put them at risk. I feel this way about every single person who does not properly prepare for their visit to the forest or wilderness, or does something careless or reckless, and forces the rest of society to spend time, material, labor, and sometimes lives, to rescue them or just look for them or retrieve their bodies. That includes hikers and climbers and hunters and fisherman and skiers.

But that's a lot of people, McCandless isn't special, and those people are often doing what they love, including challenging themselves in ways that are important to them, too.

So, again, revere him or despise him, either one is misplaced. He doesn't deserve exceptional scorn, and I suspect most of us have done some dumb things that could have ended as badly. And he certainly doesn't deserve any exceptional reverence, either, because most of us have also taken risks and challenged ourselves and taken right-turns away from the conventional. Or at least many of us.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:22 PM on January 19 [5 favorites]


In 2010, Alaska's official US census population was 710,231 and the Anchorage Metropolitan Area's was 380,821, which accounted for 53.6% of Alaska's population.

I'm guessing you've never been to Alaska because no way would you consider the Anchorage MSA "urban." MSAs are rather arbitrarily drawn by the census bureau to combine populations for convenience. The Anchorage MSA consists of a bunch of separated little burgs like Wasilla, of Palin fame, population 7,800.

The Anchorage MSA is over 1700 square miles -- larger than Rhode Island and almost is big as Delaware. The population density is less than 250 people per square mile, compared to, say, New York City with a density 100 times that.

No, the majority of people in Alaska live in anything but an "urban metropolis."
posted by JackFlash at 12:38 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


The thing that's amazing to me, is how many people bother to take the time to get so worked up over this story. I mean it wasn't like the guy jeopardized anyone else's life. I thought Chris sounded like an interesting guy. I thought what he did sounded fun and cool up to a point. I wouldn't go as far as he did. But I'm not mad at him for living his life the way he wanted to.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:41 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]


It just seems like a non-thing.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:44 PM on January 19


Ivan Fyodorovich: "It makes me wonder if part of the divide in responses is the divide between those of us who have a lifelong experience in the remote woods and wilderness, and those who are very urban and have a very strange and mythologized relationship to it."

Maybe, but I can't help but think that the group of people who fall over themselves to talk about how stupid and shitty Christopher McCandless was and how little sympathy they feel for him whenever the topic comes up are doing so mostly as a means of indirectly asserting their own competence, and I feel pretty certain that the need to do so in such a spiteful way probably indicates that they belong to your second category.
posted by invitapriore at 2:48 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


I grew up with the wilderness at my doorstep. I have spent a lot of time there. McCandless was not some day hiking tourist. Day hikers don't last 112 days. The day hiker dies of dysentery or exposure in the first week. The ranger's comments are just Alaskan bluster.
posted by humanfont at 3:03 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


"No, the majority of people in Alaska live in anything but an 'urban metropolis.'"

The city itself accounts for 291,826 in the 2010 census, with its area about 100 square miles, giving it a density of about 3,000 people per square mile. Which is about the same as other western US/Canadian mid-sized cities. That is an urban area, and accounts for 41% of the state's population. Not a majority, but a plurality by a big margin and not even remotely a wilderness.

Anchorage is not the wilderness. Don't try to pretend that it is.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:14 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


I have spent more time than I ever planned hanging with people who make The Big Year look like a documentary. And I've stopped hanging with them because I'm tired of being unable to convince someone to put the fucking binoculars down and start moving because we're going to lose the light and get stuck in the middle of a Central American forest overnight. I'm tired of the driver of the van I'm riding in being more interested in spotting for hawks than watching the road and the 1,000 foot sheer guardrail-free drop on the right. I'm tired of suggesting that y'know, being in the desert, the fact that water is rising around the place we are might be a really bad thing and maybe getting the fuck out would be more important than seeing the barn owl. I'm tired of being invited on hikes in wilderness areas with no map and only the vaguest directions and no GPS and no food or water or other preparation.

McCandliss wasn't a total idiot. But neither are the birdwatchers. The problem is that when you insert yourself into a survival situation, survival should be your top priority. I'm not a fucking woodsman and I know better than to go trotting off alone without telling my hiking partner. McCandliss took some preparations but not enough, and it killed him. I'm done with that. He was more interested in proving something than in taking methodical care to make sure he would be coming back from the place he was going. I have seen such stupidity too many times for reasons that make McCandliss' reason look thick and important by comparison, and I'm fucking done with it.

(And while none of my birder acquaintances has ever failed to get home, one group nearly did get stuck overnight in a tropical jungle due to a guidance miscalculation that seemed much less important than seeing the endangered eagle, and another got seriously arrested because in some countries NO TRESPASSING signs really don't mean "except for birders.")
posted by localroger at 3:14 PM on January 19 [6 favorites]


Both McCandless's detractors and the fanatical birdwatchers remind me of the story of the Zen adept who stood watching as Johnny Cash greased a man in Reno, just to watch him die
posted by JamesMytton at 3:33 PM on January 19


Also pretty funny that the author of the last article chides McCandless for breaking game laws and then wonders why he hadnt "at the very least illegally claimed residency and obtained the $5 license available to the poor", as well as wagging the donkey about bums and mental illness. Meaning she is pinning the tail while collaring the poor creature (s).
posted by JamesMytton at 3:52 PM on January 19


I don't really understand why people have such seething hatred for McCandless. I haven't read Into the Wild in a very long time (I don't remember much from it) and I haven't seen The Call of the Wild. I think he made some naive decisions that probably contributed to him eventually dying out there but I don't have a ton of seething hatred for him.

Maybe there's something to be said about the materialistic society we live in that would drive a human being to do what he did. He was heavily influenced by people like Jack London and Thoreau and wished to abandon the lifestyle he was brought up in. This is a common theme of people, especially teenagers, who live in places that make them feel disconnected from nature.
posted by gucci mane at 3:58 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]


I don't understand how we got here or why the goalposts are whirring about so, but the US census thinks the area of Anchorage proper is 1700 square miles; still larger than Rhode Island. Density 170 ppl/square mile in the municipality. This is similar to the average density of Georgia.
posted by ftm at 5:09 PM on January 19


Localroger it seems to me that you've had some rather unfortunate adventures in the wilderness and you are projecting the behavior of your former fellow travelers into the story of McCandless. Perhaps you ought to reconsider that your impression of McCandles could be wrong.
posted by humanfont at 5:13 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


There's something that happens around here that I've never been able to wrap my head around, and it's not just this guy. You see it in obit threads about rock climbers, or about those students that got lost hiking, wandered into Iran and were imprisoned. It's maybe the same thing that makes threads about the Gumball Rally etc practically unreadable: the seeming need on some peoples' parts, to fervently assert their mental and/or moral superiority over whoever's taken risks that those people deem unreasonable.

It's not quite 'darwin-award-hurf-durf' but it doesn't seem that far off to me, and I have a hard time not reading it as some kinda involuntary superstitious reaction. It's not quite the same as being angry at suicides - "How dare he throw away something I have to work hard to keep"- or at say sport climbers who fall off cliffs and leave families behind - "BUT HE HAD CHILDREN ONLY A MONSTER WOULD TAKE THOSE RISKS" - but it seems related. Somehow though it does seem really personal, this need to heap moral judgement on somebody who's, by the time we're talking about them, either dead or in a whole lotta trouble.

LIke I said, I can't wrap my head around it.

I do except people who live in AK and have to deal with ill-prepared bus pilgrims from all this theorizing- they have reasons to be annoyed! - but thats not most of the commenters here I'm pretty sure.
posted by hap_hazard at 5:15 PM on January 19 [6 favorites]


and you are projecting the behavior of your former fellow travelers into the story of McCandless

I see a very exact similarity; they dive into a potentially dangerous situation half-prepared and obsessed with something other than coming back from the adventure. Hilarity ensues in similar ways. It's only "projection" if the screen is noticeably different from the image being projected.
posted by localroger at 5:27 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


Hap, are you asking why we're being so mean, instead of quiet, or why we don't see the same admirable, heroic quality in McCandless that others do?
posted by fatbird at 6:32 PM on January 19


Hap, are you asking why we're being so mean, instead of quiet

Speaking as someone who posted repeatedly in the Thatcher obit thread, I can't pretend to be much of a de mortuis nil nisi bonum guy. Then again if she'd spent her time writing letters to the editor instead of using her political power to others' detriment I don't think I'd have bothered.

I would put it more like, I wonder why people make a point of heaping scorn on people like McCandless, for- I guess- their bad judgement -in a way that seems to me disproportionate to the actual harm they do.

I know, we're the internet, its what we do. I was just wonderin'.
posted by hap_hazard at 7:26 PM on January 19


As a culture, we're obsessed with romantic, youthful self-destruction. Plus, McCandless is a martyr, so he's got that going on as well. So it's no surprise people are into him.

What I wonder is why they don't just build a damn bridge over the river at this point. How much do you think they spend annually on McCandless-related search-and-rescue, anyway? Might actually be a money-saving proposition.

I mean, the place has literally become a monument. No hope stuffing the genie back in that particular bottle. May as well control the damage as best they can. Plus it would be easier to maintain the campsite and persuade people to pack out their damn garbage for a change.
posted by evil otto at 8:02 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


Which is to say, calling McCandless an idiot is tantamount to calling Kurt Cobain an idiot. That may be your opinion, but it doesn't do anything to diminish his cultural significance. Clearly, his story resonates with a lot of people. What are you gonna do, tell all those people, "Your feelings are wrong"?

We're attracted stories about people who are "too passionate to live". It reminds us of the parts of ourselves that society cannot touch. There's nothing wrong with that instinct. It may not always find healthy expression, but it's perfectly natural.
posted by evil otto at 8:11 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


What I wonder is why they don't just build a damn bridge over the river at this point.

I bet that they will once a few more people die (especially if they are US citizens with well connected parents who call their congressperson). But a reason it hasn't happened yet is that the people who do the rescuing, the people who pay for the rescuing, the people who would implement the bridge, the people who would permit the bridge, and the people who would pay for the bridge are all entirely separate governmental entities representing local, state, and federal levels. There's not a unitary "they."
posted by Dip Flash at 8:20 PM on January 19


McCandless was an idiot, though. Just in the way we all can be, especially at that age. I doubt very seriously that the possibility of his own death occurred to him in any meaningful way before he set off.

And then I think, in that bus, that he must have been more scared and felt more alone that I can even imagine.

Sympathy doesn't require emulation, nor does it reject at least some level of judgment.

Put another way, "there but for the grace of God go I" should include some recognition of not wanting to go there ourselves.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:29 PM on January 19 [8 favorites]


I agree to an extent; the obsession with people like McCandless and Cobain is morbid, for sure. Not the kind of thing I, personally, like to dwell on. But this is not a new thing, and in fact the good Doctor Freud called this one nearly a century ago.
posted by evil otto at 8:34 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


the seeming need on some peoples' parts, to fervently assert their mental and/or moral superiority over whoever's taken risks that those people deem unreasonable.

It’s just a variation on victim blaming; something like that could never happen to me because I’m smarter than they were (and secretly terrified that something bad is going to happen to me).
posted by bongo_x at 10:19 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


Well, as long as people are going to be killing themselves to make pilgrimages to McCandless's dying place, the State of Alaska should make lemonade.

To start with, they should put in a bridge over the river so people don't risk their lives. After that, they should improve and pave the trail so people can simply drive up to the site. There they can rest at the Into the Woods Lodge, (a modest 200 room hotel, bar and restaurant plus sauna), and buy souvenirs at the gift shop. They can tour the petting zoo, take a turn at the Mighty Hunter Shooting range, and go on guided hikes through the mountains McCandless so loved (Trails widened and smoothed out according to ADA regulations for use of mobility scooters). They can listen to stories of the wilderness told by a Wise Indian Shaman*, and in the evening there will definitely be a drum circle, along with BBQ.

I think this will be a quite respectful legacy for McCandless- don't forget to get your picture taken with our trained McCandless impersonator recreationationist and our mascot Mr Moose(tm).

*(ethnicity and religious training of Wise Indian Shaman(tm) not guaranteed by management)
posted by happyroach at 10:47 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


Ivan Fyodorovich: “I couldn't get very far into the Alaska Dispatch piece, repulsed much less by its hostility to McCandliss than by its raging Tea Party politics.”

I was close to bailing, too; and I get the feeling not many people are likely to read it through. Which is just as well. It's not a great article. But it's worth noting this little bit buried a bit down the page:

“Most of this behavior can in many ways be excused by McCandless's youth. A lot of young men are rebellious thrill-seekers prone to bad behavior. I'd have to plead guilty to some of this myself. Just to stay alive, I did a little poaching when I first arrived in Alaska in 1973, though I never wasted anything in my life. And I confess to having abandoned a Volkswagen van along the Alaska Highway in Canada when I was near McCandless's age, and to having taken advantage of more than a few friends, and to getting into a couple Fairbanks bar fights, and to engaging in some bad behaviors involving controlled substances.”

Aha. So: Chris McCandless is an awful human being, because he was a poacher in his youth, and got in fights, and took advantage of friends, and abandoned vehicles, which is... exactly what the writer did when he was young. But it's okay, because the writer "grew up to become a responsible citizen." Whereas McCandless didn't. So apparently McCandless' big crime here was dying before he could grow up.
posted by koeselitz at 11:06 PM on January 19 [7 favorites]


Cobain left behind some era-defining music and performances before his mental illness got the best of him and he committed suicide. McCandless left... what? What did he contribute beyond a bad example?

My problem with not so much with McCandless, but with his admirers. Because if he was mentally ill (which seems likely), then all the "beautiful and doomed" nonsense is the moral equivalent of saying "Someone with depression just sees the world more clearly, and if they commit suicide, isn't that romantic because the world is too ugly when you see it clearly."

Fuck that empty-headed, bullshit. I really find rebranding of mental illness as "Too passionate to live" kind of... icky in the face of one's brain being eaten away and it affecting their mental state.

At best, McCandless should be pitied as someone whose mental illness succeeded in killing them.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:14 AM on January 20 [4 favorites]


Aha. So: Chris McCandless is an awful human being, because he was a poacher in his youth, and got in fights, and took advantage of friends, and abandoned vehicles, which is... exactly what the writer did when he was young.

I didn't see that as particularly hypocritical though. More like, 'I was a twat when I was young. Quite rightly, nobody idolized me. McCandless was a stupid young twat as well. Idolizing him just because he croaked from starvation is just dumb.'

Hard for me to find much to disagree with in that line of thinking.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:03 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]


PZBM :

You will notice my use of scare quotes around "too passionate to live". You will also notice I'm addressing the cultural response to McCandless and his story, not his inner life or motivations. Finally, you will notice I'm not saying it's a good idea to follow his example.

What I'm saying is those who admire him and seek to retrace his steps do so out of an emotional resonance with his story. You can argue logically against this emotional resonance, but ... good luck with that. It's kind of redundant to say, "McCandless was stupid and nobody should do that", because duh. He died. Others have died. Obviously, it's "stupid". But I think it's a lot more interesting to examine why people are so drawn to his mythology in the first place.

We could have a very interesting discussion here about the nature of celebrity and how we create and torture our heroes, how our culture is obsessed with fearlessness and defiance and desperation and death, even as most of us continue with workaday lives, taking no greater risk on the average day than driving on the freeway, but I don't know if that's a discussion you're interested in having.
posted by evil otto at 1:16 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


This current askme shows exactly the kind of thinking that makes this kind of trip (and its emulations) so attractive for some people:

And for this to be actualized I think I need to experience something intense and difficult like putting myself in a sink or swim situation, or to go through some kind of rite of passage. ... I've lost so much self-identity and sight of who I am as a person due to isolation, that I feel I need to go through a really tough experience, somthing that's going to push me to my limits something that might break me down and force me to rebuild myself into a strong capable person and to begin the process of becoming the person I would like to be.

I think my question is has anyone gone through such an intense, hard, or profound experience that they came out the other side a new person or were changed for the better.

posted by Dip Flash at 6:46 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]


I think my question is has anyone gone through such an intense, hard, or profound experience that they came out the other side a new person or were changed for the better.

There's lots of things somebody could do that would benefit others that are probably also hard, and maybe, way down the list, also be "personally tranformative" or whatever bullshit. Building roads in Guatemala for food and medical transport is probably hard. But the premise in these questions is totally self-involved. The only concern is what effect does it have on me?

I love it. It's like, 'I feel sheltered by western consumerist society, is there a product I can buy that will make me feel less sheltered'?
posted by anazgnos at 7:45 AM on January 20 [4 favorites]


McCandless's story is sad. I don't know why a kid with weird ideas about individualism dying in a bus has become representative of the romance of the outdoors for so many people. I would like to visit Dick Pronneke's cabin some day. I feel like his story is better to celebrate.
posted by beefetish at 11:17 AM on January 20


PeterMcDermott: "I didn't see that as particularly hypocritical though. More like, 'I was a twat when I was young. Quite rightly, nobody idolized me. McCandless was a stupid young twat as well. Idolizing him just because he croaked from starvation is just dumb.' Hard for me to find much to disagree with in that line of thinking."

That's distinctly not what Mr Medred is saying, though. He calls McCandless a "thieving poacher" in the headline. His narrative is not that McCandless was a kid doing some dumb stuff that a lot of us do when we're kids; it is that McCandless was a bad person, to be openly reviled.

What's kind of surprising and even silly to me is that his article is about Christopher McCandless. You can forgive a kid for being too idealistic and not practical enough, for doing some things that are dumb in the name of chasing some ephemeral ideal of self-reliance, particularly if that kid has some innocence of the world about him, and particularly if that kid ends up dead. You can forgive that, and you can let it go and move on. The kid has a family, he has people who care about him, and being an asshole about it helps nobody. There's nothing wrong with saying "Chris McCandless was a fine human being who made some huge mistakes; please don't do what he did."

Craig Medred is saying that anyone who tries to be kind about who McCandless was and what he did is herself or himself execrable. He is saying that we must be honest about McCandless, and that the only way to be honest is to be cruel. Really, that's what he says: "Don't forget the Golden Rule of the Society of Polite Journalists: Never speak unkindly of the dead." (Apparently Medred lives in some magnificent dreamworld where journalists are always and only too kind and too polite to their subjects. Maybe I should move to Alaska.)

This isn't that hard. Chris McCandless' story is sad because he was a thoughtful person who was worth a lot, who had a lot to contribute to humankind, and it was utterly wasted because he died. That's a useful lesson in practicality and in the necessesity of taking good care of yourself and being safe. We don't need to hurl endless insults at a dead guy like Craig Medred did here in order to propagate that lesson.

Frankly, I'm a bit surprised by that article. McCandless was just a kid doing dumb things that a lot of kids do, as Medred openly admits. But Jon Krakauer is not a kid. He doesn't have his youth to excuse him for exploiting a young man's death and the public's aptitude for the romanticization of stupidity just to make a few bucks. If it were just, the article would be about Jon Krakauer, not Chris McCandless.
posted by koeselitz at 11:33 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]


evil otto: "It's kind of redundant to say, 'McCandless was stupid and nobody should do that', because duh. He died. Others have died. Obviously, it's 'stupid'."

I don't think that's obvious at all. People do dangerous things and even outright kill themselves all the time because they think death is noble or romantic. It might really be worth it to take some time to clearly and passionately point out that it isn't.
posted by koeselitz at 11:51 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Jon Krakauer is not a kid. He doesn't have his youth to excuse him for exploiting a young man's death and the public's aptitude for the romanticization of stupidity just to make a few bucks. If it were just, the article would be about Jon Krakauer, not Chris McCandless.

That seems terribly, terribly harsh to me. McCandless's body was found, starved to death, in the remote wilderness. Who he was and how he got there seems like a perfectly appropriate topic for a magazine focused on outdoor adventure sports to write about. That the article aroused such interest and controversy among it readers also seems to me reason enough to explore the topic more fully in a book, and Krakauer's reporting on it is among the finest I've read -- thorough, thoughtful, sensitive. It was Krakauer who successfully traced McCandless's wanderings after he broke from his family, found the people whose lives he had touched along the way and showed how his death hurt them. Was Krakauer kinder to his subject than many other writers would be inclined to be? Probably. But he also explains why: because he too was a young man who had taken foolish risks in search of something --- mountain climbing was his vice. But his sympathy for McCandless does not prevent him from showing considerable empathy for McCandless' parents, nor from being clear about the young man's faults and vices, his stubbornness, his self-righteousness and the coldness and anger he was capable of. I don't see how anyone can come away from reading Into the Wild with the impression that it's a cynical, hagiographic money grab.
posted by Diablevert at 12:44 PM on January 20 [5 favorites]


With hindsight anyone can be made into a fool, particularly on review of their accidental death.
posted by humanfont at 8:11 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Inside the McCandless Bus (Outside magazine photo gallery - 12 photos).
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 6:03 PM on January 22


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