The reports on the horribly tragic death of Steve Irwin, "The Crocodile Hunter", started coming in, and I paused. I can't say that I never missed an episode, but every so often I would watch a minute or two of his show and smile. Mr. Irwin obviously had great passion for his work, and his enthusiasm and humor were always welcome. I landed on one of the cable networks this morning half way through a prepared report. The report ended and the anchor introduced a guest. And the first question started along the lines of (yes, I'm paraphrasing) "Steve Irwin was known to push the envelope..."
Interesting. Admittedly, I might be reading a bit too much into it, but that could certainly be interpreted as "Steve Irwin kind of brought it on himself, don't you think?"
What a lovely way to discuss a tragic accident. This is the age of celebrity worship. We have built up our celebrities to the status of deities. And in the process, we have reduced our celebrities to mere cardboard cutouts. Celebrities are our puppets, here to provide us entertainment, and then to laugh at with Romanesque glee when they meet human failings like OUI's, affairs and unfortunate off-the-record remarks. Thus our reporter probably thought little of saying, for all intents and purposes, "Steve Irwin kind of brought it on himself, don't you think?"
I just wonder if the anchor's lead-in would have been a little different if she were discussing the death of a "real" person. Imagine this:
"Joe Graboski, operator of a car crusher in Schaumburg, Ill, was killed today when he tripped and fell into the crusher. We're speaking with Mr. Graboski's best friend, Ace Stivic. Now Mr. Stivic, your friend Joe was known to push the envelope working that car crusher…"
"We have with us live Eleanor Tobin of Gloucester, MA, mother of Richie Tobin, who was swept off the deck of his fishing boat this morning. Now Mrs. Tobin, your son was known to push the envelope working the open Atlantic…"
Sounds a bit less appropriate that way, no?
Yes Steve Irwin was a celebrity. But he was also a working man with a wife and children. His job carried with it certain dangers, but so do the jobs of millions of "real" people. (And the fact that his death resulted from a freak accidental encounter with a stingray should give those that speak of "pushing the envelope" a bit more pause.) Those risks were obviously a consideration for Mr. Irwin, but not enough to prevent him from doing the job he loved. We all take risks daily, just getting out of bed. Walking a busy street carries risk. Driving toxic chemicals carries risk. Eating at Arby's carries risk. But we do these things, because we live. Because we need to make a living. Because we sometimes are fortunate enough to make a living by doing things we love to do.
I see little envelope pushing in Steve Irwin's job. He knew what he was doing, and he did it very well. No, I see an ordinary life ended in a terrible accident. And that's a tragedy that probably deserves a bit of a different lead-in.