Saturday, June 19, 2010


This week, ESPN aired a documentary entitled June 17, 1994. It's hard to believe that a baby who was born that day is now old enough to legally drive a white Bronco down the freeway (though they would be advised to pull over at the behest of law enforcement). I have clear memories of watching TV that evening, switching back and forth between the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase and the NBA Finals (the Milwaukee NBC affiliate aired O.J. while the Madison affiliate stayed with the NBA).

Sixteen years later, I wonder how much our culture remembers about the O.J. case, which for at least the summer of 1994, seemed to be the central, most important event in the entire world. I'm guessing that for those who are old enough to remember 1994, most would be able to tell you that O.J.'s ex-wife was named Nicole, and quite a few probably remember the name of the other victim (Ron Goldman). Most would remember that Lance Ito was the judge (thanks in large part to Jay Leno's "Dancing Itos"), most would remember Johnnie Cochrane (and "If it does not fit, you must acquit"). Some may not recall Mark Fuhrman's name, but they may have a vague recollection of an allegedly racist L.A. cop accused by the defense of planting a bloody glove at O.J.'s house. And if prompted, many would recall the comical Kato Kaelin, O.J.'s houseguest at the time of the murder.

Most people probably wouldn't be able to tell you that Ron Goldman's father's name was Fred, or that Nicole's sister's name was Denise. Most people wouldn't know that Lance Ito had a wife named Margaret York, a police officer. Some may recall that in addition to Cochrane, Robert Shapiro served on O.J.'s "Dream Team," but would they recall F. Lee Bailey? Carl Douglas? Would they remember that Alan Dershowitz consulted for them? That Barry Scheck and Peter Neufield of "Project Innocence" worked on discrediting the prosecution's DNA evidence? Would they remember that O.J.'s personal attorney (before he hired any of the others) was Robert Kardashian, who at the time was more well-known than his daughters? Do people remember prosecutors Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden? Do they remember that Gil Garcetti was the DA?

How well do people remember the witnesses in the case? Does anyone remember that O.J.'s limo driver was named Allan Park? That in addition to Kato Kaelin, there was a dog named Kato (who just might have witnessed the murders)? Does anyone remember that a guy named Ron Shipp testified that O.J. had told him that he dreamed about killing Nicole? Does anyone remember that Dennis Fung was grilled by the defense about the LAPD's evidence collection (or that Shaprio made a non-PC joke about getting fortune cookies from the "Hang Fung" Chinese restaurant)? Do people remember Gina Rossborough, a juror who went on Oprah shortly after the verdict? Surely some recall O.J.'s vow to track down the "real killers" after his acquittal, but do they remember his allegations that Nicole's death was connected to the "shadowy world" inhabited by Nicole's friend Faye Resnick? Does anyone remember Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran?

Reading the above paragraphs, one might conclude that I spent a lot of time on Wikipedia reading about the case. They would be wrong. With the exception of looking up how to spell "Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran," I pulled all of the above out of my memory banks. (But I'm glad I looked up Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran--otherwise I wouldn't have known that he performed Michael Jackson's autopsy). Upon learning this, some may come to the conclusion that in 1994 (and in to 1995, when the trial finally ended), I must have been obsessed with the O.J. Simpson case. But the honest truth is that I didn't really care all that much. I didn't watch the preliminary hearing, which was a big enough deal to pre-empt soap operas, which were still popular in the mid-1990s (Most of it took place when I was in driver's ed class). I didn't watch the opening statements--I think I was in school by then. Most of the rest of the trial wasn't on network TV, and my family didn't have cable. I saw about twenty minutes of Hung's testimony on Court TV in a hotel room in summer 1995. I remember listening to closing arguments on the radio, and I saw the verdict during lunch hour at school. (And no, I did not watch E!'s re-enactments of the civil trial).

So how did I come to acquire this knowledge? Every day, I would purchase a USA Today newspaper, mostly for the sports section. But every day, on the top of page three of the news section, there was an article about the O.J. Simpson case. And nearly every day, I would take five minutes and read that article. And why has this information stayed with me all of these years? I'll admit that part of it is that I've got a mind for trivia. But part of it is an exigency of time. At the age of 16, I was old enough to pay attention to and have a passing interest in the affairs of the world, but young enough to not have any real demands placed upon me by the world. The fact that the case broke in the summer was even more fortuitous, since I didn't have school and had only a token job (working for my dad).

But the other factor, no longer repricable for me or for young people today, is that there was less in the way of entertainment options. The ipod was not invented yet, the nascent world wide web was not yet on my radar, there was no netflix, I didn't have to check anyone's Facebook status updates, and in my particular case, there was no cable television. Particularly once the baseball strike hit in August of 1994, my entertainment options were limited. I figured that I may as well read about O.J. Simpson for a few minutes every day.

Looking back, what I find ironic is that it was the reletive lack of information available that allowed me to accumulate a storehouse of information. I read the other day that the Rod Blagojevich trial is streaming on-line. If it were 1994, and a former governor was on trial for corruption, and the trial was televised, I could see myself watching it. But on the Internet today?--forget it. I also saw recently that a Stone Temple Pilots concert was streaming on-line. If it were 1994, and there was a Stone Temple Pilots concert on TV, I would have watched it in a second. But on the Internet today?-- even though I still listen to STP (and even bought their latest album)-- nah. Minor league baseball games stream all over the web. If it were 1994, especially during the major league strike, and minor league games were aired on the radio, I would have tuned in all the time (heck, I remember listening to "classic games" on the radio Sunday nights during the strike). But on the Internet today?-- not so much. Because there is so much available, I avail myself of practically nothing. But I've got to think that if it were scarce, I would be all over it.

And to really drive home the point, O.J. Simpson is sitting in prison right now and I can't tell you the name of the prosecutor who put him there. I can't tell you the name of the judge, any defense attorneys, or any material witnesses. All I know is that he was convicted of committing a robbery in Las Vegas a couple years ago. And I know that Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran was not involved.


Anonymous Tim said...

I watched Bonnarroo streaming on YouTube. Got to see Weezer perform Undone The Sweater Song. I think that was released in 1994.

12:43 AM  
Blogger rscowtown said...

I was in Santa Barbara that day with Mark on a trip. We were shopping when the white bronco was driving a couple hours to our south, and discussed it with other hotel guests at the pool that nite.

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...had only a token job (working for my dad)"
-Was it token because I gave you what you may have percieved as busywork, and you didn't realize the importance of it? Or was it the pay?

You could try again this summer if you'd like... I'd give you $40.00 per flat rate hour to rebuild transmissions, and it's for sure not busywork...just one caveat, it has to work when you're done.


10:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"perceived", sorry didn't catch that.

10:43 PM  

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