Archive for the ‘TV’ category

The Curse of Steve Irwin

7 June, 2007

What is going on with nature documentaries? Gone are the days when watching a wildlife programme was a relaxing, educational experience, as softly-spoken professionals like David Attenborough discreetly ingratiated themselves with families of gorillas – if Attenborough made that same documentary today, the producers would no doubt tell him to wear a baseball cap and run headlong into the gorillas’ home turf yelling “FUCK ME!!! LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THESE BASTARDS!!!”

It’s all Steve Irwin’s fault, a man so Australian he made Shane Warne look like Noel Coward. Thanks to Irwin’s gurning, yelling and bull-in-a-china-shop approach to nature, the default setting for nature documentaries is now to be as loud and confrontational as possible.

Worse, it seems documentary producers are only interested in an animal if it is capable of killing all those involved in the making of the film. Bad news for snakes, crocodiles and big cats, who, if National Geographic Channel is anything to go by, now spend much of their time being chased around Africa by whooping, hooting morons; good news for cuddly, harmless species like the sloth or the gerbil, deemed of no interest to the viewer.

This rant was inspired by a NG documentary I saw earlier this week, about poisonous snakes. It ticked all the boxes required by the modern nature documentary. Yelling, inarticulate presenter to cater for modern attention spans? Check. Patronising scorecard for each snake? (POISON FACTOR! KILLING POWER! SCALINESS QUOTIENT!) Check. Complete lack of educational value? Check.

At one point in the film the presenter, a redneck Texan, and a snake ‘expert’ (who seemed to have learned his trade watching Ice Cube in Anaconda), had cornered a black mamba up a tree, said reptile registering his displeasure by hissing at them in time-honoured fashion. “Oh wow, look at him, he’s an aggressive one!” yelled the presenter. Of course he’s fucking aggressive you witless Yank twat – one minute he’s having a nice kip up a tree, the next minute two whooping retards appear and start waving a stick at him! Jeez.

It’s easy to laugh of course but this trend for nature films, and documentaries in general, to aim for the lowest common denominator, is very sad. In the old days, documentaries were presented and narrated by eccentric academics skilled in the fine art of being both accessible and intelligent at the same time. Not any more. And there is now a generation of viewers growing up thinking that the way to approach a dangerous animal is not as quietly as possible, but by running at it yelling like Geronimo.

One doesn’t like to speak ill of the dead and I’m sure Steve Irwin was a great bloke, fair dinkum etc, but his influence on nature broadcasting has been most pernicious. Crikey!

Irwin delivering the 2001 Reith lecture on broadcasting