As we await the verdict in the Oscar Pistorius trial, Percy Mabandu looks at the Blade Runner’s primal features and takes a stab at what they say about us all
In a world that has lost touch with visceral or primordial reality, Oscar Pistorius has come to represent both a return to all things primal in human relations and the next stage of man – a stage defined in part by the fear and excitement of machines and cyborgs.
Premodern man was defined by two visceral abilities – to be the man who could beat up everyone or the guy who could run away from anything. But Pistorius came into a world where this fight-or-flight impulse exists as biological fact but with no purpose in our lived experience.
The only use for being big and tough is aesthetic. Big biceps and six-packs get the girls. We don’t lift weights to win potential fistfights any more, and running, if we do it at all, is for catching the bus or the elevator door.
Today’s preoccupation with terror is limited to our fantastic fear of being attacked by machines. This is perhaps why there are more people interested in the latest Transformers film than are curious about the most recent heavyweight boxing match or 100m race event.
This is why Pistorius has become the most authentic celebrity runner since Carl Lewis’ generation. It was a different world then. Humanity was different three decades ago.
Pistorius is different from other gifted sprinters like Jamaica’s Usain Bolt. Unlike Pistorius, Bolt has no real metaphoric use in a world where men are rarely required to run. It’s true that Bolt can run faster than any man in the world, but do we need him as a metaphor to remind us that we may need to?
Even in Palestine, where the threat of being violently killed is very real, people don’t run from danger, they live with it. They exist outside of the logic of normal human nature. In a free world, the flight impulse should be available. But Palestinians don’t have the possibility of flight, so they don’t run.
Because modern man’s greatest anxiety emanates from the nightmare of being attacked by machines, Pistorius came to represent a perfect metaphor of the missing link in that now still imagined reality.
His singular most important heroic act was participating at the 2012 London Olympics. It marked the first conflict between man and cyborg – half man, half machine. With that event we did not witness the first amputee sprinter competing against able-bodied athletes at the Olympics. It was the “Blade Runner” against seven men, a kind of future man against a kind of antique humanity.
As the Blade Runner, Pistorius was the embodiment of the future of man. That’s why he fascinated us. But his blades also represented a freakish return to man’s relationship with primordial reality. Suddenly, flight was a useful impulse again, if only for a moment. But as we watched six able-bodied humans outrun him in the 400m race, humanity’s fear of cyborgs was allayed. They can’t run faster than us. Flight won’t be required. This also meant Pistorius was not indomitable; he was, after all, human too.
But when he took a fire spitting machine, a silver 9mm pistol, and killed his girlfriend, Pistorius became the half-machine beast. He became dangerous, his blades became sharp; he was a cyborg. He was charged with murder and portrayed as a volatile, anger-prone creature with a rapacious appetite for fast cars, hot blondes and wild parties. Pistorius became our most primal public figure.
But, in a twisted turn of events, by helping us to remember and discover our relationship with our most primal impulses, Pistorius would dehumanise himself. He became the antique human we wanted him to help us overcome with his blades.