Rod MacKenzie
Rod MacKenzie

Is Oscar’s attorney really a star?

Why is the defence advocate, Barry Roux, considered a star by the faceless social media when a defenceless woman was killed?

One realises there are sub-editors, and part of their jobs is just to make a sensational headline. But the story in reports like these celebrate Roux as if he were a chess grandmaster. The metaphor is apt: the legal proceedings have become a game, a game of words. Or to use a clichéd image borrowed from deconstruction: random signifiers rising as dust, blown here and there on any whim, making a global star of an advocate, experienced or not. And this is not meant, in any way, to slight Mr Roux’s character. My purpose is to examine the label “star”, which the media has given him without his choosing.

One sense of the word star is hero, a person who champions just causes. A hero is one who sacrifices himself, say, in rescuing a drowning person, regardless of danger to himself. “Hero” suggests self-sacrifice. If Roux is a hero, then what is the just cause he is championing? The legal system? Oscar Pistorius? The death of an innocent woman? All of the above? A caveat to consider in answering such questions is, would he do the Pistorius case pro bono, that is to say, self-sacrificially? Unlikely. So Roux is not a star, if star equates with hero.

Another meaning for star is celebrity. Is this the sense of “star” that the social media wants us to “accept” when describing Roux as the defender of Pistorius? But when star is defined as “celebrity”, it carries little or no moral force … any more. Fame of any kind is no longer contingent on, or necessarily desires, moral conduct. For instance, in sport we would automatically think of Tiger Woods, Hansie Cronje, Lance Armstrong, OJ Simpson. Then there is the current pope retiring before a lot of unanswered accusations are dealt with over his moral conduct in regard to the Gollum-like fingers of some of his appropriately dog-collared staff. Roux could be feasibly regarded as a “star” in the sense of a budding local celebrity, as “celebrity” no longer has any moral underpinning.

What else is there left to synonymise with “star”? Someone who is spectacular in his career rise, of course, regardless of whom he may ride roughshod over. This, I submit, is a decent description of Roux. To put this in perspective, I would probably be relieved to have Roux in my corner if I had a case against me. But this is not my central point. My issue is with how the word “star” is subconsciously “taken in” by people when they devour, without chewing, “The Oscar and Reeva Roadshow” (to differentiate from the raw anguish both families are going through right now).

Ideas and beliefs are often subliminally taken in through various rhetorical effects. Let me give you an example of how powerful and subtle rhetoric can be. A rhetorical device familiar to readers of, say, Shakespeare, is hendiadys, where two simple ideas are expressed in conjunction, “expressing one through two”, often resulting in a complex message. Here’s a simple example of hendiadys: “truth and tradition”. Truth is made to equate with tradition and tradition equates with truth. It is the kind of value drummed in at many boarding schools (and speaking from personal experience) or military boot camp (ditto).

But making synonyms of “truth and tradition” is rubbish. Truth collocates with moral values, such as “seeking the truth”. This term has these principles: honesty, integrity, the guts to “come out with it” and therefore honourable conduct. But many “traditions” do not contain one iota of honourable conduct. For example, the tradition, by no means new, of waterboarding as an “interrogation technique”. Thus the idea contained in the hendiadys “truth and tradition”, as seen in the above, simple examination, is absurd. But only if it is examined. So, for example, if you are watching a play and hear in a brilliant soliloquy, “ … brings to our ears this noble truth and tradition”, the illogical equation of truth and tradition has already subliminally gone through your mind before you can screen it, with all sorts of potential subconscious ramifications. This partly explains why we have our Hitlers and Maos.

Probably the most famous example of hendiadys is from the play Macbeth: “full of sound and fury”. The difference in significance between the conjunction of those two nouns, and the bland “furious sound”, is huge. The poetic idea is far more complex than meets the eye and beyond the limits of this blog. But to look at it briefly. Remember, Shakespeare wrote this in a time where there were various political conspiracies and attempted rebellions against the monarchy such as the Mary Queen of Scots plot. A subliminal suggestion of “sound and fury” is that ”furious” becomes synonymous (or confused) with “sound”. The word “sound”, or telling one’s “tale”, subconsciously becomes synonymous with “furious”. So, with no logic, the idea of furious is conjoined, step by step, with taboos of the time: freedom of speech, taking action and violence. All potentially acts of treason.

Back to our Roux as a star (he truly is “our” Barry, a fiction separate from the flesh and blood one going about his paid job as an advocate). Gratuitous labels like “star” are cruder than hendiadys, but still effective as it has illogical or misleading meanings when applied to our advocate.

What is being subliminally registered in viewers’ minds when that unleashed Godzilla, the online social media, rhetorically and haphazardly labels Roux as “a star”? What do various pronouncements and bombardments like these (note all my hendiadys) do to our sense of simple justice, the due process of law, and what should or shouldn’t be sensationalised? To use hendiadys again, what has it done to our regard for what should be valuable and human? Is the damage measurable? These are not rhetorical questions.

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    • bernpm

      Shortly after the news had been broken, we were informed that Father Pistorius was concerned about the “Brand Pistorius”. A brand manager was called in soon to assist in protecting the brand. We are talking serious money!
      Most people are aware of the advertising value of a sport hero. Adverts were taken off circulation. Again, we are talking loosing serious money.
      Hiring one of the better defense lawyers (with team); We are again talking serious money.
      In view of the bungling SAP, he was given some scores on a golden plate. Any way, this was only a bail application, Not yet a court case.
      All this made me feel that the Pistorius family saw immediately a source of lucrative income moving away. Call for damage control.
      “We deal with the victim later, she is dead anyway”.
      Follow some comments on the victim: model. Usually suspected of lighter morals and related suggestions.
      Case: one dead body, one life body with gun and bat and a non-existent burglar..all in one house. Lots of money at stake and a bungling SAP officer in charge who, himself, is involved in his own murder case.
      Could you call a defense lawyer who uses all this a “STAR”? If he had not used all this, I would have sacked him without paying.
      The judge? He is the same guy who kept the case of the drunk Judge Motata going for years. Case captured on sound-video. One objection after the other for admission of proof for prosecution. Keeping the judge Motata alive till his pension date. Again: money…

    • Garth

      Great point Rod.

      Sounds more like a dis-a-star.

      Despite the chattering of social media and sensationalising and media circus this trial will generate let’s not lose sight of a truth in this case: a women shot dead through a closed and locked door by her host who was under no threat yet claiming self defence.

    • Tofolux

      @Rod, there seems to be something quite odd about this particular case and I wonder if we are not seeing the effect of the media specialists that were employed by the accuse’s familys quite quickly after the murder. The other obvious odd thing is the nature of reporting in this case and there could be only two reasons for this hypocrisy 1) media is conflicted when telling the story or 2) information in the mainstream is being manipulated. I raise these simply because this brutal murder came very soon after the brutal rape and murder of Anene Booysen. It seemed then that everyone was on the same page, outraged, disgusted and calling for justice to be swift and hard. In fact, the tone in reporting was consistent ie everyone was telling the same story ie showing the hurt and pain that was felt by her mother, the family and the community at large. In this particular case, it is different notwithstanding that the accused admitted to shooting and killing the victim, it is different becos the murder accused is being treated quite differently. He was not only treated differently whilst in jail media seemed totally at ease with this. And yet, if it had to be any other high profile person especially a politician then really, media would have been outraged. This raises critical questions about those who arrogate themselves as being our “watchdogs” and their obvious inconsistencies. Are they really interested in partnering us in fighting against all crime and all corruption?

    • Brian B

      I think that Roux has overplayed his hand and exposed their case at the bail hearing. Hope and pray that the prosecution up their game and provide sufficient evidence to ensure that justice is done.

    • george orwell

      Roux is not really a ‘star’ among his peers. Lead American lawyer Alan Dershowitz is on record saying he thinks Roux has dug a grave for himself and his client by allowing his client to put that affidavit forward….

      Pistorius’ affadavit amounted to a desperate, self-serving narrative, full of holes big enough to drive a truck through…

      The narrative will need to be propped up at every turn as hard data comes to light.

      Roux may rue the day he picked up the phone on Valentine’s Day.

    • Johan Liebenberg

      An interesting article, Rod, thank you!

      I’d like to propose another thesis. (A possibility, not implying I disagree with yours) The reason why Roux is regarded as a star is because he is seen as the hero-rescuer of an individual who is faced with the grim machinery of the State. Deep down this is something we all fear, I think. The state is indifferent to the subtle nuances of being human, our human frailties. It is made up of many, many burocrats who operate according to very narrow dictates. The man (or woman) in the witness stand is alone and appears vulnerable. The media, with relentless flashing cameras appear more like baying dogs, wishing to tear the flesh off the ‘victim’s bones and this increases subliminally our vision of him asa victim, and our identifications with his plight.
      Then one man rises to his defence; his lawyer and like a regular dragon slayer he takes on the might of the State. And in this case, at least for now, he is victorious.

    • Rod MacKenzie

      @ George Orwell, and Roux is also on public record as saying (jokingly?) that he regrets picking up the phone that day? What kind of figure was he offered….

    • The Creator

      In our culture, anyone who makes a lot of money is a star, and someone who serves the interests of that money is a star by reflection, provided they get more of it than the rest of us do.

    • Percipient

      In this Tragic Theatre we have seen so far that one person has run his script with flying colours and that is Barry Roux. The sharp lawyer as smooth operator has become a sub-set of icon-hero for these times that we live in with the likes of Kemp J. Kemp and Johnny Cochrane also coming to mind. For lawyers, like actors, are judged by their adeptness at their craft and the more controversal the legal challenge they face, the more they are admired for their skills especially when they succeed. And it is solely within this context that I believe the MSM are entitled to haul the term “star” from their lexicon and slap Roux with it, however morally repugnant this may seem to some.

    • Percipient

      An afterthought. The MSM were waiting to use that word “star” in this case because the term is universal, it’s a winner, an aspirational meme that sells some type of high ideal as in you’ve made it, you qualify. But we don’t know for how long it will stick to Barry Roux, time will tell.

      @ Rod: another great post, thanks.
      @ Johan Liebenberg and others: in general agreement with your comments.

    • Littlebobpete

      excellent article and comments. It is indeed sad how easily we defer the title of Star, especially in this situation. Will we be calling Gerrie Nel a Star if he secures a premeditated murder conviction?
      Sadly, I see this case becoming a challenge between two sets of celebrity legal groups, with the winner (read Star) being the one that can manipulate the judge to believe “his” truth…….and Reeva will be long forgotten. Watch……if the defence are under pressure they will easily stoop to the low level of battering Reeva’s character…..if it serves their purpose……it is after all a game to the legal minds, a game to be won, an important game, but a ga,e none the less.
      I have exactly the same argument Rod with the term of “great or greatness” being deferred to some very ordinary human beings and sportspeople, especially by commentators


      roux is not a star…he is a bussiness man and his job is to defend oscar….for the right sum of money he could just as easily prosecute oscar….we dont really know rouxs personal thoughts on oscars guilt or not…..he might know damned well that oscar is guilty…or the opposite…..and we never will know…..he is doing the job he is paid to do……defend oscar.

    • Skumbuzo Mbhele

      @greatgodpan…….so can I assume you are ultimately say that the trial will not be about right and wrong, nor about finding the truth……it will be about who puts the best spin on the story?

    • Skumbuzo Mbhele

      @rod…..just to prove your point……local papers billboard this morning is about SA being put on alert to save Antartic HERO, Ranulph Fiennes.

      He is NO hero, he’s a person who has led a different life……not a heroic one……just a different one. An interesting one, but thats all!

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