Saturday, October 20, 2007

Hero or Dumb Ass?

Today:
Mt. Bike 49 miles

Yesterday:
Bike Commute 3 miles
Run 9 miles




Walking out of "Into The Wild" (Sean Penn's version of John Krakauer's version of Chris McCandless' life) last night my friend asked if I thought Chris McCandless was a hero or a dumb ass? My initial reaction was that I thought he was a little bit of both but as I had more time to think about it I realized that what I was really trying to tell her was that I don't think he was either.

Instead I think he was just a kid trying to figure out who he wanted to be as a man. A progression that most everyone goes through on some level. I think he was a kid who had a lot to offer those around him, but also a kid who made some mistakes that ultimately cost him his life.

When the story of his death became well known in the media several years ago there were so many in Alaska (an likely around the world) who just instantly wrote him off as an idiot "outsider" who went into the Alaska Wilderness under prepared and basically got what he had coming to him. Why were/are so many so quick to jump to this conclusion?

I thought about that question a lot last night and today while out biking. Sadly, I think for many it's simply that they want to see someone who chooses to live on the fringe of mainstream society (let's say a more adventurous life than most) ultimately fail. As if by pointing out the weaknesses/stupidity of someone like Chris McCandless they are somehow validating their life as an ambiguous cog of society. As if by pointing out that no one with any sense would have made the mistakes that McCandless did somehow makes it easier for them to ignore the idea that no one with any sense would be living the depressing, stressful, unfullfilling life that they are.

I told my friend last night that it's hard for me to judge Chris McCandless definitively one way or the other because in doing so I would be judging my own development from a boy into a man in the same manner. When I pointed out to her that for 7 years from the age of 18 to 25 I more or less lived the lifestyle and shared many of the same views that McCandless did, her response essentially was, "yeah, but you weren't a dumb ass so instead of becoming the subject of a movie by walking off into the Alaska wilderness to "die off the land" you moved on, integrated yourself smoothly into mainstream society, and get to go to the movies and spend $11 for a large popcorn and Pepsi."

What a depressing thought to start the weekend with.

Training totals for the week: Run 47 miles; Bike 101 miles; in 16.5 hours.

7 comments:

Jonah said...

There’s a line from The Big Lebowski that might (with a little tweaking) provide some perspective for this debate. It’s spoken by the cowboy in the beginning of the movie:
“…sometimes there’s a man – I won’t say a hero, ‘cause what’s a hero? – but sometimes there’s a man - and I’m talkin’ about [Alexander Supertramp] here – sometimes there’s a man who, well, he’s the man for his time ‘n place, he fits right in there…”

I think with Alex, you either get him or you don’t. If you have to ask, you probably wouldn’t understand.

Jason Halladay said...

I think you may just have it nailed here with this, Geoff, well said:
"Sadly, I think for many it's simply that they want to see someone who chooses to live on the fringe of mainstream society (let's say a more adventurous life than most) ultimately fail. As if by pointing out the weaknesses/stupidity of someone like Chris McCandless they are somehow validating their life as an ambiguous cog of society. As if by pointing out that no one with any sense would have made the mistakes that McCandless did somehow makes it easier for them to ignore the idea that no one with any sense would be living the depressing, stressful, unfullfilling life that they are."

Anthony said...

I think he's become so compelling because many people have had those same feelings. The North has always been populated with the men who don't fit in.

I think what really gets to people who spend time in the bush is, not so much that he was foolish, unprepared, or reckless, but that he was deliberately so.

It's easier to accept that someone just didn't know any better. It's the fact that he did know better that is hard for many of us northerners to accept.

Paul A. said...

Don't worry Geoff. I totally think you are a dumbass. In a good way.

Anonymous said...

thank you anthony for that link to "men that don't fit in". i might be not a man but i still like the poem and am unfortunate enough to identify myself with it... currently bound to university for the next 3 years, that's what a period of as little as 7 months travelling can do you!

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Grant said...

Why is this so hard? He was a dumbass. He might have had good qualities, but he went off and stupidly killed himself, so he was a dumbass.