The 1995 Blog

1995: The year the future began

‘Everything O.J. is in the zeitgeist right now’

Call it the long reach of 1995.

It is rather remarkable that a 21-year-old murder case — in which most people now think defendant O.J. Simpson committed the grisly crimes for which he stood trial in 1995 — has returned to popular culture in such a sustained and even absorbing way.

Lynda Bensky, the spokeswoman for Mark Fuhrman, a former Los Angeles police detective whose career was blighted in the Simpson case, observed in an interview the other day with Hollywood Reporter:

“Everything O.J. is in the zeitgeist right now.”

OJ_ESPN logoBensky was commenting about a passing reference to Fuhrman in the popular new motion picture, Captain America: Civil War, which opened over the weekend. One of the characters in the movie tells another that “you’d have to go Mark Fuhrman on my ass to get information out of me.” Meaning violently assault him before he would talk.

Fuhrman found one of the incriminating bloody gloves that prosecutors said Simpson wore in fatally stabbing his former wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, outside her home in Los Angeles in June 1994. During the trial, Simpson’s lawyers obtained audiotapes of conversations in which Fuhrman uttered racial slurs and claimed to have brutally beaten African-American suspects in cases before Simpson’s.

The Fuhrman tapes, which surfaced late in the months-long trial, stunned the prosecution, blunted its case against Simpson, and helped make his acquittal inevitable.

The tapes figured prominently in a closing episode of the 10-part dramatization of the Simpson case that aired weekly from February-April on the FX cable channel. Though it was exploitative and flawed, the FX miniseries drew large audiences. Reviews were mostly favorable, even if the miniseries did play “history as camp.”

Next month, the sports cable channel ESPN opens a five-part documentary about Simpson, his storied football career, and his descent from celebrity to incarcerated felon. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of armed robbery and kidnapping and is serving a 33-year prison sentence in Nevada.

The ESPN documentary, O.J.: Made in America, runs nearly eight hours and has received favorable advance reviews. “What’s most surprising about the O.J. Simpson trial is, two decades later, how fresh it feels,” one reviewer wrote last month.

The enduring fascination with the Simpson case is best read as confirmation of the long reach of 1995, a watershed year that I examine from several angles in my latest book, 1995: The Year the Future Began.

I argue in the book “that the present, as we know it, began to take shape during [the] twelve consequential months” of 1995 and that reminders of the watershed year are frequent and often in the news.

Or in the zeitgeist.

And that’s not so surprising.

After all, as I write in 1995, the year was a pivotal and decisive time, “when the Internet entered the mainstream of American life; when terrorism reached deep into the American heartland [at Oklahoma City] with devastating effect; when the [Simpson] ‘Trial of the Century’ enthralled and repelled the country and brought forensic DNA to the popular consciousness; when diplomatic success at Dayton [in ending the brutal war in Bosnia] gave rise to a period of American muscularity in foreign affairs; and when the president and an unpaid White House intern began a furtive and intermittent dalliance that would shake the American government and lead to the extraordinary spectacle of impeachment.”

Important reminders of 1995 go beyond renewed fascination with the Simpson murder case.

Just the other day, Jeff Bezos, who launched Amazon.com in July 1995, sold $671 million of his shares in the company, of which he remains CEO. It was reportedly the largest amount of Amazon stock that Bezos has sold.

Even more striking were recent, pointed remarks by Donald J. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, that recalled former President Bill Clinton and his scandalous misconduct with Monica Lewinsky.

“Hey, look,” Trump said the other day in a telephone interview on CNN, Clinton “was the worst abuser of women, as a politician, in the history of our country. He was impeached. He was impeached. And then he lied about it. He said nothing happened with Monica Lewinsky, and then he said, ‘Sorry, folks it actually did happen.’ And the guy was impeached for lying.”

The Clinton-Lewinsky affair began in November 1995, during a partial shutdown of the federal government. Their  dalliance went on intermittently until March 1997 — and led in 1998 to his impeachment on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Clinton was acquitted at a Senate trial in 1999.

So important developments of 1995 clearly do reverberate, clearly live on. The fingerprints of that watershed year are all over the present.

WJC

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