Monday, September 04, 2006

The Croc Hunter's Last Takedown

No, I'm not happy about it, nor do I in any way feel vindicated, after saying in a very long ago post:

But one of these days, say around 40, when the reflexes have slowed, old Steve is going to find not his hand but his head locked in the croc's jaws, that is if he doesn't find a Taipan's fangs in his forearm first... In memoriam, the producers can show endless reruns of the incident, narrated by his wife, as Steve falls to the mortal danger he courted . The show's inveterate fans will be horrified and grief-stricken, but they will watch. I'm right, aren't I? You know I am. If such a sad event should occur, I will be shocked and disbelieving. After all, I will have seen him on TV only the night before. But it will pass quickly. No need to cancel the show, however; just re-name it "The Crocodile Huntress" and let Stephanie take over.

People say things like that when they don't think there's really much chance it could happen, or when they're just mean, which I sometimes am. ("Stephanie" is a not exactly respectful reference to his wife, Terri.) I went after him again when he held a burial service for a dead crocodile, and once more when he took his one month old son into a croc enclosure, concluding that

He and his wife take up so much self-absorbed, mutually sycophantic time on camera that, until this incident, I didn't even know they had children. Now that I do, I can't root for the croc anymore. Somebody's got to raise those kids.

Well, those posts were then, and this is now, and I can only echo that last sentiment: two little kids will have to grow up without their father. Whatever kind of fool he may sometimes have been, he seemed a decent fellow and was probably a decent father off-camera. He just wasn't my cup of tea. It seems that there ought to come a point in life when you start putting things in their proper order, when you recognize that some things are more important than others, and that nothing should have been more important than being around for those kids. Maybe it was time to dial back the danger a little bit. It's not as though - after handling green mambas, wrestling crocodiles, and swimming with sea snakes - anyone would have called him "chicken." Well, too late now.

It was neither a croc nor a taipan that got him. He was stabbed through the heart by a stingray. And it seems to have been caught on camera. Let's pray they don't show it.

In an attempt to impart meaning to the incident, a lot of news articles are making the stupidly inconsequential point that "he died doing what he loved," as though to imply that we should all be so lucky. That means a lot of people should die having sex, others during the ecstasy of killing other people, others while counting their money, and so on. But the only point worth making is that Steve doesn't get to do what he loved anymore, and that he should have loved something else so much more than this. God bless him anyway. RIP. He was 44.

Tonight's Animal Planet line-up has been re-done in Irwin's honor: a "Crocodile Hunter" Marathon. I won't think poorly of anyone for watching it. Might even catch a few episodes myself.


TS said...

It's surely the supreme irony that he died while doing the least dangerous thing he could do involving his job - hugging a stingray. In January I swam with stingrays while a guide did what Irwin did - held a stingray - in order for Steph & I to get a photo.

There's a bit of catch-22 to the thing. We would never have heard of Irwin if he didn't take risks. And yet he wouldn't have died if he didn't take risks. Isn't that Greek tragedy, where your greatest strength becomes your greatest weakness? But in fairness, does hugging a stingray really qualify as a risk?

Unlike with Michael Jackson, who dangled his child over a ledge, I couldn't quite disparage Irwin for putting his kid at risk. I figured he KNOWS the risk and I don't. And whereas if Irwin had been killed by a croc there could be an element of "I told ya so" I'm not sure with a stingray, a fluke accident, qualifies as carelessness.

William Luse said...

Obviously, hugging any animal possessed of a deadly weapon for self-defense qualifies as a risk. He's dead, isn't he? And this was the least dangerous thing he could do?

I couldn't quite disparage Irwin for putting his kid at risk. I figured he KNOWS the risk and I don't. Perhaps in the same way he knew the risks of swimming with rays? And you admit he put him at risk. By what right? I would like to know. He certainly knew the risks better than you, but nobody knows them all. And in the case of his own baby, it was possible to eliminate all risk by not taking him in there.

He was a vital and likeable fellow (for some), but I don't see the point in making excuses for a grown man whose sense of his own immortality seems to have gotten stuck in adolescence.

TS said...

I'm not defending him other than saying I had assumed he was better equipped to judge risk than me given that it's his occupation. (Given his death, this is now debatable.) I think it's probable that there's a greater risk to drive an automobile with a child in it than to handle a stingray. The latter is, admittedly, more necessary than the former. And that of course is huge.

Part of the reason I'm skeptical about modern risk assessment with respect to children is that it has changed so radically in thirty years, in the direction of protection. Which is a good thing, but at some point it has to go too far.

TS said...

I meant of course that the former (driving a car) is more necessary than the latter (handling a ray).

Elena said...

Thanks for writing your thoughts Mr. Luse. I felt bad about mr. Irwins' death all day yesterday. I heard on the news that they think this ray became spooked when it found itself between the camera person and Mr. Irwin and so it lashed out to escape. I also heard that in the past 100 years in Australia there have only been three deaths from stingrays, Mr. Irwin being the third. How terribly sad for his wife and kids. I will miss him.

Iosue Andreas said...

To be honest, I had never heard of this gentleman before his tragic death. I caught a replay of a 2004 Larry King interview with him last night. He got pretty worked up about sealing, as I did in elementary school.

Then, he turned to whaling. Readers of my blog will know that I, living in South Korea, enjoy whale meat. He described the horror of the whale hunt. I, for one, have fewer qualms about eated hunted meat than factory farmed meat.

Mr. Irwin and I may have disageed about whales, but I pray for the repose of his soul.

Anonymous said...

It will be interesting to see whether tours to Stingray City increase or decrease. Swimming with stingrays, as I understand it, is about as dangerous as the typical petting zoo: nonzero but low enough that tens of thousands of children do it every year.

Holding an infant next to an unrestrained crocodile is another matter though: an awful thing to do even if the risk was effectively zero, precisely because of the message it sends.

Eternal rest, Steve.

William Luse said...

The stingrays with which most children swim (in a Sea World type environment) have had the barbs removed. At stingray city, the rays are accustomed to getting food from the snorkelers. Swimming with them is not the same as hugging them or hovering right above. I've been watching other wildlife vips, like Corwin and Jim Fowler, on the various talk shows falling all over themselves to make clear what a freak accident this was, and yet none would admit to interacting with animals in quite the way that Irwin did. I'm wondering if he had created a persona in which his presence had demanded such interaction. If he filmed the ray from 10 feet away (which would satisfy me) people might ask, "What's he doing there? Anyone can do that. We expect Steve to interact." He may have been very conscious of having to fulfill these expectations. Maybe.

Where the hell have you been?

Anonymous said...

Swimming with them is not the same as hugging them or hovering right above.

Well, I have personal photographs of, um, tourists of varying ages holding them - the wild ones with barbs - at Stingray city. (I'm not being intentionally oblique, it is just that I didn't go myself that day.) More than hovering for sure; possibly less than hugging, but not much less. I understand that this goes on there every day, and it looked to me as though one in every five visitors or so is a child. That is exactly why I wonder what effect this will have on the place.

Where the hell have you been?

I was in Alaska for a bit, and I've been, well, tied up with various things for the last few weeks. It may or may not settle down, but my computer has been getting lonely, the poor thing.

Anonymous said...

Steve was a great man, a true legend, a devoted husband and a great great animal lover.
He did what he loved and what he wanted.
There is not another Steve. Steve is one in a million. God gave him to us.
Let's pray for the rest of his soul. He will never be forgotten.