Like everyone else, I’ve been noting with some interest all of the coverage and commentary on the recent death of Steve Irwin, the “Crocodile Hunter”. Today I actually feel like I have something to say on the whole thing.
My feelings on the guy himself (as an “entertainment phenomenon”) were somewhat mixed. I enjoyed watching him at first, but like anyone with a particularly strong and unchanging “shtick” (I’m thinking of Mr. Bam himself, Emeril, here) the whole thing feels old after a while, and so I stopped watching. I know a lot of people felt he took unnecessary and foolish risks for the purposes of entertainment and fame; I also know others felt he did it for a purpose–to show people what can happen when you mess with wild animals, and to educate people as to how wild the wild world really can be. I don’t really have an opinion I care to share on that part of things… I’m no wildlife expert, and don’t feel it’s my place to judge.
This morning I ended up paging through a FARK photoshop thread on the theme of come up with a suitable memorial for Steve Irwin. For me, the entries all fell into one of three categories: touching and/or respectful; ironic, humorous, and possibly in borderline poor taste; downright offensive and rude.
The first two categories don’t bother me. I think that humor can be a form of showing one’s respect, and I also believe we need to be able to poke fun at the things we care about; this is one way we keep ourselves from blindly accepting every pronouncement from a source that we respect. It keeps our critical thinking skills active.
Nor do I think that the moment someone dies we suddenly have to make them out to be perfect, the way some people do–I’d rather remember the dead as humans, with all their attendant strengths and flaws. Also I don’t think we have to suddenly check our sense of irony at the door the moment tragedy rears its head.
However, no matter my feelings on someone, I do think it’s appropriate to show at least a little respect when something like this happens–if not for them, then for their still-living family and friends. Well-reasoned discussion of Irwin’s merits and flaws are one thing, but I do wish folks wouldn’t be openly hostile and cruel. When I see that, I think of what will happen in a few years when his children are old enough to be surfing the web, and they come across some of these comments. Or what happens when his wife stumbles across them.
Would I try to tell folks they can’t say what they think? No, of course not. Nor would I advocate, for example, deleting the offensive photoshop thread entries. And of course, the hard part is that everyone has a different idea of what’s offensive; there are plenty of people who would lump together those second and third categories, after all, and assert that anything humorous is automatically disrespectful and cruel. It’s a pipe dream, of course, but it would just be nice if more folks would stop to think about whether they really need to say their hurtful things in a place where the folks who knew and cared about Irwin might read them someday.