Ezra Edelmans seven-hour ESPN documentary contained little new evidence, but its thorough exploration of the case indicted this mad mess of a country
What did America learn from OJ: Made in America? Technically, the seven-hour ESPN documentary, which concluded on Saturday night did not offer new evidence.
Some of the things people said sounded like new information: that OJ Simpsons father was gay, or that Simpson may have stopped taking his arthritis medication, causing his hands to swell so much that the infamous glove wouldnt fit.
Or that when the jury toured Simpsons Rockingham estate, his lawyers had set it up to appeal to them, putting up more photographs of Simpson with black people in order to convey that all his friends werent white. Or that at least one of the jurors, Carrie Bess, summed up her attitude towards Simpsons abuse of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, thus: I lose respect for any woman whod take an ass whooping when she dont have to.
But the literature on OJ Simpson is pretty vast, and many of these things have been said before, elsewhere, available to those who cared to find it. Jimmie Simpsons gayness was revealed by the tabloids in 1994. I can find reports about the pictures on the wall dating to 2000. There were suspicions about arthritis medication in 1995. The attitudes of the jurors were documented by countless journalists during and after the trial.
Even the crime scene photographs, which ESPN delicately blurred, are all over the internet. (I dont recommend finding them.) The quarter-inch nick to Nicole Brown Simpsons vertebrae showing the brute force of the knife has long been a matter of public record. So have all those incidents of domestic violence.
The fact that watchers of the ESPN documentary and news outlets received these facts as revelatory is significant, because it shows we have already forgotten more about the case than anyone who was alive at the time ever knew in the first place.
Filmmaker Ezra Edelmans technique was more exhaustive than investigative. For the first time, he put everything in one place. And through what was obviously some careful grilling, he constructed a more damning brief against Simpson and in many ways against his supporters than the prosecution ever did. He seemed to have found and convinced just about everyone to speak to him. AC Cowlings, the man who drove the white Bronco, and Christopher Darden, Marcia Clarks co-counsel, were the only notable exceptions.
The documentary did not explore alternative theories of the crime. A grand total of one friend, Joe Bell, who knew Simpson from childhood, was still able to give voice to what must have been the reaction of many more of his friends to the incredible violence of the murder: Listen, I just flat out, categorically deny the fact that he could do that. Period.
No one but Joe seems to harbour many doubts, anymore. Just about everyone is frustrated, tired, resentful, puzzled and/or anguished.
Even Simpsons erstwhile supporters in the civil rights community had an instrumental view of the case, which let them believe Simpsons guilt or innocence was ultimately beside the point. Maybe it was.
Danny Bakewell, one of Simpsons most fervent supporters, seemed to confirm that when he said: OJ Simpson was a vessel. He was merely a toll that allowed something to come out, and be exposed.
Asked by Edelman if he was using Simpson, Bakewell agreed: I was using OJ Simpson for our cause. For black peoples cause.
Bakewell is at least right that the larger cause was a noble one. The civil rights activists who supported OJ were correct that there was a giant, gleaming injustice in Los Angeles. They were right that the Los Angeles police department had proven itself, more than once, to be untrustworthy in its treatment of African Americans. And they were right to be suspicious that the police department had failed them again in OJ Simpsons case.
The Mark Fuhrman tapes were only a confirmation of the attitudes African American leaders knew the police to have. That was the frustrating truth.
In the end, that seemed to be what Edelman meant by his title: the OJ Simpson case was Made in America in the sense that it reflected every single frustrating thing about this big mad mess of a country.
The obsession with celebrity; the way a fair defense depends on a defendants riches; the publics endless appetite for coverage of a tragedy; the incompetence of the prosecutors; and the inability to transcend race, the thing OJ Simpson was so often said to want for himself.
No one seems to have come out of this case entirely happy. Even Carrie Bess, that juror who doubted women who stayed with their abusers, asked if she regretted acquitting Simpson.
Somewhat, she said, immediately, But deep in my heart, I done what I felt was right at that time.
Not everyone, it seems, can say the same.