Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Oh, come on...

I remember back when Christopher Reeve died, most people mourned his death and celebrated his life and the contributions that he'd made to various causes and research related to paralysis. I also remember a few critics on the fringe who took his death as an opportunity to criticize him posthumously for only caring about paralyzed people after he became one himself. Well, sometimes that's just how it works: until you've experienced something for yourself, you may not think about becoming an activist for or against it. That's common sense.

So while it came as a surprise that someone would take "The Croc Hunter" Steve Irwin's death as a similar opportunity for criticism, it shouldn't have. Enter Germaine Greer, who comes off sounding like the battiest of moonbats as she goes environmental on someone celebrated as being quite an environmentalist.

What seems to have happened on Batt Reef is that Irwin and a cameraman went off in a little dinghy to see what they could find. What they found were stingrays. You can just imagine Irwin yelling: "Just look at these beauties. Crikey! With those barbs a stingray can kill a horse." (Yes, Steve, but a stingray doesn't want to kill a horse. It eats crustaceans, for God's sake.)

Easy lesson in semantics: "can" is not the same as "want." If and when Irwin says such things, he is communicating to his audience (who most likely slept through their droning high school biology teachers but might be more interested in such a hands-on, passionate approach), he is trying to give them proper perspective. This stingray may not WANT to kill a horse, but it CAN. But maybe your English teacher was the droning type, too.

What Irwin never seemed to understand was that animals need space. The one lesson any conservationist must labour to drive home is that habitat loss is the principal cause of species loss. There was no habitat, no matter how fragile or finely balanced, that Irwin hesitated to barge into, trumpeting his wonder and amazement to the skies. There was not an animal he was not prepared to manhandle. Every creature he brandished at the camera was in distress. Every snake badgered by Irwin was at a huge disadvantage, with only a single possible reaction to its terrifying situation, which was to strike.

Habitat loss? He wasn't building condos or drilling for oil. On his show, when Irwin had the opportunity to show an animal to his audience, he'd grab it for a few minutes at most, gripping them in a way that protected him and the animal. "Manhandle" is dramatic. Recall the occasions when he's released them back into the wild and subsequently kept his own distance.

But my favorite quote of hers comes from a separate piece:

“I am sick and tired of programs that tell me that the world is full of wicked, nasty, powerful, deadly creatures. Why does Australia set itself up to be made into this hellhole?” she said.

Irwin spoke with both amazement and respect for animals: what they are capable of and how they really live. But Greer's larger point here apparently is that there's some sort of animal profiling injustice happening. I commend to her Matt Ridley's The Origins of Virtue, which details dolphin gang rape and bee power struggles among other things. No joke. Sadly, the animal kingdom is not the vegetarian democracy that Greer seems to want nature programs to depict instead.

Ironically, Irwin both lived and died sharing that--among so much more--with others.