Friday, June 29, 2001
Hunting up the truth
Aussies disdain Steve Irwin while Americans can't get enough of the crocodile hunter
While travelling abroad recently, I met an amiable Australian couple who shared a few laughs over cultural stereotypes and the Aussie swagger perpetuated by Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin.
"Everybody in Australia hates Steve Irwin," said the husband. "And he's not even on TV in Australia. ... Some people say he's a fake, too."
Crickey, what a shocker!
I can understand Aussies disliking Paul Hogan for making detestable films and even worse commercials, but from the outside it looked as if Irwin, known worldwide as the Crocodile Hunter on the hit Animal Planet show of the same name, was harmless to everyone - especially his own countrymen.
The bottom line from my new Australian mates: Irwin does nothing but make a fool out of himself.
So why do people in America (and 135 other countries where the show is aired) find Irwin so irresistible?
It's the unpredictability of the animals combined with Irwin's over-the-top enthusiasm and overuse of Aussie idioms while he's wrestling an aggravated 12-foot beast to the ground. Three weeks ago, Irwin transformed "Larry King Live" into an improvised laugh-fest - a rare feat for the CNN program.
Adults and children alike love Irwin's infantile behavior. A close friend of mine is a trained reptile keeper at a major zoo on the East Coast and he can't get enough.
Most impressive of all: Irwin has been immortalized in the form of an action figure.
So why are some Australians so offended by Irwin, and, even more pressing, why doesn't the show air on Aussie TV?
Animal Planet spokesperson Matt Katzive assured me that Irwin is featured occasionally in specials on Australia's Channel 9. As to why some Australians don't dig Irwin, Katzive could only speculate. .
"I've heard this before, but I can't say one way or the other," Katzive said. "It could be that he's become so representative of the country and perhaps some people don't agree with the image he presents."
Randy Wayne Wright has an alternate theory. Wright, an American novelist and a contributing editor to Outside magazine, traveled Down Under to capture the essence of the Croc Hunter for the magazine in 1997.
Fact or fiction?
But when he tried to get the story, Wright was continually ditched and stood-up by Irwin's camera crews. Wright called up a few Australian friends, who scoffed at his assignment.
"I then realized that this guy who I thought was very funny and endearing on TV is not what he represented himself to be," White said in a phone interview.
White interviewed multiple critics who claimed that the show uses drugged crocs for the shoots. Other respected biologists spoke highly of Irwin, calling him a "self-taught expert." After weighing the testimonies, White called the show a fake.
"Animal Planet had to know at the time that the show was a fake, and they never reacted to that in an ethical way," he said. "I haven't watched the show in years, so it may be credible now."
Animal Planet's reaction: claptrap.
"Sometimes he's in the middle of the Nile," said Animal Planet's Katzive. "Do you think that's something that could be staged?"
Katzive said Irwin's critics have never visited a shoot, and everything viewers see on the screen realistically representsIrwin's adventures.
, Contact pop culture/media critic Ricardo Baca at 886-3688 or [email protected]