Monday, September 17, 2007

Judgment and the dearly Departed

You had to know I’d have something to say about this. As someone who is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt (which is to say, a doubt that can be reasoned) that he is responsible for the murder of his ex-wife, I now duly note that my fellow USC alumni OJ Simpson has been arrested in Vegas on armed robbery charges. It would be wrong, I think, and it would sound vengeful to say something along the lines of “Ha! I love it!” But come on. The dude has been causing no end of trouble for the past year. The very notion of that horrifying book sent shivers down my spine that brought back the visceral sensation I felt when I stood next to him, briefly, in the bar of a fancy schmancy hotel in Bel-Air years ago (I was attending a work convention; he was staying at this lush place while his house was renovated). I had the sense of being in the presence of evil. I have never felt malevolence coming off another human being like that; it was creepy. Anyway, so instead of going out looking for the “real killers” he writes a book saying how he would have done it if, which is the most blatant lying ploy of evil I’ve ever heard, and now – a new felony.

This morning on the Long Island Rail Road I passed someone reading one of the New York tabloid papers, and the sensationalist headline blazed across the story was “If the charges fit, in jail he’ll sit.” This is a great headline for many reasons. First of all, ha ha. (And it’s not even extremely clever, though you do have to wonder how long a copy editor sat there coming up with it.) Secondly, it reminds us of what a fiasco that entire first trial was. And the fiasco-dom, it is often thought, just may be what saved him from jail. That time. Well, that and the flat-out stupidity of the jurors (“I don’t understand why the prosecution was introducing all that evidence of domestic abuse,” one of them told a local TV news reporter. “I don’t understand what that had to do with this murder case.”)

So today I sit here quite comfortable in the assumption that I am not the only person in the country who had the fleeting thought of “Ha ha, he might have to serve jail time after all.”

Now, as an A+ criminal law student I can surely tell you all the reasons why you can’t punish someone for one crime under the guise of punishing them for another, legally. But you know what they say about the court of public opinion. Here’s what I was really thinking, however. It’s kind of like Martin Scorsese. Right? I mean, The Academy does this all the time, bestowing delayed Oscar recognition on someone, often directors, but sometimes actors too. Or even the people of New Zealand. Let’s face it, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King won every single bingle award (and made for one of the most boring Oscar broadcasts since The English Patient) not because it alone was the best film but because Peter Jackson (and the people of New Zealand) had made an amazing trilogy.

A lot of people complain about this practice of Oscar voters. But I don’t. I observe it, and sometimes I think it is rather unfortunate for the poor soul who did create amazing art -- but only one amazing work of art -- in a year that someone is “owed.” I don’t vilify this. I wanted Morgan Freeman to win during the Million Dollar Baby year just as much as the next person, and I particularly remember Alan Alda, who was up against him for Bes t Supporting Actor for The Aviator, on the red carpet. Alan was delighted to be nominated and “having a great time, this is so fun” but he utterly 100% casually dismissed his chances of winning. “Oh no, this is Morgan’s night,” he said. It struck me during that interview that he didn’t say it petulantly, or with any snide or “woe is me” or even clever insidery tone to his voice. Seriously, go to the tape and you’ll see what I mean. He was matter-of-fact, almost like he just wanted to quickly but graciously point out that the interviewer had misspoken, like, “Oh, no, I don’t win tonight. This is Morgan’s night” the way you might say, “Oh, Sunset Blvd? No, go up there and make a left this is Wilshire. Oh, you’re welcome, bye.” And, you know, I think it kind of IS OK to subconsciously consider a body of work. I mean, we do it with other artists. For example, Starry Night is one of the most amazing paintings I’ve ever seen for a lot of reasons, but I totally take Vincent Van Gogh as a whole into account when I look at it and pass that judgment.

And so, OJ, I’m not sure how often you’ve attended the Oscars; perhaps you’ve been at more Oscar after-parties. But you are definitely familiar with that Hollywood lifestyle, and I hope you’ve taken into account the many ways in which the crimes of your past might be judged, not the least of which is via the crimes of the present.

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