As I sit here writing this, I have approximately 10 days until the ‘expiry’ date on my student card. Does this mean, in 10 days time, my tenure as a student will have expired. Come this magical date will I have a salaried job in the real world ready and waiting, which I’m expected to assume and start the rehabilitation into responsible, tax paying citizen submitting to the higher powers of authority and capitalism? I’m not saying life as a student is debauched lawless mayhem, by second year most will realise that there are deadlines, rules and expectations to meet as in the real world – the caveat for this of course is proceeding from first to second year, which amazingly some still fail.
But what is there to do when University is finished? The industrious and organised will have sorted one of those elusive and deceptive ‘graduate placements’ or ‘jobs’ where the salary is given to reflect the employee’s academic achievements rather than difficulties of the job – but still, it shows your more important than the average numskull who didn’t do a degree right? Or maybe student life doesn’t finish, and provided you can find the financial aid, a postgrad course waits in the wings. With my degree being in English Literature (a fairly classic degree i might add) the chances of me getting a job anywhere (a job exclusively for Eng Lit students that is) is zilch. Partly because of the lack of jobs in the real world where my academic prowess would translate into anything useful – Primary/ Secondary school teacher, or journalist are the only two that come to mind.
This leads me onto my next point, Internships. The way to ‘get a foot in the door’ and show how passionate you are about that certain field. Let’s say in this instance it is journalism. Most publishers, magazines and newspapers would expect the average applicant to have a degree, but also a hefty portfolio of written work stacked with various internship experience, a week here at a local newspaper, two weeks there at a magazine etc etc. Now this sounds reasonable right? The rise and rise of people going into higher education means a higher output of those applying for higher level jobs, so one has to sort the wheat from the chaff. This would be fine if the whole idea wasn’t centred on this one principle – doing a job someone else doesn’t want to do for free. I’ve no problem with working for free, getting myself out there, showing my enthusiasm and all that bullshit, but logistically it might not even be possible. In that ‘break’ between second and third year I should’ve been applying myself better apparently, yet I was working, like I had been throughout my second year, to pay for the basics – rent, for example, a considerably more demanding feat in London – which my parents haven’t the luxury to pay on my behalf. How then would I be able to take an unpaid position once I graduate? How can I afford not to have a full time job doing something I hate to earn the basic rights to shelter and food? It does seem still that those with privileged backgrounds get first dibs at those media circle jobs, and I’d imagine it’s the same with finance.
Still, rant over, I can now talk about what drove me to writing this. Sean Penn’s 2007 film Into the Wild based on a true story and the book of the same title written by Jon Krakauer, starring the talented Emile Hirsch, follows the story of Christopher McCandless as he graduates Emory University and gives the 25000 dollars set aside by his parents for Law school to Oxfam as he begins a trek into the unknown and into the wild. After leaving his car by the sea, McCandless renames himself Alexander Supertramp, and there are immediate parallels with his story and Kerouac’s wilderness driven Dharma Bums, and the anti capitalist epic poem Mexico City Blues. The bright young Supertramp’s restlessness and abhorent distaste for the 21st century strike a chord with me, the Lit student who just finished University at the worst time possible (recession et al) and his selfish but brave journey is one I’d one day hope to experience. The arbitrary rules he faces for example when wanting to paddle down a river ( he meets a guard who says he needs a permit, for which there is a 12 year waiting list) are apparent in every facet of society, yet he ignores the more sensible advice and just goes, on his own whim. McCandless eventually died in Alaska, after being poisoned by the wild potato seed. This perhaps shows the undeniable superiority of nature, and indeed McCandless’s naiveity, but the fact he died isn’t the point. The search for truth (or dharma in Kerouac’s case) is clear throughout the film, and I think there is a stage in every young man’s life where the urge to explore and grow kicks in. When asked in the film where he is heading, he retorts ‘No, man. Alaska, Alaska. I’m gonna be all the way out there, all the way fucking out there. Just on my own. You know, no fucking watch, no map, no axe, no nothing. No nothing. Just be out there. Just be out there in it. You know, big mountains, rivers, sky, game. Just be out there in it, you know? In the wild.’
There is something more to this than a simple yearning of man to be with nature, with the wild. It is to find himself, and find a higher sense of truth and purpose lost in modern society. The rat race of life, the complex rigamarole of how to get to somewhere thats comfortable first of all seems to be difficult enough, let alone filthy rich or famous or important. Life is difficult, and rightly so, but too many people have lost touch with what is important. It’s not cars, credit cards, celebrities, clothes, TV’s, the new I Phone, Starbucks, the West end club and the Belvedere on tap – It’s not things, or looks or popular opinion. It’s not the salary, the mortgage, the catchment area for the kid’s schools – What it is though ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know, but ‘rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness… give me truth.’
Hirsch in the film poignantly remarks ‘Mr. Franz I think careers are a 20th century invention and I don’t want one,’ and maybe I don’t either. If only I had your balls McCandless, to escape into the wild, and be free.