It was June 17, 1994 and I was shivering in the backseat of my grandparents’ car. They had just picked me up for a weekend break from working at a summer camp with no air conditioning and no television for three weeks. I am not sure I knew who O.J. Simpson was before that day (We watched SEC football, not NFL).
I listened to my grandparents talk and I had absolutely no clue what was going on or where 875 S. Bundy Drive was located. From what I could gather, someone had brutally killed others and somehow this football player that everyone seemed to adore was connected. I remember laughing at my very outspoken, opinionated elders and thinking that whatever happened would blow over soon.
I was so wrong It didn’t blow over; it blew up! When I got home that evening, I planned to watch MTV with my friends because MTV actually played music in the 1990s. Instead, we watched footage of a white Ford Bronco leading the Los Angeles Police down the freeway. I learned that five days earlier, Simpson’s ex-wife and her friend had been brutally murdered at her condo on Bundy Drive and that the football great was now a suspect in the killings. What I did not realize and I don’t think many people did, is that this tragedy and the ensuing trial would change the way we view the media, celebrity status, and current events.
There was no social media in 1994, but there was Court TV and CNN Headline News and these channels played the coverage incessantly. For the first time, there were cameras in the courtroom. Nancy Grace became a celebrity and we first heard the name “Kardashian.” Everyone was an armchair attorney and the 24- hour news cycles only fueled our addictions. I do realize that there were a few that weren’t glued to the television. I have no idea what y’all were doing while we were solving this case!
It was a media circus. Eventually we got bored with the details and just wanted the verdict. The verdict came on Oct. 3, 1995. That was the first time I ever skipped a college class. You would have thought that we would have forgotten it by now, but the “Trial of the Century” still lingers.
The case had all the trappings of a blockbuster film, and it was difficult to remember that this was real life. A beautiful, vibrant couple was violently slain at a posh address. Powerful attorneys were on hand. A once beloved hero was suddenly viewed as victim by many of the same who had adored him. Evidence of documented domestic violence at the hands of a famous person surfaced. Two innocent children lost their mother. The accused was a black celebrity and the victim was a white female in a city that was still healing from the racially motivated L.A. riots of 1992. Real life is indeed stranger than fiction.
During the O.J. trial, we learned the importance of DNA. It’s hard to imagine that crimes used to be discussed without the term. The importance of preserving evidence was also a hot topic, as much of the evidence in the case was allegedly mishandled. We learned that constant news reels get old— actually we did NOT learn that. We just channel it differently now because we have 24-hour news/fake news in our hands basically all day long.
At any rate, 25 years have flown by and the aftermath of the Simpson case is still hanging around sprouting conspiracy theories for millennials. Sadly, Americans still have an insatiable appetite for bad news and gossip. We now expect cameras at anything we deem significant. We now know all of the Kardashians. But, we have learned some other things, too! The O.J. coverage taught us that domestic violence is often a reality for the wealthy and privileged, as well as the commoners. We learned to question evidence and sources better than we had before. Finally, we were reminded that real life is much more complicated than fiction.
Weekly columnist. Feature Writer.