Monday, October 08, 2007

The Arrogant Camper

Into the Wild
by: John Krakauer
bookmark: an occasionless greeting card

People seem to form some sort of mental link between Jon Krakauer and me. In a way, it makes sense. I'd rather be outside in even the worst conditions than inside on the best of days. He writes about people outside under the worst conditions. We're both climbers, though he's better than I'll ever be. He has been to Everest. I have seen an IMAX movie on Everst. (the topic was Everest--I wasn't watching it there) The last time I read one of his books, it was at the constant behest of four or five people. This time, only two were involved.

I think they were trying to piss me off.

Lest you take that the wrong way, let me first explain something: the book is great. There's a reason people recommend Krakauer so much: he's fantastic. Anything the guy writes is fascinating, and if it's not something you'd otherwise be interested in reading, he somehow manages to hold your attention anyway. As far as the book review part goes, this is good stuff. Give it a try.

If you're one of those people (like me) who isn't convinced by a simple declaration of worth and need a synopsis, take a look at the trailer for the new movie. Kid wanders off into Alaska, dies alone. Except he wandered for almost two years before reaching Alaska--I was two thirds of the way through the book before Christopher J. McCandless crossed the border of the Last Frontier. Two years of bumming around the western half of the country, hitching rides, wandering through the desert, living off sacks of rice, and not calling his family once.

Now we're getting into the "piss me off" part.

If members of the McCandless family ever see this post, I'm going to apologize in advance for the following:

Chris was a dick.

He was an arrogant, self-aggrandizing little tool who felt his life of camping out at the fringe of society was nobler than that of anyone else who was A) making money, B) not a strict adherent to his own version of Thoreau and Tolstoyan ideals, or C) living at a permanent address. He hated his family because his father made a mistake before Chris was born, and rather than mention that mistake to his dad or talk about it like a rational person, he instead decided to never speak to his parents again. His state of mind reminds me a lot of one of my cousins, a dirtbag philosophy major who instills in me visions of great violence and divine might at every chance meeting. He holds an unshakable belief that he is right in everything, and once posited a ridiculous theory about the Great Eastern Blackout of August 2003 that nearly caused me to kill him with my mind. Luckily for him, Dad was between us, and I was afraid the force of the thought-wave may liquefy the poor man.

I generally side with the Alaskans. Most of them hold that McCandless was one of those Contiguous Statespeople who think that Alaska is just another fun adventure to be had, and go tromping up there expecting great fun and a couple meese, without any idea of the enormity of Alaska's wildness. I've done a lot of camping in my life, some of it in fairly remote, forbidding places. None of them were Alaska, but I can save that until later. Because before I went to ANY of those places, I planned a head a little and made sure I'd have the food and resources necessary to survive. I took the appropriate tools. I didn't eat anything I found unless I could positively identify it.

And I let somebody know where I was going. Call your mother, Chris. Don't be a jackass.

Labels: , , ,

posted by reyn at 6:09 AM


Blogger Kat said...

You are now including your bookmark? If we all do that, this could get really interesting.

10/12/2007 12:28 PM  
Blogger reyn said...

That's what I thought, too. :c)

10/12/2007 12:41 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

The story of Chris McCandless is fascinating: boy becomes disillusioned with society and seeks refuge in nature, only to die in the wilderness. It's very archetypal, which is maybe why it evokes such strong reactions. Whether it be admiration, disgust, or moral ambivalence, I don't think I know anyone who's read this book with...complacency.

I side with you, reyn. Chris was an idiot. It wasn't a great philosophical leap for me to arrive at this conclusion. I think Thoreau was an idiot, too. Sure the guy lived alone by a pond. But you know what? He also had his mother come out and cook for him and do his laundry. So much for enlightened self-sufficiency!

I think people with Chris' mindset -- that they're somehow ennobled by deprivation -- are somewhat naive. If that was remotely true, Africa would be a peaceful continent of secular, nature loving saints. (And duh, it ain't.) And you know what? I rather like certain forms of conspicuous consumption. The pyramids are conspicuous consumption. The Sistine Chapel is conspicuous consumption. Having the time to write book reviews and post them on a blog is conspicuous consumption (compared to the rest of the world.) Grow up, Chris. Being dirty doesn't make you divine.

Naturally, we shouldn't wholly embrace materialism and greed. (Ayn Rand also has a lowly pedestal in my pantheon of idiots.) But how about a nice balance between asceticism and hedonism?

Anyway, sorry to rant. Like I said, strong reactions. But before I go, I posted below a review I wrote for a short-lived book blog that my former roommate tried to get going. (It sputtered and died.) It's basically a regurgitation (pregurgitation?) of the above.

But, oh yeah. Definitely read Krakauer's book. It's awesome.

"I actually read Into the Wild about a year and a half ago, and I haven't re-read it since. So this post of mine is based upon general recollection and broad impression only. There are really only two things that I need to say...

First, Jon Krakauer is one of my favorite writers, and I truly believe he can make any subject interesting. Into the Wild is a superb character study, and I was engrossed from beginning to end.

Second, I think Chris McCandless was an ignorant, arrogant ass.

I don't know, his whole plan to escape into the wilderness seemed incredibly silly and immature to me. I happen to like people, and I also happen to like my hot water and down comforter. Periodically giving them for the joys of camping is fine, but I see no reason to jettison them for good. We're all lucky to live in a time and place where we can retreat behind technology (who wants to die of small pox?), and there are millions -- if not billions -- of people in the world who would do anything to have what we have. To just give it up for a lark always struck me as rather insulting to people who don't have that option. Don't get me wrong, it's great that McCandless donated his college fund to charity and helped peopled that way. But he seemed to do it with a certain kind of "glee," and his donation was all about his "journey," and not so much about helping others.

Second, the thinking behind his plan was fundamentally flawed. I remember that he wanted to get to Alaska on his own, and so he hitchhiked. Well, guess what Chris? You didn't get to Alaska on your own. You merely free-rode upon others -- upon their money, upon their technology. That doesn't make you any more enlightened. The only thing that makes you is a Big Fat Moocher.

And his very shelter was a tourist bus. That bus was the product of generations of individuals who cared about material things. People who wanted to make money and who worked hard to make that money. But Chris wasn't interested in work, just his own spiritual journey.

Did Chris McCandless deserve to starve to death in a cold and lonely bus up in Alaska? No, of course not. But does he deserve a special notation next to his name in the 1992 edition of The Darwin Awards? Perhaps."

10/24/2007 9:04 PM  

Post a Comment