Lodged subconsciously in the minds of most people is the knowledge of how to copycat another person’s voice. It is called the art of impersonation, and I have always admired those who could do it – greats like Phil Hartman, Darrell Hammond and Frank Caliendo. The knack for impersonation has eluded me all my life, but there are three I could always pull off with reasonable success – Eric Cartman, Mr. Narrator and Steve Irwin – alias, the Crocodile Hunter.

One of those impressions just became a lot less fun to do. Mr. Irwin was a role model, and the news of his tragic death last week hurt me deeply.

It might seem silly to be upset because let’s face it – like the stripper hired to work a Duke University party, or members of the Iraqi police, being “The Crocodile Hunter” nearly guarantees a painful end. However, the show made a significantly visible impact on society. Everyone imitated the great Outback outdoorsman. “Crocodile Hunter” references appeared on comedy shows everywhere, and spawned a slew of imitators. Everybody seemed to want to be Steve Irwin.

That also gives me cause to worry; while Irwin used his personality to inspire others to be more courageous and to be considerate of nature, the opposite can be done as well. We are not just subject to the influence of the good traits of others’ mindsets – we can just as easily pick up on others’ prejudices, fears, and hatreds.

Arriving at college means immersing yourself in other peoples’ ways of life, lives that can be very foreign and strange. We are presented with the viewpoints and enlightened by the cultures of such far away and magical places as Russia, Thailand and Iowa.

Unfortunately, in our quests to learn and assimilate into college society, we are prone to picking up the traits of those around us and, for better or for worse, implanting those ideas in our mind forever. This is a two-way road; we must be careful not only to filter out those ideas that will only cause more hatred and prejudice to enter our world, but also be careful not to send out those ideas as well.

Celebrity is not a prerequisite for influence – no matter how unknown we are, we each still influence others. It is a great power that warrants great responsibility, because if you spread your own hatred and discriminations, others may pick them up to fit in.

Discrimination is contagious. Prejudice is contagious. Hatred and anger are contagious. There is a place for people who want to spread their racism, sexism and homophobia unto others, and it is called the Ku Klux Klan. If you cannot keep your prejudices to yourself, and would rather force them on others, you might as well pick up your robe now.

We all assert the characteristics of our personalities. If anyone understood this, I am sure it was Irwin; he was a role model, a professor of courage and kindness – perhaps even a bit of reckless endangerment – and crikey, I’m going to miss the Crocodile Hunter.

Rest in peace, mate.

Brenneman can be reached atrbrenneman@campustimes.

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