Simpson told the parole board that he’s changed. Whether that is true or not, only he knows . . . but I wonder if the world in which O.J. Simpson became the focus of seemingly unending national attention has nevertheless stayed the same. Simpson’s parole hearing — normally a proceeding that happens without being noticed by anyone except the convicts, their attorneys and families, the parole board, and perhaps the victims of the crime — drew worldwide attention, and as soon as the decision to grant parole was announced it was immediately the lead item on all of the news websites. It was an uncomfortable reminder of the American obsession with his murder trial — not exactly a sterling moment for the news media, the police, the legal system, the weird Hollywood world in which O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson lived, or anything or anybody else that was involved in that whole sordid spectacle.
At his parole hearing, Simpson said he just wants to reconnect with his family and has no interest in being in the limelight. Of course, our crass culture being what it is, Simpson is reportedly being besieged by TV producers who want to pitch him as the star of a reality TV show, and no doubt he’ll have plenty of other opportunities to get back on TV in some fashion if he wants to do so. I sincerely hope he resists the temptation and sticks to his stated intention to just live out the rest of his life in as private a way as possible.
In America, we accept the verdict of juries and parole boards and other elements of the criminal justice system — whether we agree with them or not — because that’s how the law works. Part of that process means moving beyond the old controversies and, finally, letting old obsessions go. I don’t want to read anything more about O.J. Simpson, nor do I want to think, ever again, about a time when our whole country seemed slightly off its rocker. But, will Simpson, the news media, and the Hollywood hype machine cooperate in achieving that goal?
Yesterday a news story was published about Los Angeles police testing a knife that purportedly was found buried on the property at O.J. Simpson’s former estate. Immediately the story was put at the top of news websites, and people started talking, again, about the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.
The purported knife find story, and the possibility that the knife has anything to do with the murders, seems wildly unlikely. What I found most unsettling, however, was how the story immediately brought back all of the extremely weird elements of the O.J. Simpson murder trial story and reintroduced them into the national narrative, from the slow-motion Bronco chase to the hangers-on at the Simpson estate to the racial elements of the investigation and trial to the glove that wouldn’t fit and finally to the verdict.
When the trial was going on those decades ago, the country seemed absolutely obsessed with it, and most people who were adults when the verdict was announced will be able to tell you exactly where they were when they heard that Simpson was acquitted. I didn’t even follow the trial that much, but I certainly can — I was in the Flatiron restaurant in Columbus, just finishing lunch with a shocked group of colleagues. It’s embarrassing that the O.J. Simpson verdict is one of those special memory incidents, right there with the JFK assassination and the first plane flying into one of the Towers on 9/11.
It’s hard to understand, now, why the O.J. Simpson trial commanded such enormous attention. He was a former football star and sometime movie actor accused of a horrific crime against his former wife, sure — but what was it that provoked such intense interest? Apparently, it was the combination of murder and celebrity and Hollywood and race and heavy media coverage, and probably a few other factors thrown in, too. I wasn’t happy to read the story about the alleged knife find and talking once more about the murders, and I have no interest whatever in watching the O.J. Simpson miniseries. The Simpson trial and verdict told us something about the country, then, something that seems strange and frivolous and almost alien now. I don’t want to relive it.