Since J.C. died this week, I think we should all take a moment, in these troubled times, to remember what he stood for. He was a champion of the weak, a relentless warrior against oppression and tyranny, and a man who saved thousands of souls. J.C.’s most lasting legacy, however, will remain “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” On Tuesday, nine years, six months, and seven days after those fateful words came true, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. passed on, depriving the world of one of its most brilliant legal minds and most colorful courtroom personalities.
Throughout 1995, Cochran’s charisma, eloquence and flair for the dramatic riveted American faces to the television. Before our eager eyes, Cochran exposed (surprise, surprise) a racist Los Angeles police force and helped a jury doubt (reasonably or not) O.J. Simpson’s guilt in the murders of his wife and her companion. The massive public attention paid to the televised O.J. Simpson trial begat the greatest media circus any American court has ever seen, until now.
Unfortunately, Mr. Cochran couldn’t be here to participate. In the past few weeks, the oddness inherent in American culture has treated the televised-trial-watching audience to two gems. On one coast we have the Michael Jackson trial, another celebrity case, but without the gruesome murders of the O.J. affair. On the other shore, the Terri Schiavo situation has satisfied America’s thirst both for drama and civil rights protests.
If the E! Television reenactments of the Michael Jackson case are missing anything, it’s Johnnie Cochran’s flair. Unfortunately, Rigg Kennedy, the actor who plays defense attorney Tom Mesereau, is a dead-ringer for Jerry Springer. Watching him whine nasally at witnesses just doesn’t have the same rhetorical flair.
What struck me most about the E! reenactments is what they reveal about the weird place American television is in these days. I think it used to be that the point of television was to use actors to simulate real events. At some point, thanks to the aforementioned Jerry Springer, Regis Philbin and Mark Burnett, it became normal to use real people to portray “reality” on TV. The Michael Jackson trial reenactors are ostensibly what television is all about: actors simulating real events. But as anyone who has watched the show knows, we have entered some Twilight Zone version of televoreality, with “expert” “news” commentary on the “real” “fake” trial.
The Schiavo issue, after 14 years, can finally be put to rest. All appeals have been exhausted, and fate has taken its course. At this point, if Michael Schiavo is correct, the 25-year-old Terri’s wish to die has come true for the 41-year-old Mrs. Schiavo. If her parents are right, Mrs. Schiavo has been slowly and painfully murdered. Despite the snail-like pace of this 14-year trial and the persistent lack of changes in Schiavo’s condition, America has polarized around this case’s civil rights issues: the right to refuse medical care, the right to death with dignity, and the right to dispose of one’s own body as one sees fit.
And what would J.C. do? Well, I think he might choose death with dignity. Jesus knew that he was carrying out the plan of a higher power, and he told Pilate so despite Pilate’s protestations of his innocence and repeated attempts to release him. What death is more dignified than that of a martyr, whether for spiritual or civil rights? It is written in Romans, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.”
So let’s stop meddling in people’s lives and I’ll hope good ol’ Johnnie is there to defend me before St. Peter.
Andrew Smeall would play a young Barry Scheck in reenactments of the O.J. trial.