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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Steve Irwin--in memoriam « Previous | |Next »
September 5, 2006

I was rather harsh in this previous post about zoos, conservation and tourism---too harsh perhaps? Steve Irwin used the money gained from being a celebrity in the US through the Discovery Channel to preserve wildlife habitat in Australia. He understood about living with animals, even if he got too close and personal on occassions.

Sean Leahy

Irwin, judging from the replayed interview with Andrew Denton on Enough Rope, sure broke down the big divide between animals and humans that has been erected, and defended by, humanists. As an environmentalist Irwin was respected by David Suzuki, David Bellamy and Ben Cropp for bringing respect for animals, such as snakes and crocodiles that are often "demonised" as the baddies of the wild world.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:58 AM | | Comments (7)



It's amazing the universal sentiment about the passing of Irwin. Not a bad word can be found about him. Here in the States, as elsewhere, he is sorely missed.

We often see gators in our backyard canal. I'll likely think of Irwin every time I see one now.

It's been a top story in Australia as well as the US. He is the face of adventure style tourism in Australia.

But Australians have been generally embarrassed by him--ambivalant tothe point of being almost ashamed. Not so the Americans. They loved the colour and showmanship.

Did not realize that about the embarrassment factor, but it makes sense - he was a little over the top in the showmanship department.

But I chalked it up to him just being a great big kid, spreading his infectious love of the environment. More a natural showman than an actor. People respond to genuine enthusiasm.

Of your well-known exports to my country (INXS, Mel Gibson, Foster's, Rupert Murdoch, Midnight Oil, et al) we definitely liked the Croc Hunter best.

Unfortunately, that probably helps to contribute to the view of "stupid americans" in the minds of many Aussies.

He is affectionally known as 'the larrikin in khaki.' Though his caricatured 'Aussie character' has always played better overseas than at home, there was genuine affection for the gregarious animal lover in Australia and respect for his wife's astute business acumen. Irwin’s Australia is largely a romantic myth. We are a most urbanised nation, living in increasingly crammed cities on an increasingly crowded coastline.

Leslie Carnnold, a fellow of the Centre for Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne, addresses the 'embarrasment factor' in The Age. She says:

The reality, which he knew better than anyone, was that he was about as far from the quintessential Australian as you could get: a bush dweller and conservationist in a land of confirmed suburbanites indifferent to their ever-expanding environmental footprints; a warp-speed extrovert whose chosen adverbs of degree — absolutely, extremely, really — contrasted tellingly with the preference of his compatriots for somewhat, rather and "a bit". In a telling interview with Andrew Denton in 2003, replayed on ABC TV on Monday, Irwin frankly acknowledged the embarrassment he caused his compatriots. "I'm embarrassing", he explained because "there's a little bit of me in everybody". In addition, what Irwin called the "yeah, take it or leave it" attitude of Aussies to everything, made them uncomfortable with his passionate embrace of everything.

She goes on to say that actually there's way too little of Irwin in most of us. Not only do we know it, we work damn hard to keep it that way, for precisely the reasons Irwin nominates: our fear of appearing too invested in or excited about anything. She adds:
This commitment to indifference is a loss of our own passion for the things that really matter to us, and a disdain for the untrammelled enthusiasm of others, then so be it.Are we afraid of failure?... I think what stymies us is more pedestrian: a fear of the unpredictable and potentially uncomfortable social situations that could result if people drop roles and abandon lines. Wild, larger-than-life characters such as Irwin — hyper-extroverts — are unpredictable....They must be subdued through ridicule or marginalisation, or frozen out completely to manage our collective fear of the awkward moment.

In contrast, she adds, the source of America's love affair with Irwin was not what made him Australian, but the Americanness of much of his personality. Hyper-extroversion, and its superlative sidekicks of uncontained passion and enthusiasm, are what Americans love and admire about themselves.

I'm not persuaded--the generalizations are too broad about 'the Australian' character. Cannold recycles a conservative account of Australians when the reality is that we are very diverse, divided and multicultural. The inner city urban professionals saw Irwin to be selling a message about Australia that betrayed the sophistication of the place--Irwin built on Paul Hogan's Crocodile Dundee that was popular in the late 1980s. Conservatives dismiss judgement this in terms of 'the cultural gatekeepers in Australia' etc etc.

Secondly, many Australians are very enthusiastic and passionate about sport.

Why not be critical of Irwin for some of his actions where the showmanship endangers his children (Irwin carrying his baby into the crocodile pen) or where it has little to do with letting wild animals be? He illegally encroached on the space of penguins, seals and humpback whales in Antarctica, where he was filming a documentary called Ice Breaker.

It is the hyper showmanship/entertainer for the Discovery Channel with its 20 million audience in the US that creates the excess ( spectacle) not 'the boy who never grew up'. The latter merely repeats Irwin's account of his excess.

I think Austrailaians should have been proud of Steve Irwin. Maybe he was a bit hyper, but he was fun to watch. Many people in life don't have even a fraction of the zest for living that he did.

He adored his wife and children, praising them with much passion. And he loved what he did for a living--which is not what many of us can say.

I thought he was a sweet, loving, courageous, charming and sincere man. I doubtAmericans don't see him as like themselves (though it does not hurt for him to have an American wife). I see him as a breath of fresh air--not a phony, not arrogant--despite what some might think. He had infectious passion for life--and maybe some people need to "lighten up" and take a few lessons from someone like him.

He will be greatly missed.

I loved him as we all did and I do not for one want to see any footage of him being taken from us. It would be wrong. We are to remember him as he was in life, so alive and lovingevery minute of it God bless u Steve and family

Does that mean some of Steve Irwin's actions shouldn't be criticised? His relationship with wild animals was confrontation with the animal, whilst his nature programs gave his audience adventure and excitement. Do we just accept that as okay in comparison to David Attenborough's docos about the environment and the fauna?

There is also a national myth being created around the charismatic character of Steve Irwin. Does that myth need to be questioned?

Consider Germain Greer's sentiments I quote:

There was not an animal he was not prepared to manhandle. Every creature he brandished at the camera was in distress. Every snake badgered by Irwin was at a huge disadvantage, with only a single possible reaction to its terrifying situation, which was to strike. Easy enough to avoid, if you know what's coming. Even my cat knew that much.....But Irwin was an entertainer, a 21st-century version of a lion-tamer, with crocodiles instead of lions.

Is the expression of these kind of sentiments (Irwin did not treat animals with the respect they deserved) UnAustralian? Is it just political correctness to say that Irwin provoked and annoyed animals to provide entertainment for onlookers as some say?

Greer goes on to question Irwin's understanding of nature as a theme park:

In 2004, Irwin was accused of illegally encroaching on the space of penguins, seals and humpback whales in Antarctica, where he was filming a documentary called Ice Breaker. An investigation by the Australian Environmental Department resulted in no action being taken....

Greer shouldn't have said these kinds of things? Others are saying something in a different language.