16 September 2014

Is Oscar Pistorius really writing a book?

Oscar Pistorius is writing a book detailing his side of the murder of Reeva Steenkamp. Cybershrink deciphers what it all means.


Seeing the first reports that Oscar Pistorius was writing a book, I began to say “Good Grief!”, but this is neither good nor grief. 

Weeks ago, when I wrote about the inevitability of “Oscar: The Movie” and even The Musical,  some readers thought I was being rather over-the-top.  But I was just being accurate, if a touch sarcastic.

Chapter One: Oscar Writes a Book.

Major overseas newspapers reported Pistorius's manager and agent, Peet van Zyl,  as having revealed that Oscar would indeed write a book, about Reeva and himself, the slaying of the former and the trial of the latter. Being Oscar, of course, it would emphasize “his ordeal,” as, despite being convicted of killing his friend, he still appears to be the perpetrator who sees himself as an eternal victim. 

The Observer quoted Peet as saying: “He will write his own book. We've discussed it. We've talked about ideas and concepts. I'm not going to go into details now." I haven’t seen him specifically deny using those actual words.

Such a book could be highly profitable for him in financial terms. While his uncle’s fortune will ensure Oscar never goes hungry, his awful defence has been very expensive, and he may already be missing the bling and the gaudy lifestyle he once enjoyed. The exercise would naturally be seen by many as a disgusting effort to cash in on the death, and to make a killing out of the killing.

Read: The adoration of Oscar

The report brought widespread condemnation and bitterness throughout orthodox and social media. Those that soar by the tweet may sink by the tweet. There’s been an outpouring of scorn, including unpleasant suggestions for titles, the most popular being “How I Got Away With Murder”; Racing From the Truth; and, my favourite: “The Green Bile.” Someone speculated as to whether he’d have the cheek to ask Judge Masipa to write the foreword. Would there be an accompanying CD of wailing? Maybe a complimentary pack of anti-nausea meds?

If this was ever near a serious idea, someone hugely over-estimated Oscar’s enduring popularity. The pathetic Pistorians, though frenzied in their comments on every blog or site they can reach, are tiny in number, and limited in how many books they each can buy. Some other celebrity books have flopped commercially, and there could be demonstrations and boycotts of the publishers of such a book, and of stores which stocked it.

Chapter Two : Oscar Does Not Write a Book. 

After the controversy had been broiling for some days, his manager, Peet, spoke again.  Inevitably, he complained of having been quoted out of context. Interesting how often that complaint comes from folks whose real trouble comes from having been quoted accurately and in context. As an agent, part of whose job would usually include managing the media with skill, one would have expected him to anticipate the inevitable fuss that’d follow such comments, and to have been careful to place his precise comments on record. 

Anyhow, he told another major paper: "During the interview, I was asked about the various books… that are in the works. All I said was 'If and when Oscar decides to write a memoir,  that's the only book that will matter." That would have been unrealistic speculation, as few, especially if they’d heard his wild and hysterical evidence in court, would expect such a book to be accurate or definitive. Does he want us to hear his side of it? We’ve heard nothing BUT his side of it, he made sure of that.

Read: The absurdities of the Oscar trial

He said elsewhere: "I will sit down with him once everything is done and decide what we are going to do. We have to wait until 13 October before we can think about anything. After that we will tell the world what we are going to do." And “We’ve talked about ideas and concepts. I’m not going to go into details.”  

One can’t help wondering whether Van Zyl may have been used as a stalking horse, to put the book idea out and see what reaction it got.  Now that there’s been so much hostility, maybe the idea will be soft-pedalled for now, to try again later. 

Profiteering from crime

In some countries there are excellent laws which utterly forbid any convicted criminal from profiting in any way from the crime. In South Africa the situation may be, not surprisingly, more feeble and illogical. I have read that the law in S.A., such as the Correctional Services Act, says that nobody who has been criminally convicted may derive profit "directly or indirectly for any published account" relating to the offence in question. But this should include ANY form of profiteering, such as giving lectures or paid interviews. It also seems that this ban may only extend while he is actually in jail or on probation or community service for the crime. If that is indeed the case, it is ridiculous and the law needs urgent amendment to ensure no profit is allowed, in any way, forever.

Similarly, there’s of course been some talk about him returning to competition as a runner. Various sporting groups, without exactly sounding enthusiastic, have said that their rules don’t actually forbid someone from competing again after a criminal conviction, once they've served their sentence.  Maybe the rules should be amended.  But already some major sponsors have begun to indicate they would not wish to be associated with him again.  Especially if, as now seems possible, he receives a ridiculously lenient sentence, there could even be demonstrations were he to run again. He has already started to provoke a strong backlash.

Read: The successes and shortcomings of the Oscar trial

People have been reminded of the American sometime sportsman, OJ Simpson, very controversially cleared of murder charges, who published a book “If I Did It”, which, he insisted, described only hypothetically how he would have killed his ex-wife and another victim if he had been guilty. 

It’s hard to see what more Oscar would reveal in such a book, other than a re-hash of what we've already heard at such length.  Especially with all his claims in court that he
“can’t remember” details, it would be very fishy if he suddenly discovered new details.

There can’t be exculpatory evidence he hasn't used already, and theoretically, if he produced substantial new facts pointing to guilt, such as an admission, then, as the excellent Prof. James Grant of Wits, has been quoted as saying: “Ordinarily, if he were to write a book with new information,  he wouldn’t be retried. But if he says something exceptional such as to admit guilt, it would be unthinkable that an appeal court wouldn’t take it up.”

Books already en route

There are already many other books being rushed to press right now, by both competent authors and eager wannabes. Already, there’s “Oscar: An Accident Waiting to Happen,” co-written by Patricia Taylor, mother of his bitter ex-girlfriend Samantha.

In December comes Chase Your Shadow: the Trials of Oscar Pistorius, by John Carlin, who wrote the book on which the movie “Invictus” was based. Barry Bateman, whose flood of live tweets became well-known, has co-written with Mandy Wiener, “Behind the Door: The Oscar and Reeva Steenkamp Story” due out next month. A TV movie is surely being planned.  Bateman has apparently already had approaches from producers. Barry’s trial coverage brought him 227,000 followers, though one wonders how many will remain when the trial is over.

We’ll never hear what Reeva Steenkamp might have wanted to say. Oscar has experienced media advisors, who surely would not have suggested a book. He should try not to confirm the impression he’s given of an egotistical,unfeeling and irresponsible young man. What we need to hear from Oscar is genuine contrition and remorse rather than just profound self-pity. They need to remind him of the great value of dignified silence.

Read more:
Is Oscar getting away with murder? 
Will Oscar get "special treatment" in jail? 
Is it worth sending Oscar to jail?

Professor MA Simpson is Health24's CyberShrink. A South African psychiatrist, he qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain. He has been a senior academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries. Read more of his columns.


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