Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

Why I am glad Reeva is on TV

I am not in the target market for the Tropika Island of Treasure, the reality show in which one of the celebrity guests is Reeva Steenkamp. Though I have an inexplicable weakness for pineapple flavoured dairy fruit juice blend, I am not one of the people who will have fitted into the marketing brief, which probably read along the lines of “LSM 5-7, ages 16-24, urban”. I have a hunch, though, that many others not in Tropika’s core target market also watched the show last night, because it has now taken on a surreal significance unthinkable before the terrible events of Valentine’s Day.

Should SABC1 have broadcast the show as scheduled? Reeva has not even been buried yet and her killer, Oscar Pistorius, has not yet entered a plea. In that sense, a vapid reality show filled with crashingly unsubtle product placement — Reeva posing on a beach, like the other female contestants, with a Tropika bottle propped awkwardly against her thigh — is a rather lurid obituary to a woman now famous around the world. Though the producers have said that broadcasting the show as planned is a fitting tribute to Reeva, I am sure that other more pragmatic considerations are in play: the money paid by the sponsor, the advertising revenue, the huge national (and global) interest.

You could argue, quite justifiably, that broadcasting the show is tasteless and cynical. The tribute that appeared on Real Goboza, the celebrity gossip show that immediately preceded it on Saturday evening, was rather glib and perfunctory under the circumstances. I expected more, and the fact that Phat Joe, the presenter, introduced the new show by saying, “If nothing else, watch it for the bodies” made it all even more clangingly awful. Presumably his segment was recorded before all of this happened, but his words could not have been more unfortunate.

But, all things considered, I am glad that they chose to broadcast it. Here’s why.

This case is as much about fame as it is about anything else. And in the fame stakes, Oscar Pistorius is at a huge advantage. That this story is as big as it is from Sky News to the New York Times is testament to Oscar’s celebrity status and his singular power as a symbol of the greatness of the human spirit. He’s a figure streaking down a track, a face gazing from a billboard, the subject of countless TV interviews and profiles. It’s worth remembering that Oscar has a spin doctor, a former editor of The Sun known as “the human sponge”, and a team of hot-shot lawyers. Reeva has her family and friends.

This will be Oscar’s story no matter what, because of its sheer scale. Already it threatens to become that of the ultimate failed hero. In its dizzying rollercoaster dive from the heights of Olympic glory to the horror of a brutal crime, Oscar’s tale dwarfs even Tiger and Lance. It will be told years from now, the narrative of a star that burned too bright and burned out like a meteor in a Russian sky, brought down to earth by whatever is revealed during the course of the trial. Everything else will be lost in the glare of this spectacular self-immolation.

That’s why it’s so important that we see Reeva. Why it’s so important that she’s not just a victim in a bikini, but a laughing, breathing, talking human being. Someone we like. Someone we can relate to. Someone who talks to us, even if it’s through a TV screen and it’s from a past where the possibility of being shot by your celebrity boyfriend was blissfully unthinkable.

Nobody could see that clip from the show, the one where she says goodbye to her fellow contestants, and feel indifferent. So ironically, a TV show devoted above all to persuading South African teenagers to drink a dairy fruit juice blend available from the tuckshop down the road has turned Reeva from a victim photo into a real person. And that is a good thing.

“I think the way that you go out, not just your journey in life, but the way that you go out and the way you make your exit is so important,” Reeva Steenkamp, speaking about being voted off the show.

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  • 10 Responses to “Why I am glad Reeva is on TV”

    1. Joan #

      I agree that it gives life to Reeva Steenkamp which is needed in this high-profile case.

      But I found the actual show embarrassing to say the least. The production values are terrible. Sad that this is the way we get to know Reeva.

      February 18, 2013 at 10:36 am
    2. DavidJ #

      Our writers painters singers poets and musicians are called to attempt making sense of the gruesome realities that pervades our lives.

      You have done way better than most but I still don’t get it. Going on with the show was a cheap and really nasty exercise in gross exploitation and it is to the decision makers ultimate shame that it went ahead.

      February 18, 2013 at 10:49 am
    3. DavidJ #

      Our writers painters singers poets and musicians are called to attempt making sense of the gruesome realities that pervades our lives.

      You have done way better than most but I still don’t get it. Going on with the show was a cheap and really nasty exercise in gross exploitation and it is to the decision makers ultimate shame that it went ahead.

      The Greeks had it down with their tales of Icarus, Midas and the rest. These seem now not to be myths and stories but factual reports from the front line of human folly.

      February 18, 2013 at 10:53 am
    4. Rich Brauer #

      “Oscar’s tale dwarfs even Tiger and Lance.”

      The closest comparison is to OJ Simpson.

      It’s easy to forget that the Juice was a widely liked, popular figure prior to his arrest. He’d become an actor, sport commentator, and celebrity product endorser.

      And his trial, of course, became *the* story of the year.

      Tellingly, with his own team of high-priced lawyers and spin artists, he was acquitted of two murders that I suspect, by now, most everyone admits he almost certainly committed.

      February 18, 2013 at 12:26 pm
    5. ntozakhona #

      Sarah Britten at last a voice of compassion and understanding. Reeva and her family are the ones we should be thinking about as we seek justice and possible correction. It must have been painful for them to listen to insinuations that their daughter behaved like some burglar behind closed bathroom doors, against a man armed with a pistol and a baseball bat.

      Thank you for a sane article amidst the cruelty.

      February 18, 2013 at 1:51 pm
    6. GalacticCannibal #

      Various reports in the media indicate that people who knew Pistorius, say he showed a clear desire to be in control of his situations and could get very aggressive. He was armed, and carried a gun on him.

      Pistorius is still alive but Reeva his girlfriend is dead. Reeva’s head was crushed and 4 bullets shot into her body. All this happened in Pistorius’s home at nighttime, when neighbors heard shouting and commotion from Pistorius’s home just before they heard shots fired.

      His intruder story is in my opinion a flat out lie.. And when he is found guilty of murdering Reeva, he should be lock up for the rest of his natural life , with no possibility of parole.

      As for Pistorius’s parents saying he did not kill Reeva. either they are in 100% denial or plain crazy.

      February 18, 2013 at 6:44 pm
    7. Philip Cole #

      Great article, Sarah! I loathe the dumbing-down of junk TV reality shows as well but your article is worth it or this sentance alone …

      ‘It’s worth remembering that Oscar has a spin doctor, a former editor of The Sun known as “the human sponge”, and a team of hot-shot lawyers. Reeva has her family and friends’.

      Precisely! Oscar’s ‘people’ and the various others that depend on him as a mealticket are working their little socks off to try this case in the meda, given the damning evidence that has already emerged. Their best hope is to paint their boy as an innocent victim of cirumstances, given that the case seems to already be cut an dried on the evidence placed in the media by the state. It migt even work…

      In this context anyhing that brings us back to Reeva the person, even if it is a loathesome reality show, is a good thing!

      February 18, 2013 at 8:05 pm
    8. Barbra #

      Very well said, Sarah. It IS important that this be Reeva’s story, not just Oscar’s.

      February 19, 2013 at 9:34 am
    9. Hameeda #

      I agree with you Sarah.Watching her breathing, laughing and talking about normal life things really made her into a Real Person for me. She wasn’t Oscar’s victim or someone he shot, she was a person who had a life. One that got taken away from her, and one that should be acknowleged and remembered as it was.

      It’s a pity though that all other murder victims do not get to be remembered as living human beings with lives of their own. It’s only the celebrities that are captured on digital film and aired on television for the world.

      February 19, 2013 at 9:55 am
    10. Sarah Britten

      Hameeda, you are right. It’s something I think about often – how a death that is famous for some or other reason somehow carries greater gravitas than ordinary accidents and crimes. How if a child killed in the Newtown Massacre had died of pneumonia, it wouldn’t be news, and nobody would really care about that particular death. If Reeva hadn’t had a famous boyfriend, say, and she’d died in a car crash, it would be news, but she wouldn’t have the media live-tweeting her funeral, or her uncle talking on live TV while I stood in the e News Africa studio earlier today waiting to talk about Oscar’s sponsorships. Celebrity deaths shouldn’t matter more than ordinary ones, but they do.

      February 19, 2013 at 2:37 pm

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