More Scandal – Should We Care?

Joost van der Westhuizen, a former Springbok scrumhalf, has admitted to being the man caught on tape, having sex with a woman who was not his wife and doing drugs. He said that he lied because he was “scared and confused”. Van der Westhuizen has been fired as a commentator on sporting-channel SuperSport because of a “betrayal of trust”. This all comes ahead of van der Westhuizen’s recently released biography, Spieelbeeld (Afrikaans for “mirror image”), which van der Westhuizen wrote “because it’s a life lesson. I hope I can help someone else not to make the same mistakes.” The question that needs to be asked is who should worry about van der Westhuizen’s, and other celebrities’, “sins” and why.

Perhaps those who should be concerned are not the South African public, of whom van der Westhuizen has asked forgiveness. His forgiveness, on a purely non-religious level, should come from those who belong to his inner-circle. That is, those who are directly affected by his actions. It seems a little egotistical and bizarre to link one sportsperson’s private dealings, even if it is illegal (though perhaps most consenting drug-taking should not be), with the emotional flux of the South African population. Basically, I find it hard to believe―though I could be wrong―that the average South African is losing sleep over van der Westhuzien’s doings.

Van der Westhuizen is a sporting personality and a celebrity-husband to a celebrity-wife. Why should this man’s moral compass, if it goes off course, affect people’s lives who have no dealings with him? This is his private affair and we have no business peering into the lives of those who do not directly concern or have an influence on us. There is a reason we generally feel violated when a stranger asks us a personal question, since it is no business of theirs.

We appreciate celebrities―well some people do, I do not―because of their successful careers as sportspeople, actors and actresses, musicians, and so on. As Bill Hicks once said, if we are absolutely against people taking drugs we should burn all the best rock music ever made. But we do not because we care about their art and the creativity of the artist’s passion. Knowing Nietzsche was a misogynist does not diminish his brilliance as a writer (but I doubt his abilities as a philosopher); knowing Faulkner lied about his past does not make him any less than my favourite novelist.

The bigger people are in society, the bigger their flaws seem to be. This is the view of “celebrity culture”. Instead, we should maintain a “role-model” culture: take the best aspects of those we admire and emulate (not mimic) them to the best of our abilities. This does not mean we must ignore their human frailties; we must be aware of them. And being aware does not mean judging. We should judge that which has brought them into the society: their abilities as sportspeople, artists, etc., not their abilities as morally perfect people. They are not perfect, they are simply people. When we realise that they are people, with digestive tracts and tonsils and other strange appendages, then we can grow faster in our own lives.

We should give up the incessant fence-peering on matters that are not our business. A reasonable question would be: Don’t fans count as those affected by Joost van der Westhuizen’s dealings? Maybe some of the fans are legitimately losing sleep over his dealings? Perhaps there are. My point is, there are more important things to lose sleep over than Joost van der Westhuizen and hookers (not the rugby-type). Maybe if we focus on their creative abilities, which brought them to our attention in the first place, more than their moral culpability, they would do the same. This could stop an endless cycle of people caring about celebrities’ private lives and celebrities indulging in this obsession by writing books and giving interviews about it.

This however says nothing about celebrities when they do commit horrid acts, such as a violence, rape, and so on. Then they should be judged as anyone else would be. This in fact highlights their equality before the law and repudiates the claim that they are more worthy of blame than we (ordinary folk) are.