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Art, Culture, Reality

Kerouac is Dead

by Bianca Fernandes / 11.10.2010

Remember wanting to get off the grid? Head for the hills. Flee society and disappear into Nature – become a non rule-abiding creature of the wild. It’s a powerful fantasy really at the core of popular culture. Escape civilisation into the wilderness. You got Crusoe and Star Trek. You got Tarzan and Avatar. The need to escape seemed to burst, for those instinctively averse to the deadening suburban mainstream, from fantasy into social life in the 1950s. A World War will do that. It’s deadly proof of the lie of progress. The cheapness of human life in the power game of nations. The 1950s were all about freedom and mobility: embodied in the open road and the automobile. The Beats hit the road. They travelled far and wide. Burroughs to Tangiers. Ginsberg to India. Kerouac… well he couldn’t be far from his mother long.

That era seems long gone now. Lost on this media generation. With our ever-living need to fit-in and make the best of late capitalist “normality”. The adventurous spirit of all the “great manly men” of the past only lives on in books, web memes and advertising. Seems like Kerouac and the spirit of simple wonder and cheap questing thumb rides through the great out there is at an end. We’re all wired now. Networked. Sitting solo in front of glowing screens. All living furtively by proxy. At a remove from our own vitality.

Based on a book by John Krakauer, Sean Penn directed Into the Wild (2007) which follows Chris Mccandless, a star student athlete, who gives away his life savings and hitches to Alaska. He goes way way off the grid. With it’s slow thoughtful pace and wonderfully evocative score (by Pearl Jams’ Eddie Vedder), the film gets to you. It has a sad cumulative power. Helped along especially by Emile Hirsch’s committed and nervy performance as Mccandless. It hasn’t yet, but it will become a kind of generational touchstone. A film waiting to be re-discovered. A lesson and example waiting to be learned. Your life can change. You can change it. Go get free.

Jack Kerouac

The closest we get to escaping into the wilderness is driving an hour out of the city to trance in the country. Returning little changed but for a massive hangover.

Should we be taking chances? Packing up our lives and hitting the road. Is it really so important to “discover the unknown” – and rip it up and start again? Is change really always for the better? Worldliness is a DVD box set. You can go anywhere. See anything. From your own home. Is self-discovery through “roughing it” really more fun than partying?

It’s about being you, right, and letting your soul speak for itself in a society of sheep. It’s about finding your “true nature” in a world that won’t allow it.

Remember being a kid when all you wanted was to grow up to be a pirate or a princess. We accept debased versions of those dreams. We wear a sparkly pink dress and a tiara or grow a little chin fuzz. That’ll have to do.

A little pirate spirit doesn’t hurt to hold on to. A little princess grace. The yearning for what’s unexplored and new. Kudos to those who embrace it. Who keep the dream alive. Office jobs and security, are tough enough, they take a lot from us, but don’t forget to get out there and live.

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