Over the last few days I’ve been watching the ESPN Films documentary O.J.: Made in America. All of that craziness went down nearly twenty years ago and I can still remember it clearly. I think if you are of a certain age it will always be with you. It’s hard to imagine another media event capturing the world’s attention to that degree again. Nearly 100 million people in the U.S. watched the highway procession (not a chase) in the Ford Bronco. And then there was the trial. Or trials. I was actually in Los Angeles during the civil trial. I waited outside the courthouse but there was a lottery to get tickets to go in and my number didn’t get called.
The documentary is a solid bit of reportage, and kept me interested throughout it’s almost 8-hour running time. The only part where I turned against it a bit was at the very end, when Simpson is given the last word, pleading with his fans to remember the good O.J. This struck me as being false, or at least ironic, since O.J. seems to have never changed. So what was the good O.J.? The football player? The celebrity? The idol? However you slice it, I didn’t get the sense that the good O.J. was the real O.J.
What I found most interesting though was the way the politics played out in ways that really foreshadowed the rise of today’s anti-elite populism, only from a different perspective. From interviews with jurors it’s clear that sides were taken early on, and that no amount of evidence was going to change anyone’s mind. African-Americans in Los Angelese saw themselves, with justification, as a group oppressed by the system, leading to feelings of cynicism and even nihilism. The game was totally rigged and no facts presented by the Man, no matter how clearly demonstrated, could be believed. Acquitting O.J. would even be “payback” for a history of racist law enforcement.
Today we usually associate this kind of attitude with Trump voters, so it’s instructive to see how it has played out in other contexts. Either way, people were voting angry. The results speak for themselves.