Steve sounds like he thinks this might be a bad thing.
Steve has a point: the only way a hiker gets his name in the paper is when he dies dramatically, stupidly, wastefully, or otherwise -fully. (Although there are, ahem, exceptions.)
The problem with the blame-the-media argument is that it can be applied to pretty much everything, because the media deal in sensation — conflict, absurdity, pathos, voyeurism — because sensation draws eyeballs, and eyeballs keeps media people in rent and hiking shoes. If there were anything remotely newsworthy about the 150 hikes I’ve returned home safely from, well, trust me, I’d be making a lot more than $2 dollars a day in this blogging thing.
While it’s true that harrowing adventure tales scare some people away, these tales always attract people as well. We still had a Gold Rush despite tales of gunfights, wild Indians and grizzly bears.
I think a more pedestrian explanation for why fewer people camp and hike of late might simply be that people used to take their families hiking and camping because it represented a cheap family outing. These days, with affluence so much more widespread, people take their kids to Egypt or send them to space camps. They’ve got plenty of money, they don’t need to sleep in tents and hope their kids stay out of the poison oak.
As long as backcountry tragedies are still regarded as “news,” society is functioning about as normally as can be expected, given the limitations of the species that invented it.
Tom: I’d love it if you phoned this comment in: 866-590-7373
Steve, I”ll have to do it after I get off work (just got in)…
Any of the rest of you are encouraged to call in with comments too… send a little free content Steve’s way so he doesn’t have to do all the work himself.
I won’t go into the possible media (or other) causes for this, but the end effect often amazes me. (Though it has given me lots of opportunities to look like a Really Tough Guy to people who don’t know better.)
I’ll never forget the time I casually mentioned to one of my work colleagues who has (I now clearly understand) led an entirely indoor life that I was planning a short pack trip. She ripped into me for acting foolishly and dangerously and risking my life and putting the futures of my children in danger. There was no explaining…
Needless to say, I’ve never mentioned to this person that I love week-long solo pack trips above timberline. 🙂
Is it really that the media has people scared inside, or is it because people would rather be inside and scared playing God of War on their X-boxes?
I can’t provide any specific examples, but my entire offices is riddled with a fear of anything outdorrs that creeps, crawls, lurks and hides out just waiting to devour unsuspecting newbies like themselves – including, but not limited to spiders, snakes, coyotes, bats and rodents of all description.
Half Dome’s rep is constantly scarred by media overdrive of events such as the Japanese hiker who fell after losing his grip a few months back. I hear about that constantly, as if that can be duplicated at, say, Sunol. I believe there is a connection between the overplay of “lost in the wilderness” stories and shrinking numbers of folks who enjoy a stroll outside. There are more factors, of course – the migration to instant media gratification and a zealous belief in being constantly in electronic communication with our Fellow Man….but if my office staff is an indicator, the hype over those lost while outdoors does much to quell the enthusiasm.
People in our society always tend to fear, and criticize, anything they don’t understand. I cracked up a few weeks ago when one of our office workers spotted a turkey outside the window near her workspace. Our building is very near the wetlands beyond 237, and we commonly see ducks, seabirds, various rodents, and such. She was actually scared of it. She was saying “oh my god” “what about diseases”, and “do the bite?” “Should we call security?”, things like that. I kind of grimaced and told her “it won’t harm anyone”. “They don’t have teeth, and are quite timid”. “I see them in the hills all the time”. I then jokingly remarked, “are you hungry”? She just looked at me uneasily as if still wondering what to do about the crisis of having a turkey in the parking lot. It was of course hilarious, but also disconcerting that a grown adult would be so concerned about one freakin turkey. Dedicated cubicle creatures are very weird.
I suspect people aren’t so much scared away by media reports as they are reassured of the wisdom of not doing something they had no intention of doing to begin with.
The fear stories are a handy rationalization for folks who wouldn’t have gone into the woods anyway.
I just got an internal email at work. For reference, I work in the Hillview area of Palo Alto, very near the Stanford Dish. This email was to warn people that although we have a lovely campus with pathways between buildings, we share it with wildlife and here is some information about the creatures you may encounter (attached: pdfs on how to deal with mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and those incredibly dangerous rabbits, among other wildlife).
It included a bolded statement that any wildlife sighting should be reported immediately to facilities with a full description of the animal and the location. And make sure to be especially careful walking to our vehicles and between buildings. The email had a very ‘warning! danger!’ vibe, not a ‘look at our wonderful environment – make sure you enjoy it and treat the inhabitants with respect’ feel that it should have.
I do understand the relevance of sharing rattlesnake and mountain lion information given our location, but things like this are exactly what this post and comments are about. I’m picturing a poor facilities guy sitting on the phone and taking reports of every woodpecker and fence lizard that terrified employees see.
My brother works in public television. One thing he always likes to say is that the main message of commercial media is, “Ha ha! Made you look!”
Tom, thank you for calling-in your thoughts about this topic. You expressed a point of view that I knew I needed to include in the story.
I’m not sure I buy the affluence argument though. It looks to me like the poverty level is rising faster than the median income. (Source: Wikipedia.)
I enjoyed Rebecca’s and Randy’s comments.
Steve, I felt like I was stumbling over every syllable … I see now what you’re up against when trying to read the vocals from a written script.
I agree the fear Randy and Rebecca are citing is out there … I’m not so sure, though, who or what the real culprit is, or what the solution would be — especially when the solution has a very large “be careful what you wish for” component.
In theory more people using the wilderness creates a larger advocacy base for preserving wild places — in reality, the the more people use the backcountry, the more they damage it.
It doesn’t have to be this way, but on top of getting people outdoors you have one more layer of education they have to learn … all this makes it a lot easier to imagine the woods a scary place full of maneating lions and stay home.
How ironic reading this post after you dissed Into The Wild, and, by
extension, Christopher McCandless. (I wrote a rebuttal, but did not
finish in a timely manner and hence didn’t bother to post it as a
The dismay exhibited by “cubicle dwellers” as related in the comments
is the same as the dismay you directed at McCandless. I see all as
just different points on the same continuum. You think he engaged
in overly risky behavior without adequate justification. The office
people think the same as you. It’s a matter of perspective.
I suspect your memory is throwing what I wrote in with what the other critics said.
I wrote that McCandless was a spoiled upper middle class twit who imposed needless suffering on his loved ones. I had no beef with him wanting to get out in the wilderness. I just wish he would’ve called his mom before he left.
Most of the folks in Alaska who live in real wilderness thought he was heedless of the risks he was taking, must have had a death wish, and showed improper respect for nature’s power to take his life … that’s just the other side of the coin which declares him a saintly seeker of truth in the wilderness. How you see it is your flip of the coin.
I gave a little airtime to the “he was a fool who got what he deserved” line of thinking, but it wasn’t my main problem with him or the movie.
“imposed needless suffering on his loved ones”
Huh? How do you figure that? He had neither wife nor children — no dependents.
Are you suggesting there exists an obligation not to die simply because our parents
and relatives would grieve? What nonsense! Do you even believe in true freedom?
Who owns one’s life? Our parents? Society? The government? Or are they ours alone,
to live as we choose?
As far as your other epithets, I don’t think “spoiled” applies. I wouldn’t agree with
“twit” either, but I admit that is open to interpretation.
To be clear, I am not lionizing McCandless. But he if you really believe in freedom
and autonomy, then he had the right to make his choices, even if we don’t agree with
His parents gave him everything he had … his sister was extremely fond of him.
He could’ve at least sent word of what he was up to… given the extent to which they indulged all his previous whims — and paid his way through an expensive private college — I’m guessing they’ve have said “oh that’s just Chris being Chris” and supported him.
Losing a child is just about the most devastating thing that can happen to a parent. If you’re going to risk doing that to them, the least you could do is accept responsibility for it and apprise them of the possibility.
Freedom without responsibility is just narcissism.
Mind you this is all third-hand as told to Krakauer as told to Penn as molded into an attempt to make a coherent movie.
Even if he did everything else right and was an angel incarnate, he still should’ve gotten word to his mom. He bailed without a peep, and that’s just wrong.
There are thousands of people who work for the media & NEED that paycheck they get, so they come online to places like this & defend themselves (without mentioning the bias that they are part of the problem, of course).
That said, let me relate a true media story to demonstrate the integrity of the media, or the lack thereof.
There was a huge storm one year in the Bay Area. A local neighborhood house was crushed by a huge mudslide and inside the house was a sleeping family. The husband manages to escape being drowned / smothered although his wife & two daughters were trapped and killed.
As he stood outside of his flattened home waiting for rescue crews to remove the bodies of his family, a reporter approached him. She asked him, on TV, ” … so…. how do you feel? ” The man looked into the reporters face in stunned silence, then stated through tearful eyes, ” My entire family is under that mud and dead. How do you THINK I feel? ! ”
It was then, at that moment, that I realized that the media was scum and only interested in their paychecks.
The realization was further hammered home another time when I read a reporters explanation of how some “steel bar” was what held a person down and trapped inside a building collaspe. The “steel bar” turned out to be, as could be clearly seen in the photo, A STEEL I-BEAM. The reporter didn’t even know how to describe the difference between a “steel bar” and an I-beam measuring about 12″ x 12″.
What does this have to do with hiking?
Well, I’m just pointing out that, yes, the media is in it for their profits. Accuracy, honesty, integrity, and goodwill take a back seat. If they infer that hiking is dangerous by pointing out that one hiker was hurt or killed while ignoring the millions who enjoy themselves every year without mishap, then that should come as no surprise to anyone.
The media isn’t even “neutral” any longer and has taken up sides / positions in politics. What you read isn’t “news” any longer so much as the reporter’s opinion.