Thursday, February 18, 2016

OJ Obama

I did not follow the O.J. Simpson trial closely. While other people hung on every detail, I tried--unsuccessfully--to avoid the subject. It followed me everywhere.

 The night before the verdict was announced I was playing backgammon in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The club members were a fun-loving bunch and if you wanted to find someone to take your betting action, you could probably do so. There were all sorts of offered propositions (props is the favored term) concerning the outcome. The case was overshadowing the backgammon tournament.

The next day I was at the Topsfield Fair in Topsfield, MA. I was at a crafts display when the news was announced. Instantly, the atmosphere turned from festive to funerealMy sentiment was somewhere between neutral and apathetic but I did not express my lack of enthusiasm all that convincingly. A total stranger patted me on the shoulder in an expression of condolence.  

For all my indifference I do admit that the OJ saga is one of the strangest events in the history of Planet Earth. It's a good thing everyone knows the story because it would be hard to explain this to a Rip Van Winkle. There are so many wrinkles to this story. Kato. The Kardashians. F. Lee Bailey. Dershowitz. OJ. Mark Furman. Race. Celebrity. Race. Celebrity. Race. Race.

 An entire generation of journalists made their bones covering the OJ case. The Kardashian industry might not be what it has become had it not been for OJ. Was "Uncle Juice" really Kim Kardashian's godfather? I think he was.

FX has released the miniseries, "American Crime Story: The People vs. O. J. Simpson." If I was given to detail I might mention that Kato and A. C. Cowlings and Alan Dershowitz have all denounced the production. OK, so it was four detectives, not three who showed up at Kato's door? That's pretty damn accurate by Hollywood standards.

The series showcases some stellar acting. Travolta captures Robert Shapiro's constricted body movements. Nathan Lane is great as F. Lee Bailey. Not being a "Friends" fan, I never appreciated the talents of David Schwimmer. His Robert Kardashian steals the show.

The only actor who falls short is Cuba Gooding as OJ. OJ was charming and personable and handsome and Gooding is more than a little miscast in this role.

The first three episodes have been wonderful. Given the compelling story and high public interest, it is amazing that TV has not gone to this well more often. One reason this subject might not have been revisited for a while is because of the parallels between OJ and Obama. One cannot watch this series without being reminded of the life of Barack Obama.

Yes, there are significant differences between OJ and Obama. Obama, unlike OJ, never achieved anything before he was awarded the presidency on the basis of his charms and preferred looks. Then again, Obama didn't murder two people in cold blood either. So no, their lives are not perfectly parallel.

But there are also similarities. Oh yes. Both men created public personas that do not approximate their true selves. Both men are charming and superficial but I would give OJ the edge in the former and Obama the edge in the latter. And of course, the most significant parallel: Both men opportunistically used race and race alone to achieve the impossible.

 Obama deserved the presidency to the same degree that OJ deserved acquittal. Race and race alone allowed OJ to get away with murder. Obama used the same playbook and went even further. In the words of Robert Shapiro, they played the race card and they dealt it off the bottom of the deck.

 "American Crime Story: The People vs. O. J. Simpson" is an excellent retelling of one of the worst miscarriages of justice of the 20th Century. Sadly, it also reminds us of the gravest injustice of this century. Catch this series!