Document 63274

Dennis Russell
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"Insider" Narratives of the O.J. Simpson Case:
A Klappean Analysis of Hero or Fool
Inthe aftermathof O.J. Simpson's acquittal inhis high-profile doublemurdertrial, questions aboundasto whetherjusticewas servedorwhether Simpson
got away with murder. This persistent public fascination with the case has resulted
in avirnral cottage industry ofworks aboutthe "Trial ofthe Century." Particularly
intriguing are the "insider" narratives of various participants and players in the
case. Each narrative provides its own idiosyncratic interpretation of an event in
contemporary history that remains poorly defined because more questions were
raised than were answered within the confines of an adversarial justice system. As
playwright David Mamet has observed, it is inherent in human perception to connect seemingly unrelated images to create a story, "because we need to make the
world make sense" (61). This urge to create narratives in an attempt to bring
order to the chaos of daily life is also reflected in Joan Didion's assertion that
people "live entirely . . . by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images. by the ' ideas' with which we have leamed to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria rvhich is our actual experience" (1 1).
Interestingly. a number ofthese "insider" Simpsonnarratives sidestep the
complex task of constructing areality that seeks to discoverhowNicole Brown
Simpson and Ronald Goldman came to meet such a gruesome end, and how O.J.
Simpson came to be tried and exonerated. Instead, many ofthese works involve
the authors in constructing a "reality" about themselves, in relation to the Simpson
case, that essentially portrays them as symbols ofheroism orvictimization, while
simultaneously characterizing other Simpson players as villains or fools. This method
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Fools, accordingto Klapp, fall into five categories: incompetents (clumsy,
rash, simple, weak) who illustrate ludicrous role failures; those who refuse to take
others seriously (status abuser, pretentious fool);nonconformists who ridicule others; ultraconformers who suffer comic rebuke because they have been too enthu-
siastic in complying with group standards; and generic fools who serve as outlets
for the aggression of others (68-91). Toward that end, each narrator in this study
portrays himself or herself as either hero or foo[, but they lack the self-reflexivity
that would allow them to interpret at least some oftheir actions as less than savory
(that is, as "villainous").
Under Klapp's theory, symbolic creation requires that a story be told,
sung, or printed. In relation to the Simpson case, the press obviously played a
major role in this process, characteizing various players in this public drama as
either heroes, villains, or fools in countless news stories, headlines, editorials, and
commentary pieces. However, what is fascinating aboutthis process withinthe
arena of the "insider" Simpson works is that, rather than applying the symbolic
creation of hero, villain, or fool to others involved in the case, the narrators primarily use the works to create their own symbolic realities. Admittedly, there are
moments in which certain narrators describe other players as villainous or foolish;
however, the cental thrustofthenarrativeshingesonsymbolic self-creation. Along
theway,villains are suMivided intothose symbolizingusurpers andabusers,threats
to order and status, villainous strangers, traitors and sneaks, and social undesirables (50-67).
THE SIMPSON AND RESNICK NARRATIVES
A logical starting point for examining the application of this Klappean
theory to these "insider" narratives is Simpson's 1995 bookl Want to Tell You,
which was published while he was in jail awaiting trial. The format ofthe book is
taped responses to letters Simpson received after his arrest. In declaring himself in
the book as "one hundred percent not guilty," Simpson never casts himself in the
role of villain-not even as a usurper or abuser in relation to the spousal-abuse
problems during his marriage withNicole. In fact, Simpson asserts that spousal-
withNicole, implying
that the advocates blew the incidents out of proportion because of his celebrity
status in an effort to gamer publicity for their cause. Eschewing the role of usurper
or abuser, Simpson states, "I don't believe any good can come out of deceit and
abuse groups have misrepresented the facts ofhis marriage
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Russell
ordeal with his dignity intact and a more spiritual person, and that this experience
ultimately will make him a better man. And in a controversial article published in
February 1998 in Esquire magazine, Simpson echoes that sentiment, saying that
"l believe in my heart I'm going to get it all back in spades. And maybe that's what
my life's mission is" (Farber 64).
Meanwhile, socialite Faye Resnick, a close friend of Nicole Brown
Simpson, simultaneously interprets her role in the Simpson saga as both the generic fool (victim) and hero of social acceptability. Resnick says her victimization
occurred at the hands of O.J. Simpson, the defense team, and a biased, sensational press. In l'{icole Brown Simpson: The Private Diary qf a L{b Interrupted, Resnick claims O.J. is a master manipulator whose public persona could
charm and persuade those in his orbit, including her. Eventually, she says, this
image of O.J. was dispelled once she saw how his public face "could transform
itself into aterri$ing, sweat-soaked mask of naked rage." According to Resnick,
this rage, more times than not, was used by Simpson to control whom he perceived as the "enemy"-*omen (6,112,1 14). Resnick writes that O.J. used her
by frequently calling her and complaining about Nicole, even when he and Nicole
were no longer a couple. Also, Resnick claims that Nicole told her that O.J. had
threatened to kill her. Because of these two factors, Resnick says she had a "constant feeling of doom" and feltthat her own lifb also was in danger. Resnick maintains that O.J. once said to a number ofpeople around him, "There are two people
I would like to kill: Denise Brown and Faye Resnick." She then says that O.J.
raised his hand to his throat and drew his finger acloss it (1994 207 -208; 1996:
208). Resnick also characterizes herself as a victim of Simpson's defense team,
saying it had floated "the astounding and absolutely groundless claim" that Nicole
was murdered because Resnick and Nicole had borrowed money from Colombian drug dealers (3-4). In addition, she claims in both of her books that the
defense team engaged in a campaign of smear tactics by labeling her a profiteer,
liar, and drug addict (1994 34;1996: 68). In fact, a major component of her
second book Shattered concerns itself with the idea that a press feeding frenzy
focused more on assaulting her lifestyle than on engaging in a search fbr the truth.
The press hounded her so much, she says, that she ended up "walking around
wearing hoods and scarves and sunglasses, and at one point I eventriedto cover
my face" (7 1,7 4,79, 83, 85).
Along with portraying herself as avictim, Resnick also attimes fits the
Klappean definition of hero of social acceptability. For example, in her 1994 book,
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51
whelming evidence." Darden felt betrayed when Simpson was acquitted, adding
that he was "ashamed of ajury that needed just four hotrs to dismiss the lives of
two people and a year' s work" (9- I 1 ). Darden fleshes out the victim theme by
emphasizing his discouragement atbeing labeled anUncle Tom and atraitorto his
own race who allows himself to be used by white people. He claims that he became a "lightning rod" for the bigobry, insecurity, and misunderstanding of an entire
nation. Darden adds, "The civil rights movement and the sense ofblack solidarity
and pride that had saved me from a meaningless life of poverty and crime had
been reduced by (defense attorney) Johnnie Cochran to nothing more than the
taking oftwo sides, nothing more than a lawyer's trick, a smooth bit of strategy."
In fact, Darden felt so let down by the jury's decision that he decided to end his
law career and never prosecute a case again (1 1-12). Despite underscoring his
victimization in the Simpson affair, Darden ultimately trarsforms these experiences
into the image of the Klappean narrator as an independent spirit hero. FIe points
out that black prosecutors now have a term for the pressure they feel from those
in the community who criticize them for standing up and convicting black criminals, and it is named after him:the "DardenDilemma." Becausehewas outspoken
in his belief of Simpson's guilt and his condemnation ofthe predominately black
jury unable to convict a black celebrity, Darden said it will make it easier for his
children and their children to challenge the status quo and "to stand up for what is
right." Dardenconcludes his memoirby sayingthathe bearsthejury no illwill, but
does hold the justice system in contempt. And he claims to have reconciled his
anger toward Simpson, noting: "l will lose no more sleep over O.J. Simpson
because he will be judged again one day" (375-384).
Meanwhile, the bulkof Simpson defense attomey Robert Shapiro's memThe
on,
Searchfor Jusflce, consists of casting himself in the role of an independent spirithero who defiespubliccriticism inthename ofdoing hisjob onbehalfof
the system. Shapiro holds that the acquittal verdict was the right one based on the
concept ofreasonable doubt, rallying around William Blackstone's enunciation
more than two hundred years ago: "It is better that ten guilty persons escape than
one innocent suffer" (xiii-xix, 355). He says he decided at the beginning of the
case to devote all ofhis energy and resources to proving that reasonable doubts
existed, adding: "Im proud ofthe stance and positions I took. I knew that the case
would provide the pinnacle of my career as a criminal defense attorney, at any
rate, I suspected that it would be the last major criminal case I would try" (358).
Interestingly, both Darden (21 4, 222-24, 23 1) and Shapiro (1 49, 1 92-93, 225 -
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THE SIMPSON NIECE NARRATIVE
The most recent exarnple of an "insider" Simpson namative emerges from
Terri Baker, the niece of the former football legend. In her I 997 memo tr I'm Not
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memberduring the tense periods ofO.J.'s criminal and civil trials. Bakerportrays
herself as a loyal family member, but one who increasingly comes to question the
veracity of her uncle's story. Although Baker never accuses Simpson of committing murder, she implies that her doubts about her uncle have grown.From a
Klappean perspective, Baker at first portrays herself and her family as fools (that
is, incompetents) who illustrate ludicrous role failures. According to Baker, the
family put O.J. on a "pedestal, like a living Heisman Trophy." Baker continues,
"O.J. Simpson had become the family deity. In their heart of hearts, I came to
believe my parents were afraid Uncle O.J. would shut us out ofhis life. Somewhere along the way, the self-esteem ofmy entire family had become inextricably
tied to my uncle's success. Without Uncle O.J., we feared, the Simpsons would
just be another bunch ofnobodies from the projects" (33-34). Baker's memoir is
replete with examples of Simpson's attitude of superiority over fellowfamily members, such as the time family members were too intimidated to ask O.J. for the use
ofhisBentleyto drive tothe courthouse duringthe criminal trial, eventhoughthere
wasn't room for everyone in Baker's Volkswagen (166). Baker's implication is
that Simpson at times played his family members as fools by treating them as
second-class citizens who were dependent upon his generosity and notoriety.
As the book unfolds, however, Baker relates the story of a victim tumed
hero of independent spirit. Wracked with the knowledge that the m{ority ofpeople
believeheruncle gotawaywith doublemurder, the pressure ofthe civil trial mount
ing, the press coverage ofthe Simpson family at full tilt, and her doubts about her
uncle increasing, Baker tums to alcohol and her life spins out of control. When her
drinking problem, whichwas hiddenfrom herfamily, results inthe loss ofherjob
and the diminishment of her health, Baker convinces her mother to check her into
a rehabilitation center (243-252). Two months later, Baker emerges from the
keatrnentprogram"frightenedbutdeterminedto getonwithmy life." She saysthe
recovery period had left her energized and refreshed, noting that she was excited
about putting into practice all the things she had learned "inside" (262-263).By
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the narrators. The application of the Klappean theory to these participants in one
ofthe most public dramas ofthe twentieth century demonstrates the overwhelming pattern ofthe narrators' need to transform themselves into heroes or fools who
are oppressed by other players to the point of victimization. In some cases, the
narrators create an image in which both characteristics emerge. Although these
works provide idiosyncratic interpretations that underscore a nebulous reality, it is
the process ofthis textual self-creation that warrants further scholarly inquiry.
The narrators' acts of self-creation are particularly reflective ofa culture
of celebrity in which both the famous and the obscure recast life as a film, placing
themselves, as Richard Schickel says, in the roles of director-writer-star in one's
own manufactured drama (7). Within a celebrity-obsessed culture in which the
worst sin is to be "ordinary" ratherthan unique, narratives are being produced that
often cast the narrator in the unique role of hero or victim. This growing concern
with being bestowed with a public affirmation of uniqueness stems, according to
Leo Braudy, from the urge for fame for specific achievement being superseded by
a desire for public recognition for its own sake (584-598). According to Richard
Schickel, television is the primary catalyst for the American preoccupation with
celebrityhood because it broke down the barriers that formerly existed between
the well-known and the unknown. "This, of course," Schickel writes, "has something to do with the way it brings famous folk into our living room in psychically
manageable size. By that I mean that we see them not from the alienating distance
ofthe stage or lecture hall . . . nor are they projected tbr us on very large screens,
as they are in the movies, where scale helps to keep us humble before the image"
(10). Schickel argues that television has created a false illusion of intimacy with
celebrities, spearheading a culture in which styles, attitudes, and goals are problematically influenced by the mass-mediated icons of fam e (7-12). In this light,
we can see that by textually forging realities in which the o.J. Simpson "insiders"
emerge as symbols ofheroism or victimization, the narrators are seeking to perpetuate the perception of uniqueness-perhaps the major component ofthe cul-
ture ofcelebrity.
Dennis Russell
Associate Professor
Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Telecommunication
Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona 85287-1305
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