First, let us dispense with the obligatory political correctitudes.
1. Beating a woman, not to mention killing her, is wrong. Always was, always will be. Feminist agenda-setters and law enforcement types are not exactly thrilled about the flap out in La La Land, but they've taken the opportunity to put forth enough material on domestic violence and spouse abuse to keep state legislatures, Phil, Oprah and Sonya singing for years to come. Right on, everybody.
2. Killing a waiter from the local kiwi-on-a-bed-of-wilted-arugula outlet (no matter who dunnit) is wrong. Always was, always will be. Even if the fellow was hopelessly star-struck, once chose to be a contestant on Studs and proudly introduced his late companion to friends as "the ex-Mrs. Simpson."
3. TV networks and cover artists from Time magazine practically convicting a man of murder before he ever gets to court is wrong. Besides, the whole thing is likely a frame-up by the Ku Klux Klan or possibly the Mafia. Yes, and if certain Vanilla Ice recordings are played backward, you'll learn all about that artist's torrid affair with Mother Theresa.
There. That was easy enough. Now down to business:
The O.J. Simpson murder case is the most fun Americans have had in many a moon--whether we are willing to admit it or not. Hand-wringing and society-judging aside, it's become a bigger rush than the Kennedy assassination. Because it involves, as many have already pointed out, the most famous U.S. citizen to be accused of murder since Aaron Burr plugged Alexander Hamilton.
Talk about high concept. You've got Mr. Touchdown, U.S.A., who could turn out to be Mr. Hyde. You've got the beautiful blonde. You've got a missing knife, a barking dog, a bloody glove and a nationally televised, low-speed chase along the freeways of (where else?) Los Angeles. In this episode, everyone's talking on a cellular phone. Even better, it ends with the accused, who's been holding a gun to his head ever since the helicopters came into view, falling by his "mansion" (in L.A., anything with a couple of trees in the yard is referred to as a mansion) to call his mom and drink a glass of, yes, orange juice. Before surrendering to the police.
No wonder the rave reviews keep piling in. Sex. Pro football. Murder. Throngs of celebrity-starved, no-life-of-their-own lunatics standing by the side of the road, waving and shouting for "our hero" to slip the nets. Not even the most desolate hack churning out unsalable movie-of-the-week treatments would dare combine these elements in such blunt profusion. But now that it's happened in real life, full professors have been reduced to slavering rumormongers, and churchgoing dowagers can't wait to flip on the next installment of Hard Copy.
Certainly not your present correspondent. Like everyone else in the country who owns a typewriter, I can't help heaving another slab of sludge onto the monstrous pile of speculation, opinion and leering prurience rising before us as the Juice cools out, tieless and beltless, in his seven-by-nine-foot isolation cell.
Clearly, the ongoing event looms too large for any single theme, just as the case has swollen beyond the capacities of any one lawyer's ego. So here are some raw, undigested notes, full of questions, on a variety of topics. They might remind you of your own mental wanderings. Certainly, they are tainted by the same fits of strict rationality and surreal absurdity most of us fall victim to when faced with a nightmare, a grand joke or a really bad melodrama.
In no particular order:
What about all those Rupert Pupkins standing on the freeway shoulders? While most people were home washing their cars or paying the electric bill, these people were trying to bond with an accused murderer because he once rushed for 2,000 yards in one season. Think of these gawkers and wavers another way: These are the people in the jury pool. In goofy L.A. Who can tell if, in total disregard of the evidence, they'll want to free the man...or fry the man?
The cops. Wonder if they asked O.J. for autographs? Wonder if they asked Rodney King?
Since football players, movie actors and rock stars became role models, what became of Mom and Dad? Or the inventor of penicillin? Where does the underpaid English teacher who introduced you to Herman Melville and Ralph Ellison now rank in the heroic pantheon? By the way, who did Aaron Burr play for? Did he have good hands?
Pete Rose, Babe Ruth, Ron Lyle, Mike Tyson, the Chicago Black Sox, Woody Allen, Sonny Liston, Jim Brown. Homer, Bart and O.J. Simpson. Marge and Nicole Simpson. You cannot enforce order in a mind trying hard not to believe what the eyes are seeing.
Imagine the poor, beleaguered editor of the Weekly World News ("Monster Cat Terrorizes New Jersey") or the Star ("Elvis Living Among Space Aliens"). How can these poor devils hope to compete with the flagrant improbabilities unfolding each moment on CNN in regard to the case? Must be tearing their hair out, these editors. Go with: "Clinton Bedded Nicole." Or: "Jackie O. Loved O.J." There's no way out now. Go for it all: "Hillary in Menage a Trois with O.J. and JFK."
Now that the All-Pro Defense--Dershowitz at right inside linebacker, F. Lee Bailey at free safety--has taken the field, can it be long before Clarence Darrow springs out of the locker room demanding to be put in the game? Coach Shapiro will look him coolly in the eye and say: "In time, son. This is the Super Bowl of murder trials we're getting ready for. Don't forget that. We're gonna play before the fans of the nation. The entire nation. Everybody's seated in the stadium, waiting for the kickoff. And we mean to win. Because winning is the only thing."
Why did it take so long for the first O.J. jokes to emerge? In awful, unspeakable situations like this we always use bleak humor as a defense mechanism. So what happened? Why were those yukmeisters, who sit home alone in the dark with a rum and Coke thinking up the wickedly funny lines the rest of us tell to fifteen people three days later, a little slow on the uptake this time around? Oh, well. They came across, didn't they? "O.J.? Michael Jackson calling. Don't worry about the kids. I'll take care of 'em."
People are surprised and disappointed that they "didn't really know O.J. Simpson," but why should they be? He was a man running with a football under his arm across a TV screen, a figure pushing rent-a-cars and joking up in the booth with Howard Cosell. He was what Richard Schickel, in his book on celebrity culture, calls an "intimate stranger," caught in that web of incoherent desire the anonymous weave around the powerful, the beautiful and the rich.
Not to worry, though. Because we are talking major miniseries here. As soon as Warner Bros. and Viacom and Paramount sort out their delicate negotiations, Denzel Washington, one of the finest young actors in America, will provide a fully detailed portrait of this enigma, this mystery man with a pigskin. Nicole? Ron? We can't reveal those casting decisions just yet, but rest assured: Even as we speak, our people are combing the country to find the most talented candidates. This will fall into place. A third draft of the teleplay is at this moment in the development stages. As for all of us here at Sleaz-Pic, we're already salivating over the Nielsens, we don't mind saying. Here. On your way out, grab a "We Love You, O.J." T-shirt. One size fits all.
Those 911 tapes. Didn't the Menendez brothers have any 911 tapes? And if so, where are they? One thing's sure. Jesse Jackson doesn't have them. Instead, he materializes on the tube, truly astonished by the Simpson melodrama and, for once, proves nearly at a loss for words. "From Amazin' Grace to disgrace," he manages. Then he pauses, looks just a bit bewildered, as if this is too glib a comment. "We're still trying to figure out the deeper meanings of this for the whole society," Jackson says.
True. But for now, don't you wonder if a man on "suicide watch," deprived of his shoelaces, tie and belt, couldn't still do himself in with nothing more than his socks? Is there someone in the driver's seat at Hertz? Not exactly. Do you wonder if, in O.J.'s unknowable heart of hearts, he's anything like you?
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