Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Oscar: the mouse behind the mask

“I was more into her at times than she was into me.” This was one of Oscar Pistorius’ opening gambits on Day 18. Ironically, at that very moment the camera focused on Reeva’s blonde cousin, Kim Martin. Martin, seated beside Gina Myers (Reeva’s best friend), made a grim remark that looked like “No wonder”.

Stoic is the word being used to describe the Steenkamp camp. June Steenkamp’s stoicism is nothing short of remarkable. This is the vital clue to understanding the ‘unbalanced’ dynamic of Oscar and Reeva’s relationship. Reeva Steenkamp was the older, more secure and stoic of the two, Oscar had more of the power and authority, but also an immature obsessiveness and insecurity that even Reeva described to Oscar as frightening.

Stoic is the last word that comes to mind if we we’re describing Oscar right now. Increasingly there are whispers that Oscar’s weepy testimony, in fact his entire defence, is simply a perpetuation of his original narrative – which is playing to an audience all the time. Arguably, Oscar has been doing this since his school days. Because his sense of self is derived through the eyes of others (the world, the media, brands, women, friends and the able-bodied world) he absolutely cannot abandon his own ‘melodrama’. To do so is the equivalent of self-destruction. His ‘performance’ therefore is his supreme effort at self preservation.

This is a crazy case where Oscar is both the perpetrator and the victim. And because Oscar is the only person who really knows what happens, he is writing the script, and will write it as long as there is an audience to appreciate its veracity. The script, currently a work in progress, is reshaping the ‘I-am-the-bullet-in-the-gun’ narrative, the hyper masculine, confident, handsome champion into an inversion. Oscar now wants nothing to do with guns, is so terrified he hides in a cupboard like a child, speaks like a child, doesn’t even have the constitution to see pictures of blood or to hear about what he did on that fateful day. Instead of the virile victor who overcame enormous odds, we’re seeing a crying ‘boy-man’ carefully taking us through ‘smiley faces’ and counting the number of kisses.

The terms of endearment the couple used may seem cute, but using baby names after arguments is hardly the stuff of mature argument resolution. Rather, it appears to be one-dimensional appeasement. It has suggestions of passive-aggressive personality. This trial is nothing if not an enormous backward flip from aggressive to the point of overkill, back to passive to the point of a crybaby.

Worringly, we see Reeva trying to adapt to Oscar’s expectations. Both had made it their vocations to court public opinion, and so measuring themselves up to others opinions may have felt natural. Reeva herself admits the difficulties she was having in trying to sculpt her body down to the required 52kg. At the same time, Reeva was instinctively trying to play the nurturing and supportive role. She said, “I don’t want to make a spectacle out of us.” Did he? Following the 2012 Olympics, and his defeat, Oscar’s star was waning, and he desperately needed a new narrative. Reeva fitted the bill, something Oscar alludes to on numerous occasions (“I was bowled over by her.”) Reeva’s concessions to him may have achieved little more than enable his vanity, his possessiveness, his moodiness and his controlling behaviour.. Reeva, a well known personality in her own right, and a professional model, asked Oscar, for example, if she could wear a certain leopard print dress for a formal occasion. This concession alone ought to have indicated to her that their relationship lacked fundamental substance.

In terms of Oscar’s descriptions of his own actions at Tasha’s and driving from the Vaal, and his precise description of objects of furniture (but not what Reeva was saying or doing) on Valentine’s Day there is more than a mere suggestion that Oscar has a knack for whitewashing his narrative. Samantha Taylor, Oscar’s girlfriend before Reeva Steenkamp, immediately deleted this emotional tweet during Oscar’s testimony on Day 18: “Last lies you get to tell. You better make it worth your while.” Are Oscar’s versions of events accurate? Thus far he has contradicted close to a dozen witnesses, including going so far as to say he never fired the shot through the roof of the car.

What we do see plenty of is disassociation. This is illustrated by repeated head over hands, fingers in ears and he never really assumes accountability. We saw the same thing when he was beaten unexpectedly by the Brazilian in 2012, and immediately Pistorius – feeling himself invalidated, his ego bruised – publically lost his temper. During his testimony his evidence is whitewashed, describes Reeva's arm as 'broken' and that she is not 'breathing'. He can't remember fetching plastic bags but he remembers a policeman putting his hand on his shoulder. He describes being told by a paramedic that "Reeva has passed", and blames Stipp, saying "he seemed overwhelmed, didn't seem to know what he was doing." Interestingly, Stander and his daughter both seemed to be asking Pistorius to leave Reeva (or leave her body) alone, saying the ambulance was on its way. But Pistorius took total control of her body throughout.

The stage management of the Oscar Pistorius trial is also impossible to ignore now. While it may seem that Oscar’s lengthy testimony is all about providing relevant biographical details, the rehashing of innumerable lovey dovey whatsapp messages ad infinitum hardly addresses the heart of their relationship. In fact, his failure to get away from these endless whatsapp quotes suggests the exact opposite, that there wasn’t much substance to go on to begin with. The stage management by Oscar’s defence team can be ‘felt’ not only through the “I’m-a-poor-boy-from-a-poor-family” vibe via Oscar’s trembling voice, but also through the precision and co-ordination of the blocks of testimony fitted in between tea and other breaks. Oscar’s apology to June Steenkamp did not take place by accident. It was a calculated ploy to play to an audience when that audience would have been at its maximum. He had over a year to write a private apology, and if written words were not sufficient, were words in court and on camera any more so?

There are also some basic and fundamental questions that still need to be answered. One, where are Oscar’s next door neighbours? What happened to Oscar’s phone in the period between the killing and after he handed it in? Why did Oscar have his fingers in Reeva’s mouth at the bottom of the stairs if she had stopped breathing when he found her in the toilet? And what were Oscar’s real intentions at 03:16 on 14 February 2013. In a word, why? For more background and insight, go here.

No comments: