Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The death of a family man

I want to start this by saying how terribly sad I am for Steve Irwin's family, following his death from a stingray barb. Since combining our futures so entirely, I find that even the merest thought of Martin's mortality is enough to reduce me to tears. I used to only have to worry about the spread out-ness of my limbs and the large amount of surface area (compared to say a bee or a mouse or a smurf) I seemed to have, in terms of likeliness of injury and upset. Now I am far more flung out, with these people who are so intinsic to my life: Martin, Frederique, Una. These vulnerable sites of potential pain or loss I have even less control of than my dangling limbs.

I must admit regarding Steve Irwin I have mostly shared the views of Germaine Greer though there is a time and place to express them. I can't say I thought about him often. But what strikes me about this is nothing to do with Steve Irwin, but really the way media peddles celebrity death, and the catharsis this induces amongst a general populous (who after all can continue to enjoy the full extent of their personal experience of Steve Irwin in reruns and by visiting Australia Zoo - no such options are available for his bereft family).

Why are we so drawn to the spectacle of death? Is it a rehearsal for the grief we know we will all experience one day? I don't watch television, but I can imagine exactly the kind of montages (slow motion, stirring music, Steve Irwin jumping back from a snapping crocodile, laughing in the face of death) that will have been tugging people's heartstrings.

What to does it say about our culture, that the kind of celebrity we want is one who risks their life regularly, sticking their head in the lion's (or crocodile's) mouth? There's a certain sad irony in the fact that Steve Irwin's kind of celebrity is one that is actually heightened by death, fulfilling the voyeuristic desire for danger - the fact that he has died proves just how risky his behaviour has always been and enhancing the excitement of what Steve has been witnessed doing in the past. Or is it actually a letdown? Steve's not-dying reflected us not-dying. Now that Steve is dead, we are (ultimately) dead too.

One person who's done pretty well out of all this is a certain ebay seller (I won't link because it seems vulgar but you can search youself if you're interested). She or he placed a signed poster of Steve Irwin before his death, it was sitting around the $9 mark. It's now on over $5000 and it still has a day to go. The seller does say they plan to donate a "large" proportion of the sale amount to the Steve Irwin wildlife fund. I do feel a bit sorry for that person who was willing to pay $9 for it before Steve Irwin died. They really wanted it, just cause they liked Steve Irwin, not as a site of catharsis or an investment or as a way of expressing an outpouring of grief.

I hope I haven't offended anyone with the content of this post. As I said before, there are people whose loss is profound. Long after ebay auctions are lost and won and the Herald Sun's righteous rage at Greer's comments are reclycled into Safe toilet paper, there are people who will still have to navigate a world without their husband, father, workmate, cousin, uncle, nephew in it. And as for the rest of us, perhaps some of us really do feel the loss more keenly than others. Perhaps there is a stronger sense of ownership, of kinship, with Steve Irwin in the Australian pysche than I imagined. For me, he and I inhabited very different Australias, I can't say I ever considered him an ambassador, but this word has been bandied about a lot over the past few days, so clearly there is a place for Steve Irwin in our cultural psyche...whatever that place might be.


  1. My personal opinion, he was a big personality, a positive, giving, caring, loving man. A successful person who shared his success and was true to himself. I fail to understand how people can be so disrespectful at such an emotional and raw time, so as to draw attention to themselves most likely. I'm disgusted at some of the bile that has emerged from people (mostly anonymously and gutlessly online).
    A sad time.

  2. I must say I share many of the same views as you P! Having lived as an Australian in the USA, I was frequently singled out to spout the "Cricky, Bonza, Beauty, Maate". It is the exact same love affair the world had with Paul Hogan and Crocodile Dundee, celebrating the Great Australian Yob. That aside, he did do many good things, sponsering a dedicated wildlife hospital, his wildlife warriors. He was frequently a voice for endangered species and habitat under threat. The idiolisation of him was a little too far tho, look at the men that procceded Steve in this walk of life, where is Albie Mangles? He who epitomised the short shorts and bikini clad compainion? Good ole Harry Butler, another short short clad wildlife molestor with his catch cry of "put it back where you found it, that's it's home!" and that fantastic bushmans beard!! These were the trail blazers of that wildlife/TV/ Doco genre. Where are they, will they be ever offered a State Funeral? I doubt it, and to me, Harry Butler was much more interesting to watch, narey a cringe when he opened his mouth!
    Steve lived a life he choose, he knew the dangers and made his choices. It was a tragic accident but on the whole, probably the way he wanted to go.
    My 2c worth!!

  3. The poster auction was cancelled in the end, not sure why. Someone had bid up to $11000.

    Crikey indeed.

  4. I agree with Dusty. When it comes down to it, he was a real man with a real family, and I think it's mean to bash him in death, especially so immediately afterwards, when his family will be trying to find a way to deal with his death as both a public persona and their own private dad/husband/son etc. Personally, I found him embarrassing and grating at first, and then I had some sort of epiphany where I realised he was just a totally genuine guy who probably knew that people were taking the piss and didn't care, just kept on doing what he loved with his heart in the right place. From then on I've always had a soft spot for him.

  5. Taswegian2:44 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.