Free Tibet, and while you’re at it, free Bindi too

What on earth was the Dalai Lama doing at Australia Zoo today? Okay, that was a rhetorical question, I know the answer. He was talking about kindness to animals and the environment. At… the Crocoseum. But what he was also doing was throwing another log on the blaze that is the media spotlight on Bindi Irwin, the Crocodile Heiress. She had to pose for pics with the big guy and sit patiently during what was in all probability a lengthy and complex lecture on Buddhist philosophy. At which point I started wondering whether His Holiness should have added Bindi to his “things to be kind to” list as well.

There’s been endless politicking over His Holiness will meet with on the course of his travels around Australia, but no matter how long the list is, or how many Prime Ministers find that their diary has spectacularly cleared right after their political opponent meets with the Dalai Lama, surely he could have found more meaningful company than little Bindi. And surely he, with his centuries-old wisdom, would have thought better of giving yet another fillip to the Irwins’ attempts to keep the juggernaut alive through the medium of an 8-year-old girl? For all the talk of how unique Steve was – and he was a remarkable entertainer – they sure are doing their darnedest to prove he isn’t irreplaceable.
It’s necessary, I guess, when you have a massive business to promote and your greatest asset is no longer with you. But I’m not alone in finding the attempts at continuity a little freaky – as we saw in the piece on Bindi’s new series Jungle Girl in Stay In Touch earlier this week.
I found wandering around the Australia Zoo website a bit disconcerting as well – in particular the way they write Bindi’s name as though it were a lipstick logo. It’s the same on her DVD, on the podium from which she launched her show, and most disconcertingly, on the page advertising her big ninth birthday bash. Look, there she is with the Veronicas! Kids get in for free accompanied by adults. But what’s strangest is the awful photo of her with extended arms. Forget appearing in a TV show that seamlessly integrates your late father as if he were still alive – this photo is truly freaky.
And is it just me, or is their big Father’s Day event, advertised with a photo of Steve and the kids, just too tragic for words?
I particularly liked the comment that SIT reproduced from the New York Times, that Bindi is “affecting childhood rather than experiencing it”. And I’ve had that bizarre sensation whenever I’ve seen her appear in public – at the Logies and at Steve’s funeral. It’s like she’s too slick, too perfectly coached. Check out the interview on Letterman. Bindi seems like she’s rehearsed most of her responses, right down to the hand gestures. And note the logo on her t-shirt, of course. Branding’s ever so important when you’re trying to launch a product.
So I found it a little incongruous to see the highly-respected Dalai Lama entering the Irwin maelstrom of slick publicity. But then I realised that he’s not that different, really. Sure, a life spent studying Buddhism is a little different from learning how to jump on crocodiles. But both the Dalai Lama and the Irwins support worthy causes, are larger than life,and they have turned their own images into powerful publicity machines to try and reach the mainstream.
Also, the Dalai Lama didn’t get much of a choice about whether he wanted to spend his life being the reincarnated spiritual leader of Tibet, and one imagines Bindi hasn’t exactly had a chance to work out whether she wants a normal life either.
Nor is His Holiness averse to tacky celebrity crossovers, either. I could scarcely believe it, but the Dalai’s free concert in the Botanic Gardens is being MCed by Andrew G. I can only hope that G shaves his head for the occasion.
The Tibet lobby have given up on seeking independence from the PRC. What they seek now is autonomy – the chance to have control over much of their own destinies. It’s a struggle Bindi might find herself having in the years to come as well. No-one can fault their efforts at conserving wildlife (well, no-one except Germaine Greer, anyway.) I only hope Bindi doesn’t live to resent this attempt at conserving her family’s media profile as well.
Photo: AP

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