Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Steve Irwin tackles the media monster

Like most Australians, I suspect, I have never “got” croc-hunter Steve Irwin. I only encountered the persona after Russell Coight’s similar character had been on TV. When I first came across Irwin’s TV show, I assumed that it was similar and derivative; i.e. taking the piss on bad 80s TV/screen-product, in particular, the Leyland Brothers (in Coight’s case) and Crocodile Dundee (in Irwin’s).

Of course, I’ve since found out that Irwin’s persona predates the Russell Coight satire, with the reason for its relative obscurity in Australia for several years being that Irwin first hit it big in the US, and was only years later re-exported back to Australia, fully-formed, as it were. How this came to pass would seem to have everything to do with Irwin’s American wife, Terri. One Australian journo calls her “long-suffering”. In view of the croc-hunter's "Kick me, I'm a Yankee Tool" career trajectory, Irwin's current state of being paddle-less in the upper reaches of Shit Creek, and Terri's conspicuous absence from Irwin’s public side at the moment, I would have thought “pushy bitch” and “ruthless empire builder” are better descriptors for her.

Maybe it was at Steve Irwin’s own insistence that wife Terri was left out of last night’s disastrous (and exclusive) “A Current Affair” interview (no URL). Either way, it is clear that Irwin can’t, at this time, effectively handle alone the media prince-turned-frog which Terri has supervised from its beginning.

What should Irwin do (/have done)? For starters, he should admit that teaching croc-sense to a two year old (as he has previously been filmed doing with his daughter) is categorically different from doing it to a newborn. Also, Irwin needs to understand the media subtext. While it is true that the footage of Michael Jackson’s baby-dangling episode has helped to “convict” Irwin in the Court of Media Montage and Memory, the public outrage at work is quite different. Michael Jackson was already heavily-damaged goods in the media at the time of his incident; what Irwin did is closer to journo Gina Wilkinson’s posing of Baghdad children on and around live missiles, so as to get a better pictorial story.

Steve Irwin’s baby boy was used to very similar effect – the (very low) objective danger that the child faced wasn’t the point. Rather, as in Baghdad, it is the simple and shocking cynicism of the act that has fuelled the public’s disgust.

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