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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.