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Oscar Pistorius: Salvaging the Super Crip Narrative

Eddie Ndopubyline‚ Feb. 20‚ 2013

That prosecutors have charged double-amputee track athlete Oscar Pistorius with the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp has made headlines throughout the world. Together with fellow South Africans and many others, I have been attempting to make sense of the unfolding tragedy. From the vantage point of a black crip feminist, I am both fascinated and perturbed by the narratives surrounding the fatal shooting of Steenkamp. Through the lens of pop culture, what makes that which has transpired, and has yet to transpire, tragic? How are the tragedies framed in the media? And why? Here, I critically examine these and other questions to demonstrate just some of the ways in which power relations have shaped perceptions of innocence, violence, heroism, context, and death.

There is tremendous outpouring of sympathy for Oscar, which appears to be couched in shock. Both the shock and sympathy, however, must be understood within a larger context and necessarily interrogated. See, Oscar is the quintessential super crip – the personification of what Kristina Chew calls “Inspiration Porn.” Oscar’s stardom as a professional athlete stemmed from his capacity to “overcome” the “tragedy” of a “broken body” by outperforming what Robert McRuer calls “compulsory able bodiedness,” and in so doing, re-entrenching it in the able normative imagination as a benchmark of personhood. Oscar was the poster-child of inspiration porn because, to paraphrase Phillipa Willitts, his representation was enough to guilt non-disabled people into action, thereby positing disability as simply a matter of perspective, rather than a corporeality inscribed with complex lived experiences.