Ours is a household that lags the zeitgeist, so it was just this weekend that A and I streamed OJ Simpson vs. People on Netflicks. Seeing it, how the whole thing did not rush back to me!
At the time OJ Simpson took off in his famous white bronco, I was living in Santa Fe. I remember my roommate, a jazz singer, told me about it – she was watching it on her tv in her bedroom, and crying. I was puzzled about this: my roommate had never mentioned football before. To me, OJ Simpson was simply an old football player who made a bunch of cheesy ads and had a minor career in movies.
By the time the trial ended, I was living in New Haven. I do remember the not guilty verdict, mainly because the people I was working for seemed so upset about it. After work, I met my friend David, who was being visited by a neurotic friend from Brooklyn. All she wanted to do was talk about the case. As so often when Dave and I were together, we sort of silently agreed to play the fool, so we both said we thought he was innocent. The reaction to that was unexpectedly fierce: she left us and went straight to the train, and headed back to Brooklyn.
Out of that mockery I evolved my vague sense of the case: which is, that OJ Simpson was a guilty man who was framed by the LAPD. I’d heard bits and pieces about the case – this was before the Internet injected news directly into my ganglia, and I didn’t have a tv, so my knowledge of the case was curiously folkloric, depending on what other people said – and the bit that stuck was that some racist cop had found OJ’s glove. I immediately thought he’d probably planted it – such fortunate, accidental discoveries don’t just happen to cops. Especially racist cops.
I sort of still think that. One of the rare mistakes in the series is to follow along with the cop story about the glove. If he’d never found that glove, I think, OJ would have been found guilty.
But who knows?
Anyway, the series is educating me. And I do like it that I recognize the places where it was filmed, since I live in the midst of them. I’ve read that Cuba Gooding has been dissed for his imitation of OJ Simpson. That may be the case – Cuba Gooding is likeable, whereas OJ Simpson never seemed more, to me, than another egotistical Hollywood bit player. Aside from that, the film does get the race card – and that this card is called the USA. The quasi-automatic racial sidetaking is something I saw. White millionaires – for instance, Cullen Davis – have killed their spouses, or tried to, before, and beaten the rap, and it was never a symbol of everything. At the time of the trial, I was kicking against the symbol – I thought I would choose my own symbols of the Zeitgeist. But older and wiser, or more tired, which is what wisdom comes down to, I realize the Zeitgeist chooses the symbols in which it is encoded without consulting any individual. It made sense to me then, and makes sense to me now, that a system in which white juries make a habit of disculpifying cops when they kill black men, women and children was bound to get a response. This ain’t no Pavlov’s laboratory, and you can’t keep the shock machine going without the human product bursting out and taking it over at least occasionally, on high and mighty moments of exasperation.
Interestingly, a few years after OJ was released to maximum white indignation, Robert Blake offed his wife. How many peeps remember where they were when he was arrested, or when the jury cleared him of the murder charge? Time did not crystalize, in that case, any of our inner rages and guilts, I guess.