Popular Culture Review 29.1 (Spring 2018) - Page 27

river.” On the notebooks left in the bus by Carine McCandless, one can read fairly disturbing messages, such as that of a woman who wrote that she had been “a bitch” to her boyfriend right before he fell into the Teklanika and signed off “asking for good luck because it was raining.” Rather than courage, or “guts,” a word commonly used by his supporters, including Sean Penn, to characterize their hero, Christopher McCandless’ misadventure demonstrated ignorant recklessness, for which he paid the ultimate price, and his irresponsibility and indecisive behavior seem to be his only concrete legacy: the simple question of why starving to death in the back of a derelict bus should be a lesson to us all and an example to follow is still to be answered. There naturally cannot be any McCandless “philosophy” in the strict sense of the word, for the concept of a civilized man returning to nature is an utter epistemological fallacy, about as absurd as the idea of traveling back in time, however entertaining it might be: our very conscience is the product of our time and culture and we do not shed what we are by simply walking into the wild grossly unprepared. If there is an epistemological demonstration in the McCandless story, it only points to the impossibility of blindly denying progress and civilization, which are parts of our very ontological integrity: as McCandless walked into the wild, he also walked into nothingness. If Christopher McCandless’ so called “philosophy” remains as vague as can be, what appears fairly clear, however, is the direct responsibility of his official promoters, Krakauer, Penn and the McCandless family, whose construction of a fictitious character of metaphysical proportions has lured many into believing they could discover the true meaning of life by putting it at risk undertaking a superfluously dangerous hike. Of course, the trek is reserved to the true fans: the McCandless family, already enlightened, have used helicopters to reach the bus. The spectacularization and subsequent merchandizing of Christopher McCandless have benefited from factors totally external to its main promoters, starting with the very name of the hero: chances are the story would have flown quite lower had the name of its protagonist been Archibald Higginbotham rather than Christopher McCandless, whose semiotic implications within the Judeo-Christian code are difficult to ignore: not only is Saint Christopher the patron saint of all things related to travel and travelers in the Catholic tradition, but it also includes “Christ” as a prefix, which graphically conveys an undeniable onomastic authority – more so than Archibald. The last name, “McCandless,” establishes as well a subtle semiotic relationship between form and function, for the fictionalized McCandless rejects progress and civilization, pure products of the Enlightenment which could 27