Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Hunter Hunted

There's an interesting debate going on at Treehugger regarding whether the late Steve Irwin, killed last Monday by a stingray barb to the heart, should be considered an environmentalist and his memory honored as such.

Now, coincidentally, only two weeks ago I gathered with a group of friends for "Croc Movie Night." The first piece of the evening's entertainment was The Crocodile Hunter: The Movie, and I've had few more visceral cinematic experiences in my time. Irwin was an entertainer, perfectly well aware that we were at the edge of our seats as he casually directed the venemous snake he held by the tail away from his ankle, as he aimed a miniscule lasso around the jaws of a crocodile leaping out of the water to snap at the 20-foot motorboat that held himself, his wife, and his dog. Certainly there must be more efficient, if not necessarily cost-effective, ways to trap a crocodile and move him to a safer environment (always Iriwn's intention in the film). Certainly a woman digging through a packed truck, containing medical equipment for every imaginable species of Australian wildlife and a crocodile in a crate, in search of a bag in which to store the most venemous snake in Australia and thereby get it off the road away from cars is as much for comic relief as for actual practical purposes. Irwin's trademark "Crikey!", delivered head-on into the camera, demonstrated his willingness to make a mockery of himself and his background. And why not? The Crocodile Hunter was a TV show that appealed to millions of viewers, unusual for the Discovery Channel's programming. To do that, you need a showman, and in Irwin the Discovery Channel found a showman who both thought and taught.

Irwin consistently preached respect for the animals with which he interacted. Perhaps that's a little contradictory given the fact that he swung snakes around by the tail, but not to fling them over his head like so many cinematic heroes (Samuel L. Jackson among them); rather, he intended to provide information about why he thought so highly of this creature, why it was worthy of our respect and protection. He and his wife founded a wildlife park; Irwin always made sure his work was educational and informative, and certainly the best teachers are perfomers. The much-touted incident in which he held his baby while feeding a crocodile shows his own respect for the creatures that made him famous, since he, an adult man, was at least as much of a threat to the crocodile as the crocodile was to the baby. Okay, yes, Irwin was also clearly insane. And we can't fight the hilarious irony of his dying while filming an episode entitled Things in the Sea That Can Kill You. But he wouldn't have wanted anyone to fight that irony. He wanted his death filmed, and it was—ethics is stopping his friends at the network from airing it, and for this we are all very grateful, but Irwin's eccentricity and off-kilter-ness are evident in this desire. However, the world is swimming in people who are addicted both to risk and to cameras, and few of them managed to do as much for people/creatures other than themselves as Steve Irwin did, or even aimed to.

Of course the Crocodile Hunter was a showman. It's what made him a success. And most political movements, environmentalism to campaign finance reform could use a few more showmen like him: well-informed people who are not afraid to get ridiculous.

We've got to mourn his passage: his children are eight and three. We can hope this will teach them not to be as completely, absurdly fearless as their father was, or we can hope they inherit and admire their father's passion. We can even do both if we feel like it.

I can say of Irwin only what I've said before: he died as he lived. And for that, I think we're fully within our rights both to mock and to honor him.

3 Comments:

At 7:57 PM, Anonymous tyromaven said...

Not to be a heckler, but I'm eager for your post on serial fiction/writing. Count on me for some fiesty commenting.

 
At 10:36 AM, Anonymous CoWorkerAnnie said...

Thank you, lady. My brother was criticized for positing that the ghost of Steve Irwin would intercede to heal my sick kitten. The man wrangled venomous creatures for a living--I think he'd have more of a sense of humor than some people give him credit for.

 
At 2:53 AM, Blogger jhon paola said...

environmentalism to campaign finance reform could use a few more showmen like him: well-informed people who are not afraid to get ridiculous.



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