By LAWRENCE DOWNES
Published: September 6, 2006
When I heard that Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, had been killed by a stingray in Australia on Monday, my heart went out to a friend, a 6-year-old boy named Sean who considered Mr. Irwin’s the definitive example of a life well lived.
It was a life of strenuous exertion, of mud and blood and the tireless pursuit of muscular creatures with jaws, claws and the ability to eat you up. My young friend concocts his version with crayons, Legos and pointed sticks, and acts it out in the fevered jungle of his imagination. Mr. Irwin went after actual creatures, including crocodiles, vipers and, tragically, the ray that pierced his chest.
They weren’t that different. Mr. Irwin, with the thick Aussie accent and khaki outfit that mean “explorer” in any language, tromped around subduing dangerous animals and spouting exclamations like “She’s a beauty!” and “Crikey!” He was 44 going on 6, and lived, like Sean, in a world of fun and excitement that seems a lot richer than most people’s.
It was easy to parody Mr. Irwin’s boisterous shtick, and many people did. It is easy, too, to shake our heads at the relentless peddling of nature as TV entertainment, and to lament that the only animals people ever bother thinking about are either fuzzy-cute or man-eating. It is all too obvious that Mr. Irwin was no biologist, that exploring the world on cable TV is a lot different from actually plunging into it, that wild animals really are dangerous, and blah blah blah.
But there are far worse ways to view the natural world than through the eyes of a young child, and Mr. Irwin offered a far more temperate version of the classic 6-year-old-boy approach, which is to confront a wild animal, marvel at its strength and ferocity, and then try to hit it with a rock. For Mr. Irwin, wild nature was something to wonder at, and he did so with an enthusiasm indistinguishable from love. Animals — even deadly ones — are good, poachers are evil, and, crikey, that’s pretty much it.
Call that simple-minded, call it dumb, but it resonates. Future environmentalists and conservationists have to come from somewhere, and if the energetic wonderment of the Crocodile Hunter has seeped into the brains of significant numbers of children — as it did that of Sean, who went trick-or-treating as Mr. Irwin last year, who turned 6 with a crocodile cake, who wears khaki and boots and fills notebooks with meticulous drawings of reptiles — then Mr. Irwin used his 44 years remarkably well.
mercredi, septembre 06, 2006
This New York Times appreciation left me slighty less ambivalent about the passing of Steve Irwin. Crikey!