As is always the case in marathons, the O.J. story is a question of endurance

June 10, 1996|By MIKE LITTWIN

I've finally figured it out. The essence of the O.J. case isn't race and it isn't celebrity and it isn't domestic violence and it isn't Court TV.

It's endurance.

It's about how long a story -- any story -- can remain in our consciousness. So far, the answer seems to be forever.

Wednesday marks the second anniversary of the double murder, and two years of O.J. overload. No story since Watergate has stayed with us so long. In no recent story have the characters remained so vivid: Kato, Mark Fuhrman, Johnnie Cochran. If the story fits, it never quits.

Characters this well-drawn, and characters this outsized, usually come from fiction. Real life rarely offers up such gems.

What real life gives you is Whitewater, the scandal in search of an audience. Nobody, other than an American Spectator subscriber and/or Al D'Amato, can name a single person involved. When the prosecutors recently won a big conviction down in Arkansas, Clinton's polling numbers actually improved.

Whitewater is a scandal without legs. Meanwhile, O.J.'s got legs like Michael Jordan has endorsements.

Scandals come, scandals go. But the madness that is O.J. never goes anywhere -- or anywhere far from our TV screens, from our magazine racks, from the best-seller list.

In the two years since the bloody attack that left Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman dead (occasionally, it's good to remind ourselves that there were actual victims), everyone either has written a best seller or is writing one. What's most surprising, if you think about it, is how the prosecutors -- the losers -- can write best-selling books. In a country that celebrates winning, Chris Darden and Marcia Clark have actually won by losing.

Everyone got rich. Or as O.J. likes to put it, everyone got rich off this case except him. Not that he didn't try.

He produced that lame $39.95 video -- in which O.J. gives his side -- which nobody bought. This suggests one of the strangest aspects of the O.J. case: how unimportant he seems to be to the whole process.

It isn't O.J. that fascinates. It's something else, almost indefinable, and I'm not sure it really says anything important about us, except the role of television. We watched it all on TV, from the chase to the verdict.

Meanwhile, O.J. has been reduced to a curiosity piece. When he isn't doing his country club to country club search for the real killers -- actually, O.J. says he can't afford to find the real killers, and you can take that either way you want -- he's constantly trying to rehabilitate himself.

He even went as far as Britain in an attempt to make himself over, speaking to the Oxford debating union. Back home, for most people, he remains something like a pariah. The kids live with Nicole's parents. His neighbors don't want him around. The National Enquirer, and this strains credulity, wouldn't even advertise his tape.

Yes, people seek out his autograph, but in the same way people have always sought out the notorious. That's life for O.J.: He has graduated from mild-mannered, likable pitch-man and minor movie star to notorious.

I just read that Nicole's therapist gave a deposition saying she spoke to Nicole the day of the killing. She said Nicole had told O.J. off and she was afraid of retribution. It's the kind of tidbit that keeps the thing going. We never seem to get enough of it. Part of the appeal, of course, is that most people think that, no matter what O.J. says and no matter what the jury said, O.J. got away with, well, murder.

But O.J.'s biggest moment is yet to come. In September, unless it's delayed, the new trial -- O.J. Redux -- begins. It's a civil suit which threatens to take from O.J. not his freedom, just all his money and what remains of his reputation. Although it's perfectly legal, it reads a lot like double jeopardy.

And this time, O.J. has to take the stand and answer all the questions, like why he was playing golf in the dark the night of the murders.

Imagine that moment.

Imagine him having to answer questions before lawyers, a jury, a judge and God in heaven.

Imagine how America will come to a complete stop.

It's much easier to imagine than the time, far in the future, in which America finally gets beyond this case.

Pub Date: 6/10/96

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