The 1995 Blog

1995: The year the future began

Sitting in jail, O.J. Simpson becomes a cultural reference point

While he sits in prison in Nevada, O.J. Simpson, convicted armed robber and central figure in the 1995 “Trial of the Century,” has become an odd if recurring point of reference in American culture.

This is no doubt due, in part, to the last year’s much-watched FX cable series dramatization of Simpson’s trial in Los Angeles. The trial stretched across much of 1995, was characterized by memorable plot twists, and ended in Simpson’s acquittal of charges that he fatally stabbed his former wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.

That references to Simpson are summoned in American cultural contexts also suggests that prominent features and moments of the watershed year 1995 resonate still.

Sometimes, Simpson and the 1995 trial have been a source of humor, poorly told, as former Secretary of State John Kerry demonstrated yesterday in an appearance on the NBC interview program “Meet the Press.”

Kerry, a haughty, wooden, and mirthless figure, invoked Simpson in criticizing President Donald Trump’s decision last week to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, ostensibly to seek an improved deal.

Kerry sputtered in making the connection, saying:

“When Donald Trump says to the world, well, we’re going to negotiate a better [climate] deal. I mean, you know, he’s going to go out to find a better deal? That’s like, I mean, that’s like O.J. Simpson saying he’s going to go out and find the real killer. Everybody knows he isn’t going to do that.”

Kerry’s reference was to Simpson’s pledge — read by Simpson’s eldest son soon after the trial — to “pursue as my primary goal in life the killer or killers who slaughtered Nicole and Mr. Goldman. They are out there somewhere.”

The vow, I wrote in 1995: The Year the Future Began, was narcissistic, gratuitous, and empty — one that Simpson surely had no intention of fulfilling. (In 1997, Simpson was found responsible at a civil trial for the grisly slayings of Nicole Simpson and Goldman. He was ordered to pay a judgment of $33.5 million, a penalty he has almost entirely avoided.)

O.J. Simpson as cultural reference point is not necessarily a recent phenomenon.

I noted in 1995 that the Simpson case in some ways has “never really ended.” And a little more than a year ago, a spokeswoman for Mark Fuhrman, the former Los Angeles police detective who lied while testifying at the Simpson trial, observed in an interview with Hollywood Reporter:

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

She was referring to the 10-part FX series that aired weekly last year from February to April and to the five-part documentary that aired in June on the sports channel ESPN. Simpson gained fame as a standout college and professional football player and the ESPN documentary revisited his career, his 1995 trial, and his descent from celebrity status to incarcerated felon. Simpson in 2008 was convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping and is serving a 33-year prison sentence at Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada.

Speculation is that Simpson may be paroled this year.

If so, his release from prison will set off a media and pop culture frenzy.

Meantime, other lame jokes have been told with Simpson in mind.

Last month, for example, the comedian Jimmy Kimmel likened Trump’s dismissal of FBI Director James Comey to the 1995 murder trial, quipping in a monologue on his late-night ABC show that Comey’s ouster was “kind of like O.J. firing Judge Ito halfway through the trial.”

Lance Ito was the presiding judge in Simpson’s murder case.

Kimmel’s puzzling joke brought polite laughter from his audience.

Comey’s dismissal was abrupt, and came while he was in Los Angeles, on an FBI recruiting trip. As he headed to the airport after learning of his firing, Comey’s motorcade and was followed by news helicopters sending live feeds to cable networks.

The highway pursuit was vaguely reminiscent of Simpson’s low-speed chase across Southern California freeways in June 1994, before he surrendered to police in the slayings of Nicole Simpson and Goldman.

And today, the much-anticipated sexual-assault trial of comedian Bill Cosby began in Montgomery County, Pa. It was, a Philadelphia newspaper reporter wrote, “expected to be the most-watched celebrity legal case since O.J. Simpson’s 1995 murder trial.”

WJC

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3 comments on “Sitting in jail, O.J. Simpson becomes a cultural reference point

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