"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

It's a re-creation: "The People vs. O.J. Simpson"

We can all remember where we were at certain key phases of the whole O.J. Simpson matter. I remember that at the time of the "Bronco chase," I stopped by the Marv and Kathy Meyer residence in Morris. I was there to collect information related to Marv's involvement with athletics. We paused to watch the TV screen.
The pursuit of O.J. did not come across as a true law enforcement pursuit, rather it seemed like an escort. It was an escort befitting a truly important person.
Weren't we always conflicted during the whole O.J. Simpson matter? I remember reading that O.J. was a person who we had allowed into our homes for years. He played football on TV. Then he was a sportscaster and movie actor.
A defining quality of the entertainment industry is that it pulls us out of our mundane reality. This is why we can find it so intoxicating. Hollywood is known as "the dream factory" and it's literally true. Part of the illusion is that we really think we know all those stars and celebrities. Of course we don't - not even close. We felt a certain affinity with O.J. Simpson.
Of course we acknowledged that he could have committed the celebrated murders. But a part of us, owing to O.J.'s celebrity, wanted to make the whole thing into a "whodunit." Vince Bugliosi was upset about anyone wanting to use the word "whodunit." Of course O.J. did it. Eventually a civil suit nailed him. But at the time of the sensational trial, there was back and forth between the defense and prosecution that built a real sense of suspense.
It was a media phenomenon at a time when cable TV news was beginning to find its footing. We still had the hour-long Larry King show each night on CNN. There are times today when I miss Larry as part of the mainstream cable news landscape in America. So often he'd host big names who had fallen into a need for repentance! I'll never forget his great chemistry with Bill Maher. The King show was a prime place to pick up daily highlights on the O.J. trial.
Today we can watch "The People vs. O.J. Simpson" as a reminder of that trial and of that epoch in American life. The Internet was barely off the ground - it seemed remote and exotic to us. In the early days it was a cesspool of conspiracy types. It was common to hear people talk down the Internet. Today I think we have all adjusted. We know how to separate the wheat from the chaff online. In fact the online world helps do that for us with its meritocracy in search.
I watched "The People vs. O.J. Simpson" on DVD the other day. It came as a package of four separate DVDs - rather cumbersome, yes - which I checked out from our Morris MN Public Library.
My reaction? Usually when Hollywood presents something from real life, it takes some liberty with the facts in order to present compelling drama. The movie "Hoosiers," for example, was based on the real-life Milan IN basketball team, that David from "David and Goliath" - but the plot details were created almost from whole cloth. The real-life story was totally happy and with no conflict. Those Milan kids got along with each other and their coaches all the way through from elementary to the senior grade. There was no movie there! So Hollywood came up with a compelling script about how this was all about "second chances" in life. We got a town drunk to boot, a character that I thought was overdone. It was a successful movie.
"The People vs. O.J. Simpson" was totally different. I would call this movie a "re-creation." All details were presented with as much authenticity as possible. Many of the actors/actresses bore so much resemblance to the real-life people, I was astonished. This is particularly true of Marcia Clark. At one point midway through the movie, I began to feel it was primarily about Clark. She was the white woman thrust into the thankless role of prosecutor in a trial where race was absolutely at the forefront.
Clark is portrayed in a sympathetic way through most of the movie. At the end she falls down a little where she's giving the closing argument. It becomes clear that she "gets into the weeds" too much with details, whereas the big picture should have been evident to all. The football star was not going to be convicted "beyond a reasonable doubt" by nit-picky details. I recommend that you read the book by Bugliosi called "Outrage."
Clark made too big a deal out of Mark Fuhrman. I do not believe Mark Fuhrman is a racist. Seems to me, the worst thing the detective ever did was to confess to a little racial profiling, only in terms of who he might pull over, not in terms of who'd get convicted. You can argue that such profiling is unforgivable racism, and I'm sure many would, but wouldn't a little profiling have in fact saved us from 9/11, possibly?
use of the 'N' word was in consultation with people putting together an entertainment project, right? We heard tapes of Fuhrman speaking. He dropped the 'N' word so much, it didn't even seem genuine. As I read at the time, he seemed like a caricature in that regard. The writer of that op-ed wondered, "did KKK members in the Deep South in the 1930s even talk like this?"
I eventually checked out the book written by Fuhrman about the Martha Moxley cold case (at that time) of murder. You have to admire Fuhrman when reading that book. He comes across as sensible and truly caring.
Clark should have veered away from such total condemnation of Fuhrman at the end of the O.J. trial. It seemed like a put-on.
The trial wound down with an increasing sense that a fog of details and irrelevancies would set the stage for a "not guilty" verdict. And that's just what happened.
Yes, this movie was a re-creation with no details that weren't commonly known at the time. We would be just as well served with a Ken Burns documentary. The movie is quite useful in stimulating our memories.
We were all younger and more sprightly back then. And more naive. We had naivete about the sport of football and what it does to people. Now looking back, we can all sense that O.J. might have been a changed person, having changed to become horribly dangerous as the result of all his years of intense contact playing football. He played a full college career at USC. Then he got pounded for many more seasons playing runningback in the NFL. Every time he got the ball, a team of determined big and strong men on the other side of the ball converged to try to stop him with great intensity. The likelihood is very great that O.J.'s brain was impacted. It has happened to so many other former football players.
Just the other day, Bo Jackson was quoted saying if he had it to do over again, he would not have played football. I would suggest that Bo could have played a full baseball career and be in the Hall of Fame now. Bo knows.
Should we view all former NFL players as potentially dangerous? If yes, we need to re-examine our whole culture that has football in a prominent role like for our kids, many of whom choose to "go out" for football. We need to emphasize, though, that football is not an essential part of growing up, does not show you to be "masculine," and may in fact reflect bad judgment.
There was hardly any talk about concussions in the mid-1990s. We were hardly aware of the Internet. In fact, it is the easy availability of information on the Internet today that is discouraging many young men from playing football. It is setting us free.
There is one clear highlight from "The People vs. O.J. Simpson" - a scene that sticks in your head. Clark is flirting with Christopher Darden and he eventually backs away. It's at the door to her hotel room. I remember gossipy articles about the two at the time. Clark subsequently seems embittered by his rejection to the point where she reminds him tersely that "she's the boss" on the prosecution. Might this episode have disrupted the chemistry the two needed to finish out their work as prosecutors? We are left wondering. Maybe Darden should have cashed in and had sex with Clark when he had the chance.
Lance Ito? He comes off as benign in the movie, even though it seemed he got starstruck and distracted in the trial. John Travolta does not bear a physical resemblance to Bob Shapiro. But I think his acting was very effective. We see the whole cast of characters in "The People vs. O.J. Simpson."
The devotion to authenticity is rigid. The person reading the verdict stammers in a certain place just like how it happened in real life. I was waiting for that. "The People vs. O.J. Simpson" accomplished its purpose if the purpose was to be a total re-creation. If you simply want to be taken down memory lane, this movie is for you. I'm glad I watched it. Actress Sarah Paulson is incredible playing Marcia Clark. As for Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J., well, who could play O.J. with total authenticity? Gooding comes off as endearing to a degree, whereas I wouldn't want to be in the same room alone with Simpson.
"The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story" was the first season of the FX true crime anthology TV series "American Crime Story." I wonder if the Jacob Wetterling case in Minnesota might get like treatment. It was resolved not long ago after a painful 27-year ordeal of wondering what happened.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwillyh73@yahoo.com

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