Fame says nothing of person’s moral worth

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oscar mar 7 REUTERS Oscar Pistoriuss character and habits have been under the microscope for a year now, says the writer. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko

The travails this week of two South African superstars have exposed many myths about “fame”, says Murray Williams.

Cape Town - News this week was dominated by two men, whose combined stories could easily be called “The Captain and the Killer”.

The coverage of the Oscar Pistorius trial was given competition only by the third Test against Australia, and the resignation of Proteas skipper Graeme Smith.

The contrast between the travails of these two South African superstars could not be more stark. But it exposed many myths about “fame”.

At the start of the murder trial, I was asked by an 11-year-old: “Dad, how did Oscar go from being so amazing to being so bad?”

The answer, of course, must be this: “How do you know he was an amazing person before?”

The reply: “But of course he was! You saw him – at the Olympics and all that!”

Again, the answer must be: “Yes, he ran fast. But, no, that certainly didn’t make him ‘an amazing person’.”

Reply: “What about his courage? To have taken on the athletics world like he did?”

Answer: “Yes, that probably took mountains of courage. But all sorts of people display courage – from the most wonderful people to the most evil. For example, it takes just as much courage to commit many crimes as it does to try to stop them. Both the policeman and the thief are brave.

“It shows us that acting with great courage tells nothing about what other human characteristics a person may have, unfortunately.”

Now all of that may seem pedantic. But is it not crucial to help children – and many adults, for that matter – to understand the profound folly of confusing fame with real value?

That fame is no determinant, at all, of character?

Pistorius’s character and habits have been under the microscope for a year now – his sports cars and fast living, his violence and his guns. And yet those have nothing to do with his speed on the athletics track.

Equally, when captain “Biff” Smith walked off world cricket’s Test stage on Wednesday – with his son in his arms, and his wife and daughter at his side – his personal values had zero to do with his sports skills.

But a conversation on Saturday gave a crucial clue about how fame possibly affected these two men differently – Pistorius and Smith.

I was shooting the breeze with Smith’s wife, Morgan Deane. I didn’t identify myself as a journalist, so normally wouldn’t quote her. But I don’t think she’d mind.

I asked her whether she and Graeme were planning on having any more kids, and she replied: “We’d love to. But only once this cricket malarkey is over!”

And maybe therein lies the real antidote to the foolishness of “the fame bubble”. In a single, playful word, the wife of SA’s Test cricket captain showed that she – and probably Graeme too – understands only too well that cricket is only a game. That it hardly actually “matters”.

As it turns out, Smith retired three days later, and now he’s just an everyday dad.

So, to my daughter: “Don’t be star-struck. A person’s ability to sing, act or play cricket says nothing about their worth, values or importance. Oscar is no more, no less, than just another alleged murderer, who happens to have no legs, yet runs very, very fast.”

* Murray Williams’s column Shooting from the Lip appears in the Cape Argus every Friday. Follow him on Twitter: @mwdeadline

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