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.