You might not believe this, but there was a time when the world at large actually liked O.J. Simpson. He could run the shit out of a football, he was competent as an NBC sideline reporter, he could sell the shit out of some Dingo Boots and Hertz Rent-a-Cars, and it was really funny to watch him be repeatedly crushed and destroyed as Nordberg 2.0 in the Naked Gun movies. He was such a genuinely likeable guy that it came as somewhat of a shock when they started telling us that he had (allegedly) butchered his ex-wife and some dude that she was (allegedly) totally not boning down with on the regular. In our lifetimes, we had all seen a few high-profile murders and had definitely seen the shit out of some celebrity scandals. This was, after all, at a time when the dust still hadn’t settled from the Menendez brothers trial or various and sundry scandals involving just about anyone who regularly spoke about Jesus on the TV, and after all, Bill Clinton was still the president. But a high-profile scandal involving a murder where a celebrity had (allegedly) done the murdering? Whole new ballgame. No one gave a shit about Lyle Menendez or Ted Kaczynski before they started shotgunning and exploding people, and the things Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, President Clinton, and Rob Lowe were sticking inside women were decidedly less unpleasant than butcher knives. Things were about to get crazy-go-nuts, and from the initial questioning and low-speed white Bronco chase to the ill-fitting glove and the civil trial that followed all this mess, the O.J. trial was inescapable. It was everywhere, on every television channel, radio station, and printed page, until the whole thing finally came to a roundabout finale when Simpson finally went to jail for trying to rob a dude just a couple years ago. And really, at this point, no one but O.J. himself seems to think he didn’t do it, and hell, he even basically wrote a whole book (allegedly) fictionally confessing to the crime. So there’s no point in arguing whether or not O.J. killed his wife and that other guy. The point I’m trying to make is that in the act of getting all stabby, he accidentally turned us all into a nation of monsters. How, might you ask?
The O.J. Trial didn’t invent “celebrity for no reason,” but it perfected it. Now, don’t get me wrong, people being involved in a scandal getting temporarily famous wasn’t a new thing in 1985. But the sheer scale or fame-whoring that went on in and around the O.J. trial was a sight never before seen, but sure as hell seen since. And you have to remember, this wasn’t about stolen money or someone screwing someone they shouldn’t have. Sure, Jessica Hahn made a mostly boob-based career out of her interactions with Jim Bakker’s ding-dong, but it’s not like he ended up chainsawing Tammy Faye at some point. Outside of poor, overwhelmed Judge Lance Ito, just about everyone involved with the whole bloody affair either wrote a book, got a TV show, got publically nude, or some combination of the three. Murdered-dude dad Fred Goldman still shows up to throw his two cents in every time some shitty cable news network needs a comment on a murdered and/or missing blonde white woman. And probably most horrifyingly of all, disgraced L.A. Detective Mark Fuhrman has turned the O.J. trial into a lucrative career as an author and Fox News contributor, despite the fact that his sole noteworthy trait is that he was so racist that it set a murderer free. This dude’s entire being is defined by the fact that he’s pretty much the Air Jordan of racism, which is just such an “insert joke here” thing for a Fox News regular to be. Holy shit.
But at least on some level, Goldman, Fuhrman, and people like Johnny Cochran and Marcia Clark had some sort of experience or background that made them actually have something to offer when they opened their stupid mouths. The truly effed-up part of the O.J. Fame-Whore Bonanza was all the people who were mostly just background characters tangentially involved with the trial, who had no real talent or expertise to offer to anyone, but clearly just saw the near-decapitation of two people as the perfect thing to piggyback their champagne wishes and caviar dreams on top of. Nicole Simpson’s best friend Faye Resnick tried her damnedest to make a career out of it, writing a book lovingly detailing the life and times of her slain friend, and then whipping her boobs out in Playboy once people stopped paying attention to her. Paula Barbieri, O.J.’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, wrote a book that no one read and also did a Playboy spread, which everyone read, but only for the articles. Trial witness and Simpson pool house squatter Kato Kaelin became an instant “can’t tell that they’re laughing at him and not with him” celebrity, but never managed to do anything noteworthy with it. Long after being forgotten, he actually tried to pitch a reality show where he would crash on the couches of b-list celebrities, which is completely sad, but also funny, because he’s an actual (alleged) professional actor, and has failed in getting any real TV work, while boring-ass prosecutor Christopher Darden has shown up on like ten different TV shows, and has appeared alongside luminaries such as Jim Carrey and Kermit the Frog. Yeah. The dude did that. Rather than make semi-legit appearances as a legal expert, the dude developed the acting bug and used a murder trial that he was on the losing end of to make it happen for him. Jeeeeeesus. And bullshit fake celebrity had never been seen before to such a scale, and only got worse as time went on. So if you’ve ever wondered who was to blame for you having any clue who Paris Hilton or Khloe Kardashian are, that’s a bloody glove that fully fits O.J. Simpson’s hand.
Well, haters ARE gonna hate, I suppose.
The O.J. Trial made everyone remember that they were huge racists. Let’s just fucking face it: Right from the beginning, everyone knew O.J. did it. Sure, some people might have said otherwise, but seriously, come on now. Come on now. Hell, even jury members who voted “not guilty” were saying he did it right after the trial was over, and once again, O.J. himself actually wrote a book detailing how he did it. So shut up, he did it. Thing is, public opinion was split on the whole thing, and the reason had nothing to do with actual guilt or innocence. White folks everywhere were frothing with rage over the fact that it was a black man who killed a white woman, and a blonde (allegedly) one at that. Meanwhile, on the other side of the tracks, the O.J. trial represented a chance to finally get one over on the white establishment that had been ungently fucking black people for hundreds of years, actual guilt be damned. Do you really think that there would have been nearly so much media attention or outrage if Nicole Simpson had the same skin tone as O.J? Shit, no. It would have just been maybe one or two headlines mostly confined to the sports section, a magazine article here and there, and people across the board going “damn, that sure is a shame what happened. Remember when he ran for 2,000 yards?” If they had even bothered with cameras in the courtroom, the whole damn thing would have been relegated to Court TV, and the ratings would have been low enough that Court TV would have gone out of business before the year 2000, rather than being inexplicably still around. But adding in the race factor turned the whole thing into a sick-ass spectator sport of “us vs. them,” and whatever illusion of a post-racism country that we had built for ourselves went down in giant, racist flames. So just remember, when you see Spike Lee damn near putting out a hit on George Zimmerman, the New Black Panther Party literally putting out a hit on George Zimmerman, or white people convincing themselves that Trayvon Martin was a murderous mobster with a heart full of terror while Fox News tries so desperately to find a “scary gangsta” looking photo of him to use, (So they not only regularly showcase Mark Fuhrman, but also are engaging in a full-on smear campaign against a kid who got shot to death for the crime of eating Skittles?) that this kind of mass hysteria has happened before. Michael Vick wasn’t the first time a criminal case with a seemingly obvious guilty-as-hell outcome has split us up along racial lines, and this won’t be the last. But hooo-leeee shit, I don’t wanna be around when the inevitable media circus around this thing somehow ends up setting that dude free.
If the t-shirt fits, you must acquit.
The O.J. trial made it okay to root for the bad guy in real life. We can’t forget that outside of the people who actually cared about justice and the huge, giant racists, there was a third group of people out there fucking up opinion polls: The assholes. You see, after a while, the whole thing just grew so damn absurd that a lot of people just stopped giving a shit about justice. And you know, Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman were not exactly sympathetic characters, because let’s face it, these were your typical blonde, tanned, snorting-cocaine-with-$100-bills Hollywood people, which are pretty much the worst kind of people on Earth. And don’t forget, before he started slashing up his fellow humans, O.J. Simpson was a pretty awesome dude. So a lot of folks just said, “let him go free, because fuck it, he’s O.J.” And hell, I can’t claim innocence here. On the last day of school in 1996 – aka the day when everyone wears crazy crap to school, because it’s the last day and you can’t get in trouble – I rocked the same “God Bless O.J. Simpson” t-shirt that my older brother had similarly rocked the previous year. I think he might even still have it. And for the most part, rather than just getting dirty looks from everyone, the general consensus was “ha ha ha, awesome,” or something else along those lines. The utter ridiculousness of the Simpson trial and the desire to just get it over with and the hell off our TVs pretty much desensitized us to the fact that actual people were actually dead, and it wasn’t just like rooting for the bad guy in a wrestling match. (I think I had less of a moral dilemma wearing that shirt than I did rooting for the Undertaker in a title match against Hulk Hogan a couple years before. Once again, it all comes back to wrestling.) We just didn’t care about life or death anymore, and the whole thing became a giant joke to us. And on that note…
The O.J. Trial made murder hilarious. Listen, dudes, murder is a big deal. Especially double-murder. So if you’re one of them young’uns that only knows of the post-O.J. world, this might come as a shock to you, but there was a time when homicide – or hell, any sort of tragic death, for that matter – was kind of a comedy-killer. There were no Saturday Night Live sketches where John Lennon was shot by a Samurai-costumed John Belushi, Laugh-In seldom mentioned Charles Manson, and that “NASA stands for needs another seven astronauts” jokes that all the sick-ass first-graders I knew were telling after the Challenger blew up sure as hell didn’t come from Johnny Carson. But as I’ve been saying, the O.J. trial was a surreal-ass circus, complete with a cast of whacky characters that ended up opening a giant can of (allegedly) murderous hilarity. Every talk show host or sketch comedy show had at least sixteen million jokes about white Ford Broncos driving real slow, Kato Kaelin crashing in someone’s garage, Johnny Cochran thinking that making up rhymes is a thing that lawyers are supposed to do, or O.J. Simpson, well… slashing people’s throats. I can remember sitting around in an eighth-grade classroom trading jokes with this one dude named Don about how O.J. was going to make a comeback to the NFL, because he had a “slashing style” of running that the coaches loved so much, where he would take the ball and then “cut and run.” Now that’s funny; I don’t care who you are. But it’s still pretty monstrous to joke about such a thing. But what can I say, as Americans living in the world of the 90s and beyond, we are all monstrous in our own little ways. Thanks a fucking lot, O.J.
NEXT TIME: I dunno, probably something about wrestling, or how Nirvana ruined music. You think I plan this in advance?