Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Duff: Get ready for another O.J. trial

Duff: Get ready for another O.J. trial and lessons we’ll learn from it

Grab some hairspray and dig up that Ace of Base album – it’s 1994 again.

O.J. Simpson has been charged with multiple felonies after a suspicious robbery and assault incident at a Las Vegas hotel. Entertainment juggernaut TMZ has the details, in audio, no less.

I have vivid memories of the first O.J. trial. I resisted the hype for a few months, then I gave in to it and became a full-fledged trial junkie. It was during my first days on Usenet. The newsgroup alt.fan.oj-simpson served as my introduction to the Internet, after years of confining my rants to local bulletin boards.

It attracted a perfect mix of readers and commenters, a perfect cross-section of Internet users at that time. Anal-retentive legal geeks arguing points of law, rabid civil libertarians, concerned housewives struggling to be reasonable and then, the loudest participants – visitors from alt.politics.white-power who seized on this as their last chance to be relevant in an age when even racism was passe. There were maybe six Klansmen left in the United States at the time, and all of them were on the newsgroup, screaming epithets and posting the most appalling racial insults.

It was the ultimate example of shock advertising. The Klansmen weren’t just running down O.J. – they were fighting for survival, posting phone numbers that led to recorded messages, desperately trying to recruit subscribers to their newsletter.

And now, 13 years later, O.J. Simpson is in the news again. Legal issues aside, O.J. just doesn’t seem as relevant in a post-9/11 world. We have bigger boogeymen to worry about now – bigger trolls under bigger bridges. In ’94, O.J. was used as a focal point for fear and discontent – a political decoy used to enrage both sides.

The Simpson trial was a moment of awakening for me. Until I saw the reaction to that verdict, I didn’t really believe we had racial strife in this country. Forgive me for being naive, but I grew up thinking we had all that stuff worked out. The civil rights movement emerged victorious in the ’60s and now we were all one nation, working together to build a better world.

The O.J. trial taught me we were two nations, three nations – a dozen nations pretending to be one. The O.J. trial taught me that tribalism was alive and well in America and that our legal system was not immune to it.

I wonder what we’ll learn from this one.

Written by Michael B. Duff

September 28, 2007 at 14:26

Posted in Columns

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