Beyond the fame game

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We’ve traded our heroes for ghosts, our sporting stars for celebrities. Oscar Pistorius taught us that much as we couldn’t get enough of him on the track and wanted even more of him in the court room while forgetting reality and the real victims.

Some things you should know. Away from the cameras and before the coffin, Reena Steevkamp liked to bake and she loved horses. It was the latter that nearly ended her though because, in her early 20s, riding one day, she fell from on high and broke her back so badly she had to learn to walk from the most basic movements on. When she did, she worked for Fashion TV, popped up in ads purely because she looked nice, was set for reality television and often existed in a world where there’s a vacuum of thought and where demonstrations of intelligence are regularly repressed and culled.

At times, she indulged this beauty-over-brains ideal, being described as a socialite around Johannesburg. Standing for hours and being pretty on red carpets, this was all becoming a relatively lucrative career. It had come together for her and by June of 2012, she was ranked by FHM magazine as the 45th most beautiful woman alive. Yet this shallow pap hid a deeper side and what should have been a more interesting future as she studied hard and planned to become a barrister.

We tell you these things because despite a long and winding trial – that finished nearly eight months after it began and over a year-and-a-half after she was shot dead in an apartment toilet – we’ve heard so little and thought so little about Reena Steevkamp. On the basis such emotions are normal in relationships, even the judge dismissed some of her last feelings in the form of WhatsApp messages that proclaimed she was scared of her boyfriend. Sadly, it may have been a trial in a large part because of her but it became very evident that it was never really about her.

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That’s because all of this has been the Oscar Pistorius show. We want showbiz and he’s been the glitz and the glamour and the gossip. If you force yourself to be honest, you’ll admit that’s what we were in it for. It’s the uncomfortable truth of modern sport and it’s been that way ever since we’ve entered the biggest sporting stars into the cult of celebrity, meaning nothing is too far for them and nothing is off limits to us as we trade our moral decency for false worship and juicy titbits.

Not so long ago, sports stars were different – talents we could look up to, characters we could laugh at, heroes we could admire, but also people we could judge by right and wrong. For sure they were famous, but crucially they weren’t celebrities. There’s a key difference as there wasn’t a kiss-and-tell interest, a search for sex scandals, a family fascination, a need to dig deeper and deeper until you can’t see daylight anymore. What we wanted was the talent of those stars but now we want all of them and want to be entertained in the process, regardless of who gets trampled on by their actions and our lust for more. That’s exactly why the Pistorius trial has been a circus for our amusement, where the majority have blocked out the seriousness and real victims and horrific tragedy in this.

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In truth, it was all like a sport itself with Paddy Power running an advertisement campaign entitled “Oscar Time: Money back if Pistorius walks”, while social media excitedly engaged in guessing games as to what might happen next. It was only lacking some flares and chanting down the back of the court room as people rubbed their hands together, turned to the fan beside and announced, “This’ll be good”. It was our soap opera rather than their life and death. Even with his sentence handed down as five years, there was still little room for decency. As Steevkamp’s mother merely said the outcome was right and her husband sighed that he was glad it was over, the world quickly turned its back on them and their daughter, returning to the neon lights. The blade runner, the rise and now the fall, even the triviality of his exclusion from the next Olympic Games in 2016 – how could we resist? We portrayed this as the end of his life (one that gave us hope and fun) while forgetting hers.

Pistorius for so long was the superman story we can never resist and never ask real questions about. Before there was Lance Armstrong and his cancer, the recovery and the yellow jerseys, forcing an absence of rational and logical thought. And even his downfall was about him and never those he hurt most and stopped from fairly reaching the top. When it turned out Lionel Messi may end up in court on tax evasion charges, the reaction was about games he could miss.  And the way we’ve viewed Pistorius is similar because who could dare scratch the surface of a heart-warming story we stared blankly at.

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For quite some time, even before he shot his girlfriend dead, some aspects of Pistorius were known but ignored because he gave us what we craved. He suffered bouts of rage, threatened to smash the legs of a former footballer over an ex-girlfriend, was locked up overnight for assaulting a woman. It’s alleged he punished a former girlfriend by pushing his car to 200mph as she begged him to slow, locked her in her apartment, even had a naughty step. He scared another partner so badly she hid his gun but none of this was used to judge him until it reached a crescendo and it went way too far. And when it did, we realised that we’d no use for the positives and now we could exploit the vile negatives because he’s the celebrity and we want more. And more. And more.

That’s because celebrity craves our attention and we crave it and it all means we’ve had little time for the likes of Reena Steevkamp and those she’s left behind. But then again, what entertainment could we possibly get out of them.

26 October, 2014
Sunday Business Post


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