“Man, Superman, Gunman”. the Rise and Fall of Oscar Pistorius. a Cultural Sociological Analysis of Celebrity Discourse.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 09:00
Oral Presentation
Vanessa BITTNER, Yale Sociology, USA, Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale, USA
This paper takes into consideration the empirical case of the media representation of South African athlete Oscar Pistorius. The portrayal of the disabled sprinter changed dramatically following the murder case of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp: While the man himself went unchanged, the image put forth by news outlets shifted from a public national hero to a villain figure. In this paper, I present an analysis of this case by weaving together three similar but disjointed strands of sociology: Goffmanian and cultural sociological approaches to performance and facework, Weberian approaches to the relationship between charisma and stigma, and dramaturgical theories of social tragedy. Through this theoretical lens I illustrate how his murder trial was not only a scandal but in fact a social tragedy, promulgated by challenges to Pistorius’ authenticity as a charismatic hero who had overcome stigma. This analysis shows how the drama of the Pistorius case is a social one, rooted in South Africa’s specific social and cultural structures, as well as in its history of Apartheid. This paper contributes to understanding how stories of violence and (in)justice connected to celebrity are covered in the media, while giving insight into more subtle questions of how power is related to race and status in post-Apartheid society.