OJ (Part 2)

The white Branco chase wasn’t much of a chase; it more of a follow and hope. If you’re not old enough to recall it–or if you were living in Burundi at the time–you probably can’t imagine how it couldn’t be seen as a chase, when the Bronco that OJ’s best friend was driving was pursued by police for 75 miles.

It wasn’t a chase, however, because there were never any high speeds involved. OJ’s best friend, Al Cowlings, didn’t have to drive fast to alude police; rather, the police just had to keep a decent distance because OJ had a gun and was threatening to kill himself if they tried to take him into custody.

And we were mesmerized by the scenes unfolding on the screen; the outcome of the basketball game paled to the question of whether or not this living legend was going to splatter his brains all over the interior of that vehicle and become a dead tragedy. We’re humans and Americans, and that’s just the kind of stuff we like.

OJ, of course, did not die that day. He was taken into custody, and he would go on to be acquitted of the murders of his wife and her friend.

More than a decade later, he was convicted for his part in the memorabilia theft–his charges and sentence worsened because others he was with were carrying guns, while he was not–and after what will be nine years behind bars, he has now been paroled, and will begin the process of being released.

That’s why we’re talking about him right now. The commentator on the TV–not the one who cited race as the primary reason we’re so interested in OJ, but the news man asking the question–said that we’re “obsessed” with OJ.

I think that’s a bit of an overstatement; were we obsessed with him, he’d have been in the news more over the last nine years, but I don’t recall hearing much about him.

We are quite interested in him when his goingson are newsworthy, such as now, but I can’t see any way we can be considered obsessed.

And why are we so interested? Yes, race has to be considered a factor, and the newsman noted our culture’s love of seeing people who make it to the top topple off, which is no doubt some people’s point of interest, but I still think there is one thing that has driven our interest in OJ these last 23 years more than those or any other factor.

It was the white Bronco chase. We watched it unfold right on prime time TV. Yes, in the months to come the media would create what has been the biggest sensationalized new coverage of my lifetime, and it still would have done so without the Bronco traveling those 75 miles, police pursuing, chances that a legend was going to blow his brains out.

That’s what gave the media the impetus to turn it into the circus it became, and, no matter what the racial aspects meant for each of us, and no matter how we sometimes love to see that guy on the top go toppling, it could never have become what it did without that Ford.

Having been so mesmerized at the start, it was easier for the media to keep people following the story from there; the nature of that drama transcended race, but it might not have transcended that desire to see the hero fall. That he was a hero made the potential tragedy–the potential story at least–that much more gripping.

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