It’s still O.J.’s world

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

For nearly a quar­ter-cen­tury, O.J. Simp­son has served as a ref­er­en­dum on some Amer­i­can flash­point: race, class, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, jus­tice, Cal­i­for­nia, celebrity.

On Thurs­day, as a Ne­vada pa­role board granted him an Oc­to­ber re­lease af­ter nine years in prison for a 2008 rob­bery and kid­nap­ping con­vic­tion, it was strik­ing how many of those is­sues still di­vide us. And how lit­tle Simp­son—and we—have changed.

It is hard to re­mem­ber, but there was a time when Simp­son was merely a tal­ented ath­lete, and the na­tion didn’t live in the thrall of live-streamed news and re­al­ity TV and 24-hour ca­ble. There was a time when Amer­i­can cul­ture was more about his­tory and heroes and less about spec­ta­cle and tabloid-grade pathol­ogy.

But the wee hours of June 13, 1994, when the slaugh­tered bod­ies of Ni­cole Brown Simp­son and her friend Ron­ald Gold­man were found out­side her con­do­minium in the Brent­wood area of Los Angeles, it marked the birth of a dif­fer­ent kind of na­tion.

Cam­eras in the court­room—novel at the time—turned that mur­der trial into an event, and the event into a plat­form. A mass au­di­ence watched, and weighed in, as lawyers aired is­sues that, un­til then, few had dared dis­cuss pub­licly, even in Los Angeles’ tonier quar­ters. The black man’s mar­riage to the Or­ange County blonde. The men she flaunted when they would fight, and the 911 calls she made when he beat her. The hang­ers-on, the help. The po­lice who were racist or star-struck.

The Los Angeles ri­ots and the whiteon-black po­lice bru­tal­ity that set them off, only a cou­ple of years in the rearview mir­ror: Those be­came piv­otal when the mostly African Amer­i­can jury heard tapes in which de­tec­tive Mark Fuhrman, telling tales to a screen­writer, used the N-word over and over. Thus, Simp­son’s ac­quit­tal be­came the jury’s black-on-white re­tort to Los Angeles’ law en­force­ment abuses. Then as now, few Cal­i­for­ni­ans be­lieved he was in­no­cent.

He is 70 now, and gray-haired. He had to try twice to hoist his burly frame from the chair af­ter the Ne­vada Pa­role Board ap­proved his re­lease.

Still, there was no miss­ing the old O.J. as he charmed and whee­dled, go­ing on about the lowlife es­capade that put him be­hind bars, face earnest as a choir­boy’s. No miss­ing his sup­port­ing cast, ei­ther, newly fa­mous now thanks to a mini-se­ries and award-win­ning doc­u­men­tary.

And there we were, glued to our screens and Twit­ter, a na­tion as cap­tive as we’ve ever been to racism, sex­ism, celebrity, cheap thrills and fa­mous dis­sem­bling con men.

It’s O.J.’s Amer­ica. Still.

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