The Cult Of Chris McCandless: Don’t Drink The Kool Aid Kids
Back in 2006-7 I posted an article and commentary on “The Cult Of Chris McCandless”, an article in Men’s Journal. It was an article in advance of the premiere of “Into The Wild” by Sean Penn and the re-release of “Into The Wild” the book by John Krakauer. Recently, this WordPress blog has seen a lot more traffic on that particular post and it got me wondering as to why now? I mean, it’s been 2 years since the film came out so whats the deal?
Once beginning to look at my traffic here, and Googling a bit, I came across an interesting site: TerraIncognita Films which is the frontpiece for Ron Lamothe and his movie “The Call Of The Wild”, a documentary that retraces the steps of Chris McCandless and offers up some revelations of insight into his death, his life, and the mindset he had when he walked into the Alaskan wild and the Stampede Trail.
The biggest of these revelations is that some of the alleged “facts” that John Krakauer had put into his book, were in fact wrong and perhaps, post his books publishing, were obfuscated as to their existence in the text.
Here are the salient facts that this new (2007 film that will be on PBS in 2009) has brought to light:
1) Chris McCandless did indeed have all his ID, $300.00 in cash, and a map in a backpack that was found by a local resident Will Forsberg in the fall of 1992. These items were returned to the family by the police shortly thereafter. So when Krakauer says he had no money, no map, and no ID because he wanted to be “free” of them to live, he was either mistaken or letting the mystique grow around the “ideal” that he had perpetuated in his book about Chris.
2) The pathologist who performed the autopsy of Chris stated emphatically that there was no chemical evidence from tox-screens that Chris was in any way brought down by Alkaloid poisoning. He in fact stated for the record that he believed McCandless had simply “Starved to death”, no other cause was the harbinger of this other than his lack of food.
3) The note that Chris had left at the bus when he was foraging for food that asked for help stated that he was injured, but no real injury was reported in the pathology report. Nor was this fact covered thoroughly in the book nor the biopic in 2007. Lamothe postulates that perhaps the reasons why Chris could not make it out even to the park road that was only 5 miles away (and not have to cross the Teklanika river) was because he had injured his arm and shoulder. Lamothe goes on to say that perhaps even this injury may have been healing or near healed but painful and thus not something that would have been seen by the pathologist at the time of autopsy.
4) The starvation that was the eventual cause of death was in fact a natural process and nothing to do with fungus growths on food nor the wrong plant being ingested. What Lamothe brings to the table is a BMI (Body Mass Index) assessment of McCandless while he was at the bus. The BMI shows that with his hunter gatherer lifestyle and the amounts of food and types, that he cataloged in his diary, that he consistently lost weight until he reached a BMI of 13. At such a point, a BMI of 13 will be the final point at which an adult male will expire from starvation… Coincidentally, when tracked with the diary, his death and the BMI of 13 coincide. He simply could not get enough nourishment to sustain himself.
So there you have it… Much of the premise of the book by Krakauer has been shown to be incorrect. Motivations, actions, altruism, and final outcome are not what they have been put out as by this book. Just how did all this information not make it out to the public as the movie was released back in 07 I wonder? Was it perhaps that all of this information would dampen the sales of the book and the film? Perhaps lessen the ardor of those “Alexander Supertramp” wannabe’s out there?
Which brings me back to the reason that I wrote the post in the first place. I had been seeing all kinds of articles and postings by people who were in the “Cult Of McCandless”. They spoke of how he lived a life that they wished to emulate, that they saw him as a hero, ballads were being written and sung! And I, I was agitated by it all because I saw McCandless’ death as a silly end to a bright individuals life all because he was too stubborn and foolish to really do the homework and survive.
Of course, this point of view is rather unliked by the “Kool Aide” set and I got some hate mail as well as posts like a recent one saying “You just don’t get it” Well, enlighten me moonflower please? I mean, this all has become a transcendant experience to you all.. Please explain to me how it was so fantastic that McCandless ran away from home to wander and end up starving to death alone in a bus about 5 miles from possible rescue? If he had “really” gone “Into The Wild” he would have really gone out somewhere that required a 6 hour helo flight to get there or back would he not? He didn’t, he lived alone on a dirt road in a bus… That’s it.
It was foolish and not something that you make a central part of your life to emulate kids.
So let me channel Red Foreman a moment and say “Don’t be a dumbass! Dumbass” All of this adulation has literally made the Alaskans consider destroying the bus or dragging it out of the Stampede to stop you fools from going up there and trying to re-live the McCandless tragedy. Something you can hear in an Alaska Radio show that I downloaded and listened to today. In general, Alaskans have a very poor opinion of this whole story and now, all of its attendant use by the powers that be, to make money off of the tale. Hell, they even found certain travel agents trying to sell “McCandless Magic Bus” tours! Ironically, if McCandless’ actually had half the ideals that Krakauer put into the book, he would be sickened himself by it all.
So, in the end, all you who find yourselves linked to this new article by google, think upon what I have said. Perhaps catch the documentary by Laomothe, and think twice before you too set out with a 10lb bag of rice to “live off the land” and you too end up starving to death, which, is a rather slow and painful process.. Dumbass.