Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The People v. O.J. Simpson

Ten weeks are almost an eternity in our increasingly ADD culture, but FX's 10-week crime drama The People v. O. J. Simpson succeeded in holding my - and the TV audience's attention just as the events it recalled held our collective attention over a decade ago. I can still remember watching the infamous Bronco chase in the TV room at the Paulist Motherhouse in New York. And I can just as vividly recall the TV room in the rectory in Toronto the day of the verdict. I remember each of us opining what the verdict would be. I was hesitant to say what I thought, but deep-down I believed the prosecution had failed to make its case and so expected the Not Guilty verdict that was announced moments later.

The FX drama did a great job in retelling the story - in a way which treated all the major participants somewhat sympathetically. It was actually possibly to feel sympathy even for Marcia Clark and Lance Ito in the dramatized version, which highlighted what they were going through personally in ways that the contemporary coverage could not. The "hero" of the show was, of course, Charlie Cochrane, and the series did a good job of portraying his sense that this was not just a celebrity trial but an opportunity for revenge against a racist establishment. Presumably that was also how most of the jury saw it - and many others outside. On the other hand, as the Chris Darden character lectured Johhny in their final conversation, nothing really changed for ordinary African-Americans, who would continue to be on the losing end in their interactions with white-dominated law enforcement. Obviously recent events on the bloody streets of so many conflicted American cities have continued to confirm that reality.

The real O.J. Simpson trial, verdict, and immediate aftermath confirmed the persistent racial divide in this country, rooted as it is in America's original sin. The juxtaposition of white anger and black celebration after the verdict said it all then - and continues to say it all since so little has changed to overcome that divide.

FX did us a great service in re-dramatizing this episode. It captures (without tedious nostalgia) what America was like midway thought the last decade of the 10th century. Changing the station to the news channels dramatizes how pitifully little has changed in race relations since then. 

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