Oscar Pistorius - A Public Tragedy?
A whole South African nation was shocked with the arrest of the former paralympian, Oscar Pistorius, who was charged for murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, Thursday 14 February. While the murder charge represents a personal tragedy for Oscar Pistorius and the murder itself for his girlfriend´s family, the heroic image and front figure Pistorius has represented for millions of South Africans, disabled communities and a whole world for years, may also have a profound effect on the general public - approximating a public tragedy.
Let us not engage in speculations about the outcome of the forthcoming trial but leave that matter to the court system. For now, let´s focus on the role Oscar Pistorius or the “Blade Runner” as he was called by his nickname, played for the South African nation. Pistorius, as the first double-amputee runner to participate in the Olympics, gave hope to millions of people across the world and made a South African nation proud. As a role model, with immense willpower and courage, Pistorius became the image of how we all can overcome individual difficulties. He – as a role model – provided an example to the rest of us visualizing how far you can get by not giving up - as by saying - ´Yes - you can do it!´
Despite being a highly respected person, grave criminal charges automatically makes people think and perceive a person in a different light than they used to - questioning their actions and character with suspicion. I am writing in past tense though my intention is rather to ask whether the disgrace of being affiliated with a murder case has killed Pistorius´ public image for good.
The Olympics and participating athletics of a country can unify a nation. It connects and brings people together in a common sphere outside which ethnic, political, economic and religious differences split communities and nations apart. Pistorius has been one of these unifying forces - an ideal a whole nation has worshiped - a positive dynamic - strengthening the South African nation and within this - people´s feeling of belonging together.
Currently, there is one main problem with this: Heroes’ don´t do mistakes! Like Superman, a hero provides an example of uninterrupted courageous and successful pattern of behaviour and actions. Heroes´ are not judged on basis of who they are, but on basis of who we want them to be. Why is it so? Because we all need someone and something to look up to, an ideal that can show us the way, someone to admire, to aspire towards becoming, someone that can remind and encourage us to carry on even in dark moments and difficult times.
A few seconds of bad fame can obliterate years of tenacity and grit. Individual perceptions influence public opinion and although Pistorius is not convicted for murder at this stage - and let us not forget that - public opinion changes easily. The general perception of a hero is slowly turning to one of questioning, pity, anger and accusations. It is difficult to re-build an image, and the question now is whether people and a whole nation will continue to remember Oscar Pistorius for the inspiration he represented and brought them through all these years.