Saturday, November 18, 2006

O.J Is Back

Here's a story with my favorite combination - crime and power. You all remember that former football star O.J. Simpson was accused of killing his ex-wife Nicole Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, captured after a bizarre "low-speed chase" on the San Diego Freeway in L.A., given infinite media exposure in the trial that launched a thousand book deals, and acquitted even though nearly all white - but a much lower proportion of black - observers assumed he was obviously guilty. I would argue that "Rebuild L.A." was killed by the racial wedge forged by the O.J. trial, but that's another story. The families of the victims brought a civil suit against Simpson and he lost this one, and was ordered to pay over $33 million in damages (as yet unpaid). He moved to Florida, his Brentwood house was bought and razed to the ground, the street number of Nicole Simpson's condo was changed, the Mezzaluna restaurant where Nicole ate the night she died (and where Goldman worked as a waiter) became a Peet's Coffee. Famed defense attorney Jonnie Cochran ("If the glove don't fit, you must aquit") passed away in 2005. All obliterated - but not forgotten.

Now O.J. has written a book with the title "If I Did It," due out November 30. People are pissed! Here's the link between this old crime and mogul power, in case you were wondering. It's Tim Rutten, media columnist for the L.A. Times, doing the writing. The piece is called "O.J. Sewer Leads Right to Murdoch."

"'If I Did It' is the product of the former football star's collaboration with an unnamed ghost writer and will be published at the end of this month by ReganBooks, the euphonious shock-and-schlock imprint Judith Regan runs for the HarperCollins publishing house. Fox, ReganBooks and HarperCollins all have something important in common: They're owned by the predatory Australian-born media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, who has devoted his life to making money by making sure that news and entertainment are as coarse and vulgar as can be imagined in as many places as possible.

"In fact, if there is a single compelling argument for restrictive immigration policies, Murdoch is it. It is one of history's inexplicable perversities that this avaricious antipodean has been welcomed into this country while honest Mexican workingmen are walled out."

Rutten goes on to talk in terms that would do a poststructuralist social theorist proud, pointing out how the Murdoch system produces its own (fake) resistance: "So let's see here … Judith Regan publishes Simpson's book. To whet the buying public's appetite for it, Regan herself interviews Simpson and the results are aired on Fox Broadcasting during the sweeps week, which is critical to the network's advertising. To build buzz and controversy, which means audience, the commentators on Fox News denounce the whole thing as a cultural low point, something they'd recognize more easily than most. Keep in mind that both networks report to Ailes, who once created a talk show for Regan. Ailes, Regan, O'Reilly and Rivera all work for Murdoch, who ultimately profits from both the outrage and the outraged."

It's definitely a foolproof system. Rutten goes on to note another twist that we would expect from our heavy noir dosage this term. Regan doesn't think it matters that Simpson doesn't really confess in the book: "It's not because she's in rehab — it's because she's a victim herself! That's right, domestic abuse. In a rambling, semi-hysterical statement distributed Friday, Regan said she was unsurprised by Simpson's acquittal because she was disbelieved when battered by her husband more than 20 years ago. According to the publisher, he was 'tall, dark and handsome. A great athlete. A brilliant mind. He was even a doctor, with an M.D. after his name and a degree that came with an oath: "First do no harm." He was one of the brightest men I'd ever met. And he could charm anyone. He charmed me. We had a child. And then he knocked me out, with a blow to my head, and sent me to the hospital. He manipulated, lied and broke my heart.'

"Simpson's acquittal, Regan insisted, was 'a seminal moment in American history' and, recalling her own experience going to confession as a Catholic schoolgirl, said that she 'made the decision to publish this book and to sit face to face with the killer, because I wanted him, and the men who broke my heart and your hearts, to tell the truth, to confess their sins, to do penance and to amend their lives. Amen.'"

Many black folks thought whites assumed Simpson did it because the victims were white and he was black, meaning hypersexual with poor impulse control: unconscious if not conscious racism kept the LAPD from investigating other possible suspects and hung it on O.J. It does make sense that someone who had been wronged but not believed (Regan) could imagine the same thing having happened to Simpson. But if they are both innocent, why wouldn't they call Simpson's book "I Didn't Do it!" Too obvious? Too much like yet another denial that it wouldn't sell? Or too false? Or what?

It's a great story: real confessions, fake confessions, rejected confessions, confessions that are actually denials, and the media brokers of all this making a huge pile of dough. Maybe this isn't a newsflash after all.

Meanwhile, back in Unrebuilt L.A., somebody asks a black person what they think. A restraunt manager, LaShawn Tillman, says that "she had her own run-in with an assistant district attorney, who told her she was 'like O.J' when she disputed a drunken driving charge, she said.

"'The system is prejudiced,' that's for sure,' Ms. Tillman said, 'but I think this book is bad. It is making money off a tragedy'" (reported by Jennifer Steinhauer in the NY Times, Nov 18 p 10).

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