A double homicide. A city on the brink of anarchy. One lawyer drops from a heart attack, another is criticized for her wardrobe and hair. A low-speed chase in a white Bronco, broadcast live on national news. Sound like a melodramatic soap opera? What if I told you it was all real?
The anthology series “American Crime Story” premiered this year with a season entitled “The People vs. O.J. Simpson,” detailing the 1995 trial involving superstar athlete Orenthal James Simpson, two dead bodies, scheming lawyers and a country glued to every minute. The show has amassed great critical acclaim and viewership success, and, personally, it’s some of the best television I’ve ever seen.
This begs the question: Why are we still so obsessed with this trial?
Honestly, I can’t name all the reasons. This truly was a stranger-than-fiction event in American history. The Simpson case was about many things: fame, race, wealth, domestic violence and the very nature of our legal system—all of which are still extremely relevant decades later.
But even on the surface, this case and trial were fascinating to the American public. A strong argument could be made that this single trial birthed the 24-hour news cycle. After a trial that spanned eight months, O.J. Simpson was acquitted despite a wealth of evidence pointing toward guilt. This included blood that matched his DNA, bloody footprints that matched his shoes, and bloody clothes at Simpson’s mansion. The not-guilty result shocked the entire world and is still questioned to this day.
Even after all that, Simpson supposedly wrote a book entitled “If I Did It,” in which he explains hypothetically how he would have committed the murders. Simpson denies involvement with the book, but ghostwriter Pablo Fenjves claims it was collaborative.
Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.
The Simpson case was also the beginning of a now-notorious Kardashian family’s insertion into the public eye. Robert Kardashian—Kim, Khloe and Kourtney’s late father—was a good friend of Simpson’s in college and throughout the ordeal.
After the trial, Robert seemed doubtful about O.J.’s innocence in an interview with ABC—“I have doubts. The blood evidence is the biggest thorn in my side; that causes me the greatest problems. So I struggle with the blood evidence.”
The trial, however, was more than flash and celebrity—it carried heavy themes that still resonate with the American people today. African Americans in the country had plenty of reason to distrust the Los Angeles Police Department following the infamous Rodney King beating, and the trial exacerbated those feelings in both organic and manipulated ways.
According to sociologist Darnell Hunt, blacks and whites naturally viewed the same evidence from very different perspectives based on individual experiences. At the same time, lawyers and media deliberately “played the race card,” intensifying the public’s fear for personal advantage.
These occurrences are not unique, nor are they limited to the past. Fear-mongering and public manipulation are unfortunately alive and well, and they impact relations between races, classes and any other division in society.
The series opens with footage of the 1992 L.A. riots, which bears an uncanny resemblance to Ferguson and Baltimore. Yes, fear is far from antiquated.
That’s why this 21-year-old case still holds our attention. It touched on so many topics that dominate the headlines to this day. Violence, pride and fear—I don’t expect these things to fade away, meaning the trial of “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” will likely be relevant in two more decades.