As the thousands of sympathetic messages containing sentiments of prayer and support streamed onto social networks, I could not help but wonder how Joost van der Westhuizen had gone from sinner to saint. Back in 2009, when sexually explicit images taken from video footage of Joost and Marlize van Emmenis made it into the news headlines, contempt for the once celebrated former- Springbok prevailed.
He became the butt of jokes circulating via text messages, comedians used the situation as part of their show content, the topic of his infidelity dominated discussions at dinner parties; and tea time office talks entailed extensive analysis of what lies ahead for the ex-rugby player that has long been a household name. Months went by and the much publicized unravelling of his personal and public life held public attention. His status as a ‘sports role model’ for ambitious youths came under scrutiny, as did his self-proclaimed Christian beliefs. He lost his job as a SuperSport presenter and split from his [then] wife, Amor Vittone. At the time, it seemed that every effort from Joost to redeem himself was met with scorn.
Now, three years later, Joost is once again dominating the media. This time around, however, he is receiving all the sympathy that had, post-sex scandal, been reserved solely for Amor. He was diagnosed with Motor Neuron disease in 2010 and has physically deteriorated since. On September 2, 2012, M-net aired the Carte Blanche interview that featured the visibly ill, former athlete talking of his plans forward, Amor and his children, and coping with the disease. Since the interview, social networks have been abuzz with talks surrounding the matter. One of the key points in discussion is Amor and her current treatment of Joost, namely, visitation rights.
In 2009, when it came to support, team Amor was at the forefront. After the Carte Blanche interview, team Joost seems to have taken the lead. In an opinion piece featured on news24.com, titled, “Amor needs to catch a wake up, (2012)” Ann Pillay overtly attacks Amor for, allegedly, limiting Joost’s visitation times with his children. Other opinion posts headed “I support Joost,”and “Joost exhibits extraordinary qualities,” go on to further demonstrate the influx of support for the previously condemned celebrity.
This sudden shift in support brings back the memory of Jade Goody, the 2002 British Big Brother contender that created a stir after racial slurring toward another house mate. The incident saw unfavourable public opinion poll results and she was, subsequently, evicted from the Big Brother house. Once diagnosed with cancer, she became a beloved celebrity. Sky Living even went on to air five tribute shows to her after she passed away in 2009.
When closely observing the time lines of celebrities, more specifically their position of popularity among the general public, the fickle nature of public support, and judgement, becomes apparent. Considering the last 3 years of media hype and public disdain for Joost, why is it then, that only in near death, does he qualify for forgiveness and support from the public?
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