O.J. hurt blacks ... and everyone else

June 24, 1994|By Carl Hiaasen

SAY you're Rodney King, watching O.J. Simpson lead Los Angeles police on a 50-mile chase. You've got to be wondering: Why weren't the cops that polite with me?

Because, Rodney, you aren't a football star. Maybe you didn't murder anybody, but you didn't have a Heisman Trophy on the mantle, either.

Fans will be fans. It's hard to say who's more disturbed, O.J. or the yahoos who lined up along the freeway to cheer the accused slasher's flight.

Good luck teaching that American culture is superior to all others. This sorry freak show couldn't have happened in any other country.

It's a fascinating news story with absolutely no cosmic significance. The morgues are loaded with innocents killed by people who loved them. We don't care much about accused murderers who sell widgets or bag groceries, but we're positively obsessed if they're movie stars or sports idols.

Beyond the fact that kids look up to him, O.J. is not a particularly important person. He doesn't hold political office, hasn't discovered a cure for any diseases, doesn't write symphonies or paint masterpieces.

Basically, he's just a good-looking jock with a sportscasting gig. His notable talents are running a football and shilling for a rental-car company. But he's sufficiently rich and famous that he's assumed to be immune to the brute passions and jealousies that can torment ordinary men.

The truth is, famous people go bonkers just like regular folks. Last Friday's ludicrous low-speed chase set a new standard for bizarre theatrics. Certainly one couldn't have laid a stronger foundation for an insanity defense.

Announcers repeatedly reminded us how depressed O.J. has been. A pending murder indictment can have that effect. Rarely have youheard such sympathy for a person accused of such vicious crimes.

Before fleeing, Simpson wrote a letter declaring his innocence and complaining about the media.

Show-biz murders do bring out the beast in us. But don't forget that the media made O.J. a national figure and kept him one long after his football days were over. He makes tons of money because he's recognizable. If he wanted a private life, he shouldn't have signed up to do commercials.

Nobody "convicted" poor O.J. before trial. Journalists reported what the police found -- information that's always made public, and for which the public rabidly hungers.

How many of you rushed to switch off your televisions, so (out of fairness to O.J.) you wouldn't hear about the evidence? Nobody. You ate it up, every unofficial leak and rumor.

We're all in the frenzy together. We do the feeding, you get the bloody morsels.

More reporters were camped outside O.J.'s home than accompanied Jimmy Carter to Pyongyang. If that's disgraceful, so is the fact that our audience is infinitely more interested in celebrity homicides than nuclear site inspections.

I shudder to think of the fortune being spent covering the Simpson spectacle, money that could generate other stories more vital to the average reader's health and well-being. Problem is, the average reader wants to know about O.J.

In some sick way, we need celebrities to divert us from our own mundane problems. Fascination with fame is as old as humanity. If Christ were being crucified tomorrow, there'd be satellite dishes bristling from Golgotha, and Pontius Pilate would be on the next cover of People.

The media's mob behavior on the streets of Brentwood was fairly appalling, but so is the public's appetite for tragedy. We all deserve each other.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

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