Last week, “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin was killed instantly when a giant stingray speared him through the heart. You could not fabricate a more sensationalist headline for the untimely death of an adventurer. But it really happened. I was saddened by the news. I liked the guy. But I’m ashamed to admit that almost immediately after thinking of the family he left behind, the very next thought that entered my head was… Did they get it on film?
I’m ashamed to admit that. What’s wrong with me? In my defense, I plead that I’ve been brainwashed.
“Isn’t she a beauty?” “Isn’t she gorgeous?
Personally, I never found those crocodiles gorgeous or beautiful except when they’re sewn together as boots and belts but Steve Irwin sure-as-shit did. And I admired that he loved all creatures, even really ugly ones.
Steve Irwin had an infectious, child-like enthusiasm for life. You also really got a sense that beneath his over-the-top TV delivery, the guy really loved these knobby, pre-historic creatures. In an age of polarized personalities – the extreme cynicism on one hand and the lemming-like patriotism and religious fervor on the other– Steve Irwin made me feel good about being alive. It was nice to see a guy with a pageboy haircut and a modified Boy Scout uniform run around and just be so damn positive about life. I often thought that I would like to join his ranks and wrestle crocs. It just seemed that he was living more than the rest of us.
But they were filming, right? And someone must have the footage.
I can’t help it. Why? First of all, we Americans film everything. I mean, everything. In fact, nothing seems real anymore unless it is captured on film. And the stuff that really turns us on is the horrible shit that you shouldn’t want to watch. We flip through cable channels and watch hours of personal tragedies, wedding disasters, Machiavellian competitions, graphic medical procedures. In fact, I feel confident that with sterile instruments, a shot of Jack Daniels and a good nurse, I could perform several routine surgeries myself. We have seen things that no other generation has. There is very little mystery left. We are intimately familiar with tragedy, pain and death – albeit our experience is limited to digital images… with surround sound.
What happens to a culture exposed to too much tragedy… in hi-def surround sound? We have become a people obsessed with dread. We dread everything – debilitating disease, bombings, terrorists, injury, divorce. We not only dread it, we expect it. Terror alerts, natural disasters. We all walk around shell-shocked, just waiting for bad shit happen.
My nephew was showing me his new bike this summer and the first thing I could say was, “Shouldn’t you have your helmet on?” He frowned a little because his Uncle Eric is supposed to be a little reckless. I deflated his pride. I felt like shit. I should have complimented the bike, first. But I love him and I’m conditioned to expect the worst. Aren’t we all? We send our kids into the streets in full body armor. I never wore a helmet. I know I should have but I endured countless flips over the handle bars, balls racked on the crossbar, skinned elbows and knees.
Will the footage of Steve Irwin and the stingray leak onto the internet?
I think if Jesus Christ had been born in this era, believers would insist on documenting every moment of His life. Shaky-cam, gritty, underexposed video of the infant Jesus in the manger. Multi-media coverage of all of His miracles (with expert commentary and slo-mo analysis). And the Stations of the Cross would get a hyper-realism, Scorsese treatment. Or worshipers would be praying in front of a Zapruder film loop of the Crucifixion. And at the end of the day, what footage would be the most popular? Would we want to see the miracles or the Crucifixion? Be honest.
It’s all too much. We don’t live anymore we just watch other people live. And die. And get hurt. And take risks. The sensual rush of experience is gone.
Someone will make money off that Irwin footage. That’s unethical, but inevitable…
I picture Steve Irwin getting up in the morning like a child does – with wonder, amazement and expectation of new experiences and fun. Whatever happened to fun? If you talk about having “fun” these days, everyone thinks you’re a pussy. I like to think that Steve Irwin wore his khaki clothes to bed and leaped out of it in the morning and yelled, “Crikey! Isn’t she a beauty!” Steve Irwin’s legacy is simple – childlike celebration of the mystery and joy of just living. Something that we have sadly lost. And he filmed it all so that we don’t have to leave a chair and can watch a second-generation, sensually stripped, digital reproduction of his experiences.
This is where I should quote some pithy aphorism like, “Live each day as if it were your last.” But I’m too cool for that feel-good, Hallmark card, bumper sticker philosophy. Or that moronic common sense packaged in self-help books. Let’s just say, “Hey, get off your ass and go out and live.” Experience is richer than those that flicker on your computer screen or sprawl across a 58 inch plasma screen.
Click here to view footage of Steve Irwin’s death: http://www.irwinstingray.com
No. I won’t.