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.