Something is badly wrong with the psyche of a country in which Sarah Palin and Chris McCandless, one a product of Alaska and the other a victim of it, have become iconic figures for untold numbers of citizens.
This is not a rap on Palin or McCandless. The former, when not aflame with the venomous vindictiveness that seems the main by-product of her being snatched from the backwoods to perform as the "game-changer" for Sen. John McCain's failed bid at the Presidency, is a nice woman. And McCandless (whose story was made famous by Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild) was merely a lost and troubled young man who never hurt or bothered anyone.
There really wasn't much to McCandless, which seems to be his attraction now. People want to paint all sorts of meaning into his searching for something — if, in fact, he was doing even that. He might well have been nothing but lost. It happens to people all the time. The wires in the mind cross and finding the path ahead becomes impossible. They are left to wander aimlessly through life and never amount to anything.
In life, McCandless never amounted to anything, and the McCandless the world came to know in death wasn't so much an individual as a character created for Krakauer's book Into the Wild. From the time McCandless graduated Emory College in 1986, turned his back on his family, and wandered America until he turned up dead in 1992 a bus not far off the George Parks Highway between Anchorage and Fairbanks, his life is a Krakauer construct of pieces chosen selectively here and there.
Is it an accurate construct? Obviously not. Krakauer has written about his own forays into the wilderness to search for the adventure that helps a lot of us define ourselves. Krakauer defines McCandless's behavior by assuming a parallel, and that's a stretch beyond the facts. Krakauer, like me and most young men who go adventuring, didn't divorce his family before setting off. McCandless's decision to sever his relationship with his well-to-do parents, not to mention his supposedly beloved sister, back in Fairfax, Va., is symptomatic not of world travelers, mountaineers, or adventurers of any sort, but of someone with mental problems.
McCandless fits a pattern. About 1 in 100 people in this country suffer from schizophrenia, a disease that most commonly arrives in early adult life. It's an illness. You can read a lot more about it. Suffice to say, the so-called "paranoid type" among the schizophrenics can prove to be interesting people prone to delusions of persecution or grandeur, not to mention a language more about some sort of self-expression than communication, as in:
Two Years He Walks The Earth. No Phone, No Pool, No Pets, No Cigarettes. Ultimate Freedom. An Extremist. An Aesthetic Voyager Whose Home is The Road. Escaped from Atlanta. Thou Shall Not Return, Cause ‘The West is The Best’ And Now After Two Rambling Years Comes the Final and Greatest Adventure. The Climactic Battle To Kill The False Being Within And Victoriously Conclude the Spiritual Revolution! Ten Days & Nights of Freight Trains and Hitching Bring Him to the Great White North No Longer to Be Poisoned By Civilization He Flees, and Walks Alone Upon the Land To Become Lost in the Wild.
That would be a jotting from “Alexander Supertramp,” AKA McCandless. Supertramp was the name he claimed when he abandoned his own. It is interesting to note that the later-to-be-icon McCandless in this one note stole from singer Roger Miller's "King of the Road" ("no phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes"); the rock group The Doors' "The End" ("the west is the best"); and who knows who else to help build a word salad that can be read as suicide note -- "thou shall not return ... the final and greatest adventure ... to become lost in the wild" -- or attempt at self-help treatment, as in "the climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual revolution."
Could McCandless's real quest have been this simple: He was going into the Alaska wilderness to either to get a grip on his life or not come back? As it turned out, he didn't come back. Palin did better, but then she wasn't and isn't crazy.
Sarah Palin, unable to find a job as a broadcaster, became mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, a growing strip mall along the George Parks Highway north of Anchorage, Alaska's largest city. Wasilla, a sleepy community of a couple thousand people in the early 1980s, started to boom late that decade and was exploding out across the Susitna Valley when Palin took office in 1996.
Officially, the city itself would more than triple in population from 1,559 people in 1980 to 5,469 in 2000, but that was only part of the picture. As much as Wasilla was growing, the bedroom communities around it in the Mat-Su Borough were growing even more. It was a heady place to be a politician. Economic boom times make whoever is in charge look good, and Palin, a former beauty queen, started off good-looking.
Nobody ever accused her of being a genius, but then intelligence is overrated in American politics. Plenty of marginally intelligent politicians, say former U.S. Senator and later Vice-President Dan Quayle, have gone far, and plenty of extremely intelligent politicians have failed or imploded in office, say President Jimmy Carter. Palin was and is somewhere between those two in the realm of ideas, but she now outshines both in the media eye.
Palin became a political superstar. Sad to say, it was not because of her successes, but because of her failures. Her out-of-the-gate stumbles on the national stage made her a sympathetic figure to some on the right side of American politics who see a "liberal-media conspiracy" in everything, and she had the sense to play to that sympathy. Palin, a classic Alaska Republican of the left, scurried to the most conservative of camps because that was where her protectors waited. She found a home there. She figured out right quick that as long as she kept accusing black man and liberal Democrat Barack Obama of "pallin' around with terrorists," she would remain a media lightning rod and a protected member of a new clan.
The accusation is sort of funny now, given that Obama has become the meanest, most terrorist-killing SOB on the planet. The U.S. drones flying above the Third World have under his command blown up more terrorists than any president in American history. But the accusation that a candidate for president liked to pall around with terrorists wasn't funny during the 2008 campaign. It was something on which the media was sure to call Palin. Given that it was tantamount to calling Obama a traitor to the nation, the media had a responsibility to investigate the accusation.
None other than the staid Associated Press chased around the charge Obama was a "pal" of once-violent Vietnam War activist William Ayers and concluded the claim was "unsubstantiated," which led CBS News to call Palin on the topic, which led Palin to call out the Associated Press as "wrong," which led down the road to what Palin is today — the lamestream-media-fighting, anti-establishment icon.
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