Crying, Sobbing, Retching

B&W Courtroom

May it please the reader: The question before us — the only question before us — is the histrionics. The meaning of the histrionics. We are not concerned here with the guilt or innocence, as such, of Mr. Pistorius.

Background: The shooting of Oscar Pistorius’ girlfriend.

At the bail hearing, February 19, 2013, prosecution and defense agreed that in the early hours of Thursday, February 14, 2013, Mr. Pistorius — the “blade runner,” famous for running in the 2012 Summer Olympics on prosthetics because both his legs had been amputated below the knee — got out of bed at his home in Pretoria, South Africa, went to the closed bathroom door, and fired four shots through the door.

Mr. Pistorius said he had heard an intruder in the bathroom. He assumed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, a model and television personality, was still in bed and, quickly and without putting on his prosthetic lower legs, went to the closed bathroom door and fired the shots.

When Mr. Pistorius opened the bathroom door, he found his girlfriend slumped lifeless over a small bookshelf and on the floor. She had been hit by three bullets, and a shot to the head had killed her. Bail was set at R1 million (US$113,000). The indictment charged that even if Mr. Pistorius was mistaken in thinking an intruder was in the bathroom, his intention in firing four shots through the closed door was to kill whomever was in his bathroom.

May it further please the reader: Mr. Pistorius’ spells of crying, sobbing, retching, and vomiting have, during the course of the trial, which began March 3, 2014, become the “brand” of the Pistorius murder trial. We will, however, make no attempt to portray those moments here.

For the most part, those moments came about this way: Whenever Mr. Pistorius’ testimony began to describe finding or seeing Ms. Steenkamp’s bloodied and lifeless body, the histrionics would begin. And it happened often.

What, then, after all, are we to make of Mr. Pistorius’ outbursts, some of which required the judge to declare a recess before the trial could resume?

To get our bearings — and not, that is, to take sides in the case — the following brief entry from the Wikipedia Thesaurus is very clear on what we are talking about when we talk about “histrionics” —

  • dramatics
  • theatrics
  • tantrums
  • affectation
  • staginess
  • artificiality

Illustrative sentence —

  • “How about a little more plain-talking sincerity and a little less histrionics?”

Those words from the Wikipedia Thesaurus make the main point about histrionics, which is that facts, details, and other (verbal) information, is what we get when someone communicates in words and sentences.

In contrast, dramatics, theatrics, tantrums — all that and more — make up the world of histrionics, a largely nonverbal world.

Histrionics fail to inform us in many ways, including this way: As many of us know too well, a person who has killed may be as distraught after a killing that was intended, as after one done accidentally.

And histrionics fail to inform us in another way: We often cannot tell whether the histrionics are themselves sincere, or merely an act — an act, perhaps, to arouse sympathy.

Trial resumes, neighbor testifies emotion shows state of mind

On Monday, May 5, the Pistorius murder trial resumed after a two-week recess, with Johan Stander, a neighbor, testifying that Oscar Pistorius telephoned him in the middle of the night to say “Johan, please, please, please come to my house. I shot Reeva.”

When Mr. Stander, accompanied by his daughter, arrived at Pistorius’ house, he found the door open partway, and entered to see Mr. Pistorius carrying Ms. Steenkamp down the stairs.

“He was screaming, he was crying, he was praying,” Mr. Stander testified. “The expression on his face, an expression of sorrow, an expression of pain… he’s crying, he’s praying…. It was as if he was torn apart.”

“He was broken, desperate, pleading…. He begged God to keep her alive. I saw the truth that morning. I saw it and I feel it,” Mr. Stander testified.

The case is presently scheduled to continue until May 16.