February 21, 2020

O.J. Simpson, Twitter, and the Times We Live In

“Some things feel so inevitable, so apropos of a particular moment, that when they happen one can only stand back and marvel at the on-the-nose-ness of it all. Or so it struck me in mid-June, when, scrolling through my Twitter feed, I came across a retweet of the very first, just-posted contribution to the platform from the onetime football legend, Hollywood personality, and accused double murderer O. J. Simpson. (Simpson was acquitted of the stabbing of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman, in 1995. He was found liable for the murders in a civil court the following year, and, as my colleague Jeffrey Toobin has noted, is widely believed to have committed them.) In the brief video attached to the tweet (which reads, jauntily, “Coming soon!!!”), Simpson, who is just shy of seventy-two, appears to be recording himself, a bit shakily, on a handheld cell-phone camera. “Hey, Twitter world, this is yours truly!” he says, smiling brightly.

Until not long ago, Simpson’s ability to use Twitter and the Internet more generally was hindered by his nine-year incarceration, stemming from armed-robbery charges. (He was released from a Nevada prison, on parole, in October, 2017.) But now that he was here, tweeting, his presence made almost too much sense, in that particular “Isn’t this just crazy? Yes, but, then again, it’s 2019” way.

Twitter, after all, is the site on which a washed-up but attention-thirsty businessman and reality-TV star found enough traction for his hateful, often spurious rants to help propel himself to the Presidency—a station from which he has since continued to tweet falsities and vulgarities at his whim. If Trump could bombard the platform with the pure barrage of his personality, his truth, with no regard to facts or decency, then why the hell not Simpson? Here was a man whose sensational murder trial was a significant harbinger of our era, in which hard news has merged seamlessly with entertainment, and lived experience has become an ongoing reality show. In such a world, truth matters much less than theatrics, and as long as one has what we now might call a “brand”—no matter the multitude of sins this brand may hide—one deserves to command respect in the public eye.”

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