WHY ARE WE SO OBSESSED WITH OSCAR PISTORIUS AND HIS TRIAL?
I am amazed by the interest in the Oscar trail. At breakfast with friends or over dinner, the ins and outs of the trail are sure to be debated fervently - as if he were a relative or close friend. People as far afield as Barbados (someone I happened to meet recently) are following proceedings. International news channels are up to date in their reporting and about 2.2 million tweets regarding the trail have been posted so far. Not to mention every local news bulletin and paper that inform us of the latest happenings in court and about Oscar.
I believe the following are some of the reasons why we are so captivated by the Oscar saga:
It is a real-life drama unfolding in front of our eyes – more real than any popular reality show or soapy could ever be. More importantly the issues at the heart of the drama are those central to life in general, to philosophy and to art. Namely the age old questions of right and wrong, and good and evil, coupled here with intense human emotion. For many South Africans it also touches on another pertinent issue in our lives - crime. Many of us have had a first-or second-hand experience of an intruder violating the sanctity of a home, and most of us have imagined how terrified a victim of such a crime must feel.
However, does this account for the intense emotional investment people seem to have in a specific outcome? There has to be more at play….
I believe that the dark side of life holds some bizarre allure and fascination for most of us. This is probably the case because as ‘respectable and decent’ individuals we only allow ourselves to venture to such ‘places’ through vicarious experiences. And should we entertain ‘dark thoughts’ we are quick to brush them aside as ‘escapist fantasy’.
Then there is Schadenfreude - satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else's misfortune. It is particularly evident when a hero or idealised person falls from grace. I think we experience Schadenfreude because it makes us feel better about ourselves. As such it reinforces our attempts to do the right thing and to stay on the straight and narrow. And, paradoxically, it may even give renewed meaning to our everyday mundane existence and our largely ‘ordinary’ lives.
Society’s obsession with famous people is another reason. This is fuelled, exploited and created by the media. Even if we were to tire of the case, the media is determined to make sure we don’t. But in Oscar’s case there is more than just a fascination with a ‘rich and famous’ person. As a disabled person, who has overcome huge adversity, he is much more than a sports hero and super star. He inspired people and touched their aspirational longings, by illustrating that the seemingly impossible is possible. I believe many of us are angry and feel let-down because this is not how his story was supposed to end. This was not in the original script of triumph over adversity!
Finally being privy to court proceedings and getting a glimpse of our legal system at work is an interesting learning experience. ‘Putative self-defence’, the fact that the defence does not have to prove Oscar’s innocence, that motive does not come into it, and the rules about admission of evidence, were all aspects that I did not know that I did-not-know. Something else that has dawned on me is the thoroughness of such a legal process. Interestingly, the proceedings have shown me how most of us erroneously confuse what happened with why it happened. Clearly for all of us who deem to be armchair defence attorneys, this has been a reality-check.
In all the hype created by the trial, may we never forget the pain of two grieving families.