We haven’t really had much to say about the whole Oscar Pistorius media circus. Thankfully Stella Young at ABC’s The Drum has done all the hard analysis for us.
It’s a thought-provoking piece.
The gist of Stella’s article is how disability stereotypes have been abused and misused both before and after Reeva Steenkamp’s
murder, er culpable homicide.
Pistorius was the poster boy for the supercrip who could do no wrong. The quintessential “triumph of the human spirit” who overcame all adversity set before him. The Olympic gold standard of inspiration porn. Stella writes:
There is little doubt that prior to the events on Valentine’s Day of 2013, we held Pistorius firmly on a pedestal. He had further to “fall” than most.
This was a man who had seemingly transcended disability. He competed in both the Paralympic and Olympic games, effectively desegregating the Olympics. He sparked debate about whether the carbon fibre prosthetics he used were, in fact, better than human legs.
Aside from their incredible design and materials, prosthetic limbs are not subject to the limitations of the human body, such as fatigue and build up of lactic acid during strenuous activity. He reframed the way we thought about the disabled body. He was the ultimate supercrip. And we all love a good “overcoming” narrative, don’t we? We like our disability stories nice and tidy. We’re either heroes or victims, and we struggled when Pistorius suddenly proved to be neither.
However, after the shooting, this no longer fit the narrative and the media struggles with shades of grey, especially with disability. We’re either heroes or victims, as Stella aptly puts it. Pistorius’ lawyers now vigorously pushed the “victim” angle, no longer inspiring but now become pitiful.
Pistorius’s lawyer, Barry Roux, argued passionately in court that it was his client’s disability that was at the root of all this. While he’d fought so hard to prove the irrelevance of his impairment, in the end disability really is a tragedy that can’t be overcome.
The vulnerability we associate with disability, while drastically at odds with the Pistorius we knew before, was the fundamental element drawn upon by the defence. Apparently, Pistorius hadn’t transcended disability after all. He was, in fact, traumatised by the events of his childhood and being a disabled man. He hadn’t, as we’d all been led to believe, “overcome the odds”.
From Pistorius’s original version of events that he was not wearing his prosthetics at the time of the shooting, to the fact that he’s now being held in the hospital wing of Kgosi Mampuru prison because of his physical disability and perceived vulnerability, disability has undeniably been used to justify both criminality and appallingly lenient sentencing.
Stella Young has written a separate article on how it is unacceptable for disability to be used as a justification for killing someone with a disability. It is equally unacceptable for someone with a disability to use that as justification for killing anyone. End of story.
Meanwhile, Reeva Steenkamp remains dead.