The People vs. O.J. Simpson: Will You Watch?
Stories about O.J. Simpson are one of my “guilty” pleasures in life. I have explained to my wife the reason that I’m interested in O.J. Simpson news is similar to some of the reasons she watches trashy television shows like Keeping Up With The Kardashians and Teen Mom. The irony of Robert Kardashian being one of the lawyers involved in the O.J. trial was not lost on me when making this comparison.
I don’t follow O.J. because I think he is a good person or because I respect him but rather because I know there’s going to be drama at every twist and turn which will cause me to feel genuine emotions. That’s what sucks me in. Both O.J. and the Kardashians are very polarizing public figures. They tend to make you have strong feelings towards a subject whether it be positive or negative. That’s why people continue to “keep up” with them. I’d like to examine some of my memories regarding O.J. and discuss what emotions I felt at the time.
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My reaction to the trial was ignorant for several reasons. I was young and had no knowledge of the facts of the case. My presumption of O.J.’s guilt was because most adults told me he was guilty and I just accepted it. I also didn’t understand the racially charged atmosphere that surrounded Los Angeles at the time. I was too young to know that the Rodney King beating happened only a few years prior.
When O.J. was acquitted of two counts of murder in 1995 I was 11 years old. At this point I had been a Buffalo Bills fan for only four years. I distinctly remember being in my middle school home economics class when the verdict was read. The teacher brought in a small radio from home so the class could listen. When I heard the words “not guilty” I remember being upset and shouting out “noooo!” in front of my class. Why did I feel so strongly about a court case that I knew so little about?
I grew up in a predominately white town in Long Island, New York called Garden City. The next town over, Hempstead, consists primarily of minorities including many African-Americans. The racial tensions happening in L.A. and around the country were also occurring on a much smaller scale near me between neighboring towns of different economic and racial demographics. I wish I had understood this because it really would have helped me comprehend the reasons for such strong emotions regarding O.J. Simpson.
Instead, I was ignorant to all of this. I once joked to some adults “One day I am going to buy a white Bronco and get a custom license plate that says guilty”. They all laughed. I wish they hadn’t though. I wish they had explained to me that two people had been murdered and this was not something to laugh about. Why did I feel it was appropriate to try to make a joke about this topic?
I also remember some people I knew laughing at a caller on the Howard Stern Show who said something to the extent of “I See O.J. He be looking scared.” I did not understand at the time that this caller was purposely speaking in racial epithets in order to get a laugh. Why did a person call into a radio show and joke about such a serious topic in such an obviously racial manner?
All of these complex issues which were being discussed throughout the case by people and the media went over my head. I only thought of O.J. as a tremendous football player and one of the actors in the Naked Gun trilogy that I enjoyed watching so much. At the same time, I was upset that he wasn’t put in prison because I was told by adults he was guilty. How was I supposed to celebrate his days as a Buffalo Bill and enjoy the Naked Gun movies while feeling this way?
I enjoy O.J. related materials so much that I even purchased the controversial book If I Did It. I waited until after it was announced by the courts that the proceeds would be going to the Goldman family as part of the civil settlement. I would not have purchased it otherwise. Still many friends questioned my morals at the time I bought it and still do to this day. Why did I feel the need to purchase this book? What answers did I expect to find in it?
Most recently, when O.J. was arrested for many offenses including robbery and kidnapping in Las Vegas I felt confused. I was very happy that O.J. would finally be going to jail for something. On the other hand, part of me felt like this was double jeopardy. I thought the length of his sentence was determined based on his prior crimes and not necessarily the crimes that happened in Las Vegas. Knowing that he belonged in jail already I didn’t lose any sleep over it. Why did I feel conflicted about the reason O.J. was going to jail? Shouldn’t I just have been happy a man who did bad things was going to be punished?
It’s not easy for me to explain my addiction to coverage of O.J. Simpson. I can only hypothesize that because he is such a polarizing figure, who was involved in so many controversial events throughout my life, that his actions have always kept me feeling strongly about those events one way or the other. His actions have constantly caused me to be confused about the things that I’ve thought and the feelings that I’ve felt.
I can’t explain why I was upset at age 11 at the not guilty verdict. I can’t explain why others and myself felt the desire to make jokes about such a serious case. I can’t explain why I wanted to read the book If I Did It so badly. I can’t explain why after initially wanting him to go to jail when I was 11, I felt that his jail term was not proportionate to his most recent crimes even if he already deserved to be locked away for the double murders. I can’t explain why I’m currently happy that O.J. is in a jail cell now and will be for a while.
I can only conclude that the reason I’m deeply interested in all things relating to Orenthal James Simpson is because much like the Kardashians his actions and the public’s reaction to them have made me feel strong emotions, both positive and negative, and it’s these feelings which keep me hooked on stories involving O.J. Simpson, my “guilty” pleasure.
What about you? Do you plan on watching? Why or why not?