Art & Commerce: Debra Goldman’s Consumer Republic

Like a bad penny, O.J. Simpson keeps turning up
After seeing O.J. Simpson on network television last week, I propose we take the 15 minutes of fame Andy Warhol promised everyone and turn it into a statutory time limit.
If only notoriety were restricted by law, we would not have to depend on the journalistic conscience of Barbara Walters. She cancelled a scheduled interview with O.J. on The View, citing viewer protests and her colleagues’ moral outrage at providing a forum to a man whom, according to a recent poll, 70 percent of Americans still consider a vicious murderer.
They were less squeamish at Today, Simpson’s first stop in last week’s mini-media blitz, although NBC interviewer Katie Couric dutifully noted that many callers found his appearance on the show “disgraceful, disgusting, appalling, disappointing, saddening and depressing.”
NBC promoted the appearance as Simpson’s first TV interview since the trial, which is technically true, although he has hardly been living in seclusion.
We all know he has a tidy income from a trust which the victors in the civil suit against him cannot touch. He plays a lot of golf. He still attracts pinup-worthy blondes to his bed. On occasion, he will phone a radio talk show to set the record straight on some aspect of his case. Not long ago, he filed a suit against GTE, claiming the company violated his civil rights by failing to release phone records he claims will help prove his innocence.
As Celia Farber, author of the ambivalent 1998 Esquire profile, will tell you, the trick with O.J. is not getting him to talk about his case, but getting him to shut up. And don’t get him started on Faye Resnick!
Simpson wants America to know there is no shortage of people who are thrilled to have their picture taken with him. In one of the dozens of interviews Farber gave (O.J. has the knack of turning everyone he touches into a celebrity), she observed, “There’s a sense that O.J. really wants to convince people that he is innocent–that if he could get us all one-on-one, he could convince the whole country.”
Well, now he has his chance, thanks to the miracle of the Internet. The occasion for Simpson’s re-emergence on television is his new Web site, in which he promotes his innocence and answers questions—for a fee–without gatekeepers like Walters coming between him and his audience.
(There’s also the threat that O.J. will take a lie detector test on pay-per-view. Too bad for the Ramseys they didn’t think of it first.)
The comfort for those who find this prospect unseemly is that the Web site also provides the tortured souls still seething at the criminal verdict a chance to vent their spleen.
“I know some people will probably sign in to call me a murderer,” Simpson told the Associated Press. “That will be a waste of their money.” Let’s let the paying public be the judge of that.
Yet as one who actually attempted–unsuccessfully–to ignore his murder trial, but who ultimately joined the majority in finding him guilty, I must admit O.J. is far more fascinating acquitted than he was as a defendant.
One listens to him, waiting for the moments between assertions of his devotion to charity and his children, when that flapping tongue seems to detach from any organ of reason–and one is not disappointed. Couric observed that most people consider his post-trial vow to search out the “real killers” a “joke.” Simpson responded by challenging NBC to conduct its own search and offer a reward, noting, “If you think that I did it, you wouldn’t lose a dime.” Huh?
Nevertheless, as I watched, I found myself falling into what might be called “unreasonable doubt” about O.J.’s guilt, DNA be damned. It doesn’t hurt that in the last year we learned that members of the Los Angeles Police Department planted incriminating evidence in dozens of cases, much as Simpson’s defense team claimed. But ultimately, it’s not the “facts” O.J. keeps jabbering about that sustain interest in him.
It is the resistance of reasonable minds to fathom a level of denial so deep, of repression so vast, it could pull off a pretense of innocence that, alas, shows no sign of abating.
In this season of voyeur-vision TV, in which the camera seeks to expose every detail about the subjects trapped under its gaze, it is perversely refreshing to remember how mind-boggling and unknowable even an overexposed celebrity can be. K