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An inconvenient hypocrisy

“Into the Wild,” John Krakauer’s best-selling book adapted for the screen by Sean Penn, is up for two Oscars at Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony. Neither Best Picture nor Best Actor in a Leading Role was among the film’s nominations.

It wasn’t one of my top five favorites in 2007, either, or even one of my top 20 (which speaks volumes since I’m almost positive I didn’t get to the movie theater 20 times last year), so I agree with the 5,829 voting Academy members that “Into the Wild” didn’t deserve a spot in the Best Picture category.

However, Emile Hirsch did an inarguably uncanny job portraying Christopher McCandless as a strong-willed, idealistic wanderer who got by with little preparation, an open mind and empty wallet. It wouldn’t have killed the Academy to give a nod to the actor previously best known for his role in an episode of “ER” entitled “How the Finch Stole Christmas.”



Of course I didn’t know McCandless. (Otherwise I would have told him that a secret solo trek through the Alaskan bush without supplies and a map was on par with the silent alarm clock in terms of bright ideas.) But I knew kids just like him (minus the dying alone in Alaska part) around the time that “Into the Wild” took place. Seeing the movie was a reminder that these days they just don’t make post-Woodstock hippies like they used to.

Take my old friend Kevin, who was a classic non-conformist in the early 1990s. With his Birkenstock sandals, crushing hugs and shoulder length blond locks that forever hung in his eyes, Kevin embodied the flower child philosophy (albeit 20-plus years after the Summer of Love). When he wasn’t taking a road trip to a peace gathering or disappearing for months with some girl he’d just fallen in love with in his Jeep Wagoneer that always seemed to be breaking down, he was living at his parents’ house rolling his own cigarettes and passing the time painting, reading and picking up odd jobs. When something moved him, he didn’t whimper or make a fuss, he just acted. And when he acted out against injustice, it was while wearing patchouli oil, which he preferred to soap and water, believing that any odor emitted by the body was naturally beautiful. (Something he’s hopefully moved on from by now. For everyone’s sake.)




There was also my dear friend Mary, who went to the University of Vermont and lived for a time on campus in Slade Hall. Described as “an open, loving community of intention,” students in Slade are required to be “environmentally friendly, socially conscious and fun-loving.” They practice a low-consumption life style ” cultivating in their greenhouse most of the vegetables used for their strict vegetarian cooking, operating a food cooperative and composting trash ” and those wanting to live there are asked during the application process what makes their hearts “sing.” When I visited Mary one weekend in Slade, the only actual singing I can recall came from the radio ” Prince’s “Sexy Motherf—er,” to be exact. I got the idea anyhow.

These days, though, it seems like the ideas are all different. The so-called bohemian and counter-culture-wannabes speak in meaningless cliches and place themselves on a moral high ground by complaining but doing next to nothing to affect change. Most present-day mainstream hippies are little more than plain old slackers who think the only qualification for freethinker status is displaying prayer flags or taking part in endless whining sessions fueled by mass quantities of hard drugs or green tea.

While their own parents worked hard and saved to set them on a solid path, today’s treehuggers show their appreciation by shrugging off the notion of actual sweat (unless it’s from a yoga class). Instead, they blame their lot on society and espouse conspiracy theories about the government (Oliver Stone would be so proud), to whom they will undoubtedly turn with their hands out for grants and loans when it comes time for their own kids to go to college.

Some high profile warriors do little to help the notion that today’s activists are far from where their predecessors began some 20 and 40 years ago ” like Laurie David, a producer of the Academy Award-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and a trustee for the National Resources Defense Council. When asked to explain how she reconciles owning two massive homes on opposite coasts and using a private jet to ferry herself between them, she explained that she feels guilty, but not enough to sell either home or fly commercial.

And then there’s Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the beloved environmentalist who opposed the creation of a wind farm on Nantucket Sound ” despite his record of supporting similar projects as preferable alternatives to fossil fuels. Apparently other such projects didn’t risk ruining the view from his family’s vacation compound.

While McCandless has garnered criticism from some who say that his irresponsible behavior in the wild has been romanticized, maybe it’s best Hirsch wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. McCandless might not have wanted his name further associated with an era destined to become better known for hypocritical hipsters in Hummers than for hemp habitues on Huffys.


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