I remember exactly where I was when the verdict was announced in October 1995. I was in grade ten and traveling the halls between English and Art class where I found myself stopped in front of a TV located outside the school’s music room. A storm of students of all ages and grades stood in complete silence as a soap opera we were innocently engulfed in was about to come to a close. “Not Guilty” was the verdict and with those words a complete sense of loss came over us. The story (so we thought) was done and our shared invested time seemed wasted. O.J. Simpson was found innocent and the narrative of a sensational crime faded out from our cultural milieu. What I didn’t realize at this time as a 14 year-old student was that the duration of the Simpson trial, broadcast like a contemporary soap opera on CNN, ABC , NBC and other major networks, was that well before Survivor, mass audiences were consumed by reality television . Everything was there: archetypal characterization, villainy, sexual intrigue, race, gender and most importantly – violence. Now looking back at that time and re-visiting suppressed memory with the American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson, such a rendering of a brutal reality was reflective of a culture voided of substance. At a time when real issues mattered and should have been discussed transparently, the world became lost within a courtroom of celebrity and a deep disconnect between TV broadcasting and urgent cultural issues.
This is why American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson truly matters within a critical culture, social and political discussion. This is a program that is worth teaching: it speaks loudly to current race issues in America (relevant to other nations) along with providing sound history on the complexity of race; stemming from the brutal beating of Rodney King that reignited pre and post- Civil Rights tension . This is how American Crime Story begins. Significantly, it does not begin with grandiose images of O.J. Simpson’s athletic glory or B-level movie celebrity, but rather the raw and terribly disturbing images of racism and social disorder – the beating of King and the violence of the LA Riots. These are images I remember from my pre-teen years, feared, but did not understand. The ability to understand was never present: not at home or school.
With all of this, I strongly encourage you to take the time and watch American Crime Story. If you’re like me and remember seeing the Bronco live on CNN, the trial headlines and the grocery store tabloids, the series will speak to memory. If not, the story is still deeply topical. At the time of Black Lives Matter, Oscars So White and other discussions around race and inequality, American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson cannot be missed.