'Demi god' worship blurs ugly reality
"And the Oscar goes to . . . jail."
Trevor Nash's joke is not a particularly good one, nor a particularly bad one. But much of the reaction to the comedian's one- liner has been pious, self-righteous fury. In another time Nash would have been regarded a blasphemer and stoned for his heretical observation.
In our modern, secular society Oscar Pistorius had been elevated to the status of a demi god. More than likely "demi" is a considerable understatement. Pistorius was worshipped. He was the saviour of the disabled, a man who could walk on water despite his prosthetic legs.
Even now, as Pistorius sits in a cell accused of the violent murder of his girlfriend, his family and followers expect the 26-year-old to rise again.
Craig Freimond, a film director and writer, said, "This guy cut across everything. He was a superhuman soul." Even now, in his darkest hour, Pistorius is bathed in biblical reference.
Friend Justin Divaris says that Pistorius phoned him and confessed: "I've killed my Baba. God take me away."
If true, it is a telling phrase. If Pistorius had just murdered his girlfriend, how grotesque is the possessive "my". But it is not uncommon in sporting superstars. O J Simpson once grabbed his girlfriend by the crotch and said, "This is where babies come from and this belongs to me."
Simpson and likely Pistorius, sporting achievers built up beyond their mental ability to cope, suffer from a type of god delusion. There was even a website called TigerWoodsisGod dedicated to the first church of Tiger Woods and a video showing the golfer walking on water to play a golf shot.
Pistorius' plea to God to take him away sounds almost personal - he does have a biblical passage tattooed on his back - and apparently elicited a response.
Pastor A J Wilson arrived at the prison with the words: "The Holy Spirit gave me an order that this is now the chance to go pray with Oscar." And so the godly pair prayed and cried together. Then Pistorius' agent entered the room.
You would like to think that Oscar and his pastor cried and prayed for Reeva Steenkamp, the woman who was shot and possibly beaten to death in Pistorius' apartment. But the victim isn't the story, just as Nicole Brown and Ronald Goodman were not the story in the trial of Simpson.
They were minor characters in what was called at the time - was it really 1995? - "a great trash novel come to life" and "The Super Bowl of murder trials".
The main events, because this was celebrity Reality TV, were O J, Judge Lance Ito and the twisted brilliance of defence attorney Johnnie Cochran.
The Simpson case became must- watch television. There was the absurd slow motion police chase and the false beard and moustache found in the car, more evidence of a god delusion perhaps. There was the defence's plea that Simpson could not have done it because the former football superstar turned actor was an arthritic cripple.
Inconveniently, the prosecution then showed a tape of the "arthritic" Simpson punching his arms back and forth and suggesting doing this workout "with the wife". And yet ludicrously, "if the glove don't fit, acquit", Simpson walked.
Of course Simpson is doing time now. He was sentenced to 33 years in the Lovelock Correctional in Nevada, where earlier this month he hosted a Super Bowl party in his cell. Even in prison, where Simpson is dubbed the godfather, celebrity never fades.
It was refreshing to watch the improved Halberg Awards the other night and see the genuine humility of many of New Zealand's top athletes and their partners. The question "Who are you wearing?" was greeted with astonishment by one woman.
But you suspect that Steenkamp probably knew "who" she was wearing most of the time. She had signed up to the world of Reality TV both literally and figuratively.
Her appearance in Tropika Island of Treasure was screened posthumously and she signed off with a kiss for the camera and the words "I'm going to miss you all so much. I love you all very, very much".
Of course Steenkamp didn't know us or love us, just as we don't know or love her. But celebrity tends to blur such an obvious distinction. The thousands who laid wreaths for Princess Di and wept openly in the streets, are the same sad people who will now mourn Steenkamp. True grief would soon cure them of such self-indulgent morbidity.
These plastic mourners won't cry for any of the thousands of women who are raped and murdered in South Africa this year. Instead, they will listen to Steenkamp's dad when he says, "we must never forget what Reeva stood for" and they will become part of the ritual. They will want to know what happened to their golden boy, the Blade Runner, the bullet in the chamber, the athlete whose body was his weapon. According to one source, the news is not good. "Oscar now feels that he has descended into hell."
The athlete is on suicide watch in his cell. It seems a long journey from the London Olympics when he had "cramps from smiling so much", but we now know that Pistorius had considerable anger management problems.
Will the judge really ban television from the trial? How did prosthetic man carry Steenkamp down the stairs? Was he wearing gloves when he picked up the cricket bat? How many guns does he own? Was it 'roid rage, an ironic case of a sportsman confessing to drug use to save his bacon? Or is Pistorius innocent?
Don't you get it, your honour? This is a public interest story.
Mark Reason is a sportswriter formerly with the Times of London and Daily Telegraph in the UK. He now lives in Wairarapa.
Taranaki Daily News