As you all know by now, Steve Irwin died yesterday off the coast of Australia while diving with stingrays. I think I first heard it on NPR and by the time I got to my computer, it was all over the web. CNN.com had it as their lead story for at least half the day, as fif MSNBC and Fox. Even ESPN.com (?!) had it on their main page and many of the local / national news stations didn’t just save the news for the backend of their broadcasts like they do with other celebrity deaths, but instead ran it earlier in the broadcast.
And while it’s sad news, I’m surprised it’s such big news.
I always thought people saw him more as a gimmick than anything else. A source of mild entertainment as they watched from the comfort of their home as he wrestled a croc or stabbed at a snake. As we saw him more on TV, we got used to seeing him around, but there really wasn’t anything beyond that. He simply was that crazy guy from Australia that we all liked listening to partially because of his cool accent and partially because he did things nobody else would do. His TV shows here in the states did moderately well in terms of ratings and his movie didn’t really set any records in terms of earnings. What I’m trying to say here is that while a celebrity, he was a D-list celebrity at best and somebody who you didn’t notice when you went a few months without seeing him on TV.
And yet I can remember when other, arguably “bigger” celebrities died recently and their deaths didn’t get near as much attention as Irwin’s has. I’m not saying it’s not sad he died, but I’m just left wondering how much of these condolences are real and how much are from the “ex-high school” crowd.
I guess I should explain the “ex-high school” crowd. One of my major pet peeves is when people display false emotion. I don’t care what emotion it is, I don’t care what the setting is, if the emotions you’re displaying aren’t real and are simply what you think they should be, then you’ve joined the crowd. In fact, there’s no group worse at this false emotion than all the people you used to go to high school with, which is where the name comes from. You know exactly who I’m talking about – say you’re in a bar and you spot somebody across the room who you went to high school with. As soon as they see you, they come running up and pretend y’all were best friends. They as how you’ve been and want to hear your whole life story just as long as you can fit it into 10 seconds. Then they cut you off, brag about their latest job or kid, and then make some over the top gesture about how you two need to get together and “catch” up sometime.
No, we don’t. We didn’t talk in high school. We don’t talk now. There’s a reason I didn’t hang out with you before and I bet it has something to do with your crappy personality that you so eloquently just put on display for everyone within earshot. Don’t patronize me with this false sense of past brotherhood, as if we were close only to have drifted apart over the years. That’s not how it was, trust me, I’m a history major. Sure, come on over and chat if you want, but don’t insult my memory or my intelligence.
Some people do this far too often in their lives and it only gets worse when they talk to you about somebody who isn’t around or who might even be dead. They conjure these memories out of thin air, lamenting over what they lost and how wonderful that person was. They pretend the person was a saint and that they could do nothing wrong and I just don’t understand how or why people do it. Speaking nothing but good and completely false things about a person after they’ve died helps not their memory or legacy, but instead tarnishes and insults it. Speak the truth, no matter how little the good was.
When I die, I want people to remember and speak of me as for who I really was; warts, faults, and everything else. Don’t make me out to be my generation’s Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. I simply want to be remembered and credited with whatever I managed to accomplish, no matter how little or great. And I think other people deserve just the same treatment.
And thus, I hope that the “ex-high school” crowd didn’t highjack the Steve Irwin memorial today. That said, however, if all the condolences that people expressed were completely real and heartfelt, then so be it. You earned them, mate.