The excitement OJ generated on the football field directly contributed to the excitement of televised sports. The Buffalo Bills were not a winning team in the era of OJ – but people watched. They watched because of the potential of an explosive performance of OJ Simpson. OJ seldom let his fans down. OJ was the first running back to rush for over two thousand yards in a season. The excitement of individual players such as OJ helped promote and define sports media.
After leaving football OJ helped create the wave of celebrity endorsements. Most people of my generation remember OJ running through the airport, leaping over luggage to get to his Hertz Rental car. Tiger Woods benefits today from the success of OJ’s celebrity transformation from sports to commercials.
Ted Turner introduced 24 hour Cable News in 1980. They struggled, nearing bankruptcy. The first Gulf War presented opportunity for the fledgling cable news – but OJ defined and solidified the medium. When the much revered OJ was accused of murder the cable news success took the cue and ran with it. Every minute of Oj’s murder trail was broadcast.
The result – reality television was born. OJ inadvertently unlocked the secret to the public psyche. Tabloid television has thrived on the lessons learned in the OJ fiasco.
OJ is live on cable news as we type this post. OJ has been convicted of a variety of felony charges around an armed robbery in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is pleading his case to the judge in his sentencing hearing. His voice is cracking, he is sputtering, he is afraid. OJ knows his time is up. He plea for leniency is bringing out the charm of the man we remember from the 1970’s. There is great sadness in his plea – we can see the flaws of his logic – it is as if he continues to believe he has not really done anything wrong.
Some in the mental health field would call this a cognitive distortion. Some would say ‘Denial.” OJ’s emotional status cannot accept his own culpability in his actions. We can speculate on causes – his celebrity status for so many years distorted his self image? Who can say? But the reality is right in front of us – he is in court again – charged with an awful crime. And he is on national tabloid news.
And 24 Hour Cable News is raking in the money. The tragedy of OJ stimulates the success of a tabloid driven public media spectacle. The fat cats at MSNBC, CNN, and FOX News are wringing their hands with joy. They have a big media hit just in time for Christmas.
The Judge in the case is speaking now, reviewing the facts of the case, setting the stage for justification of sentence. The Judge seems personally convinced of OJ’s guilt in a ‘violent event.’ The Judge goes on, “Guns were brought to that room and the potential for violence was great… We have rules in the state of Nevada that you cannot take property by the force of violence… When you take a gun and you take men with you in a show of force… This is not behavior we can disregard… I have great respect for the criminal justice system and I have great respect for the verdict of my jurors… There are many who disagree, but that does not matter… The state brought charges, a trial was held, evidence was presented, the jury delivered a verdict… The sentence is based on the evidence in this case… There is no retribution or payback for anything else… I can’t ignore that the behavior was reckless and you broke the law, the potential for harm was great, the jury convicted you and now I will sentence you…”
There were nine felony convictions. The judge sentenced on each one. Some sentences are to run concurrently – some consecutively. It appears the end result is that Simpson will serve at least nine years in prison before he his eligible for parole. But this misses the point of this post – the media analysts are swarming – the legal counsel to the media are making hay while the sun shines.
We do not watch this sentencing with relish. We do not savor the downfall of an American Icon. But many do, and the media is capitalizing on the opportunity.
OJ has helped define the evolution of the televised media, and the media has helped define the life of OJ Simpson. In the end, the swagger of OJ Simpson is gone – and the swagger of the media continues to grow.