Tuesday, September 05, 2006

I’m trying to post my thoughts on Steve Irwin to the Animal Planet forum, but unsurprisingly, it’s very busy, so the page won’t load. So I’m going to post it here, instead.

When I was a kid, I loved shows about animals. Whether it was reruns of Disney’s True Life Adventures on The Wonderful World of Disney, or the original Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, hosted by Marlin Perkins (probably also reruns), I watched them with my family. But somehow, at some point, I drifted away.

Then, one day, I came back. Part of it may be living with Penelope, but a large part of it came from watching Steve Irwin’s shows on Animal Planet. Though it was parodied and mocked by the hip and cynical, I found Irwin’s passion and enthusiasm very infectious. I couldn’t help getting as excited as he was about whatever he happened to be talking about. His wife Terri’s presence helped a lot. Her calm, down-to-earth sensibility provided the perfect contrast to his over-the-top performance, grounding it in reality. I really felt like she would call him on anything that was fake or too much. So as over the top as he could seem, I really felt like he was genuine.

(The show about them running their zoo--Croc Hunter Diaries?—also provided another, more down-to-earth perspective on Irwin, showing how he interacted with his staff and animals on a daily basis. It proved that while he was larger than life when hosting his shows, the heart behind it all was true.)

And I’m not going to ignore the blip on his career when he brought his baby into the crocodile enclosure at his zoo. But while it may not have been a smart thing to do, ultimately, no harm was done. And there are too many people who deserve to be pilloried for ongoing errors they make that cost people’s lives every day.

Even the Crocodile Hunter movie won me over, because it could so easily have been screwed up. I had expected Steve and Terri to be recruited by the CIA or something stupid like that. Fortunately, Irwin was smarter than that, and delivered a movie that was just a big-screen episode of his TV shows, only with an entirely separate story going on in the background that he and Terri were completely oblivious to. The plot, about spies trying to recover a stolen satellite swallowed by a crocodile, isn’t going to win any Oscars, but if there was an Academy Award for charm and charisma…

And now he’s gone.

But he brought wildlife education and conservation back into the public eye, and arguably made Animal Planet much more successful, also helping that cause. As a people, we can’t even seem to get worked up over the wrongs we do to each other. Animals don’t even have a voice that most people are wiling to understand. Thank goodness there are people like Steve and Terri Irwin who are willing to speak for them.

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