Crikey!An obituary piece for Steve Irwin, originally written for The Friday Thing.
"Why did it have to be Steve Irwin? Why couldn't it be someone older like Sean Connery?" - Daniel, 11, Sydney Morning Herald.
'Food: Steve. Fucking. Irwin.' - Wikipedia 'Stingray' page, for about ten minutes.
Yes, why couldn't it have been Sean Connery? Then, perhaps, we might have been saved Australia's Diana Moment as, sadly, the living embodiment of 'Fair Dinkum' Australia bought the farm to worldwide tearing of hair and rending of clothing. Connery's had a magnificent innings, and final words of 'Shweet Jesush! A Shtingray!' as the killer fish buried itself up his kilt would have been fitting indeed for a man of his stature.
Steve Irwin died, according to Australian PM John Howard, 'in quintessentially Australian circumstances'. That being, presumably, at the hands, claws, teeth or tentacles or any one of the dozens, nay hundreds, of clawed, tentacled or spiky creatures that hide down your toilet, in your airing cupboard, or off idyllic beaches, waiting the chance to kill the unwary Ozzie utterly to death.
In his 'Down Under' book, Bill Bryson remarks on the sheer terrifying nature of Australian fauna, and soils his trousers in the knowledge that gruesome, organ-melting death lies around every corner. Ironic, then, that the nation's most outspoken, most confident naturalist is killed by one of its least deadly creatures. The whole episode entirely ruined our daily 'Is Thatcher dead yet?' routine with wall-to-wall coverage of the wrong person dying.
Irwin made a career of jumping on any number of these creatures, wrestling them to the ground and tying them up with their own string, whilst shouting 'Strewth!', 'Crikey'!' and possibly 'Squally pocker dum!' in the tradition Oz stylee. Once the supply of scary, bitey creatures in the Antipodes ran dry, Irwin toured the world, jumping on other people's man-eaters, making for damn fine television, spreading his in-yer-face conservation.
While he cared passionately about endangered wildlife, and raged against man's pointless extermination of species after species, he was criticised for his brash style, his needless risk-taking, and that whole not-feeding-his-nipper-to-the-crocs business. Michael Jackson, the great wimp, only dangled his offspring off a balcony, and you never saw David Attenborough acting like that up a mountain with a band of gorillas.
Blogger Paul Rose asks, comparing Irwin with just about every other TV naturalist in the world: 'Did Attenborough start slapping them on the top of the head, like Benny Hill used to do to that little bald man? Did he let balloons off to fly around their heads? Or try and touch their private parts with an ice lolly? No. He did not. Not on camera anyway.' We firmly believe that if you ever needed an owl punched, Irwin would do it at an hour's notice.
Timothy Treadwell - subject of the recent Grizzly Man film, was another who took illogical risks in the pursuit of conservation and animal film-making. Treadwell believed he could build close relationships with brown bears in the wild, and made TV documentaries of his experiences in Alaska living amongst these notoriously deadly creatures. What could possibly go wrong? Apart from getting killed to death and eaten by the subject of your film, of course. Which is precisely what happened to Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Hugenard. But then, risk-taking for public entertainment is nothing new, and there is a long-history culminating in John Gummer feeding burgers to his children. We're still disgusted after all these years.
Irwin's on-camera recklessness was certainly not staged. He took repeated risks in the name of conservation first, TV pictures second. The fact that he took these risks at all didn't play well with others in the industry. Most outspoken was survival expert Ray Mears: 'He took a lot of risks and television encouraged him to do that. Television has become very gladiatorial and it's not healthy.'
And Mears is right. While Attenborough's big budget Planet Earth plays prime-time Sunday night with a lovely Sigur Ros soundtrack, Irwin's varied, shouty and colourful output finds itself striped across schedules, where endless action, a shouty showboating Steve and loud music pull in an entirely different audience altogether. Undemanding stuff, upsetting the purists by having some much damn fun.
Fun it may be, but Germaine Greer, writing in The Guardian this week pointed out that while Irwin successfully portrayed himself as a larrikin - an Australian who mocks authority - as a real life Crocodile Dundee and lion tamer rolled into one, he showed little respect for clearly distressed wildlife which would have come quietly without an enormous Australian jumping on their back, shouting 'Crikey' in a very loud voice. Irwin's sainthood, says Greer, was guaranteed through his connections to PM John Howard, who he dubbed, with no irony whatsoever 'the greatest leader the world has ever seen'.
Such is the esteem in which Irwin was held in Australia the offer of a state funeral for the man himself over-eggs global public woe to Diana-esque levels. It took a whole four days for the story to fall off CNN's front page - they must have had tons of bad news to bury.
The state funeral declined, they could just feed his corpse to the crocs. It's what he would have wanted, and in fact, he's on record as saying so. And that's what makes Attenborough such a fucking lightweight.
As those of us at the 'You sick bastard' end of the internet have pointed out, Irwin's is the kind of death we could all see coming a mile off. But then, we're the kind of people who watch 'You've Been Framed' and think it top-hole entertainment, whilst wondering if there's a too-strong-for-TV version. The voyeuristic nature of television means that video of poor Steve's end will probably find airtime sooner or later, but would anyone want to watch it, though? We've been crawling YouTube all week, just in case. All we got was a gut-churning 'Man Eats Mouse'. Take that, you Irwin-killing animal bastards.