This weekend the local rag ran an opinion piece by the clueless conservative Debra Saunders* entitled Crocodile Tears which really got my blood boiling.
Many Australians, however, could not stand Irwin. As ex-patriate Germaine Greer wrote in the Guardian, "The animal world has finally taken its revenge on Irwin."
(I first learned about Irwin in 2001, when the guide who took me through Australia's rain forest complained bitterly about the croc-hunting showboat. In the rain forest, the biggest crocodile we saw was about a foot long. Later, when pointing to a lizard, the guide quipped, "You can tell your friends that in Australia you saw a lizard the size of a crocodile.")
Irwin's other legacy is that he has passed onto the world's children the fanciful notion that nature is a theme park. He failed to respect the lethal side of his co-star creatures. "I don't want to seem arrogant or big-headed," Irwin once told the Washington Post's Paul Farhi, "but I have a real instinct with animals. I've grown up with them ... It's like I have an uncanny supernatural force rattling around my body. I tell you what, mate; it's magnetism."
No, mate, it's delusion. The real surprise is that a crocodile hadn't finished off Irwin sooner -- just as a bear mauled to death Grizzly People co-founder Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard in Alaska three years ago.
When human beings mistake wildlife for Walt Disney characters, they fail to appreciate wild animals for what they truly are -- wild. Read: Not susceptible to boyish charm.
It's no surprise that a shrew like Saunders had never been exposed to Irwin from his numerous Animal Planet shows but felt compelled to write about him anyway. That noxious combination of blissful ignorance combined unbending certainty has always been a hallmark of conservative culture. Saunders isn't new in this regard.
If Saunders HAD taken the time to watch Irwin in action she probably wouldn't have been able to so glibly accuse him of Disneyesque personification with the animals he was working with. As the father of three, I've watched hours of Irwin and I can say confidently there wasn't even a split second when he was dealing with dangerous animals that he didn't seem scared shitless. Whether it was venomous snakes or his beloved crocodiles his demeanor around the animals practically screamed nervous respect. There was no question by watching Irwin that these animals were wild and they were dangerous. That was part of the actual message he was trying to get across.
Of course the other part of the message, and this is the part that Saunders is too obtuse to understand, is that Irwin was the antithesis to the Disney personification of animals she accuses him of. The dangerous animals that Irwin dealt with have been popularized as evil by our cartoon culture. From cobras to crocs they are generally the villains in children's stories and Disney movies. By interacting with these wild animals he was able to teach our kids that, yes they were unpredictable and sometimes deadly, but they weren't in any way evil and could even be beautiful on occasions. He was confronting our prejudices about wild animals head-on.
For this reason and this reason alone I'd say he's a hero. No "pseudo" about it.
* The use of the word "clueless" with the name Debra Saunders, not to mention the descriptor "conservative," is redundant. I apologize.