Some think Alaska is a land of adventure and those who live here embrace all it has to offer. Alaskans are considered the last of a dying kind. With 70 percent of the state’s population living in urban settings, some believe the last frontier is no more than a delusion. A panel of experts discussed this idea in the Fine Arts Building Oct. 7.
The panel, composed of Michael Cape , Judith Kleinfeld, Mike Doogan and Steve Haycox, debated the idea of frontier imagery and how our impression of it affects the way we understand who we are and how we act. Each presented his view of the subject in a 10-minute speech before taking questions from the audience.
Kleinfeld began the discussion with a bit of background. She told the audience this discussion has already been going for more than 100 years.
“This debate is not about the debate, it is about who we are as a people,” Kleinfeld said. “People find the frontier romantic, and we need romance. We don’t want to live in a world without romance.”
Each speaker agreed the frontier was no more, but they disagreed on whether this was a good thing.
Kleinfeld believed that the end of the frontier limited its romanticism, but Haycox, who spoke last, disagreed.
“The Westward move should have stopped when they began to let individualism lead them to abandon their community ideals,” Haycox said.
Haycox, a professor of history at UAA, expressed his thoughts about the past.
“I would like to think we can escape from the chains of the past, but I don’t believe we can,” he said. “But can we escape from the past is not the true question, the question is should we.”
Doogan took a position between the other panelists. He believed the ideals of the frontier and those of society can’t coexist. Doogan argued that such self-dependence must be subdued for the good of a community, and acknowledged both the advantages it accomplished and its inability to blend into society.
The discussions led to questions of how this idea of frontier imagery is used against us, particularly by the media. The example used was that of political commercials appealing to Alaskans’ romantic ideals as a ploy to encourage them to vote one way or another be it on the regulation of marijuana or the opening of the Alaska National Wildlife Reservation.
Each panelist noted the way in which the public seemed to embrace the idiocies of literature and television, which have delivered an unreasonable idea of the Lewis and Clark mountain man, venturing into the wild of Alaska to find the spirit the founders of our nation embraced, in hopes of finding their own manifest destiny.