While I was home over Thanksgiving break, I made a huge mistake: I turned on the TV to watch the news.
What met my eyes as the night’s top story was enough to remind me instantly why I never, ever do this. Evidently, according to the major news network in question, the most important thing that had happened in the preceding 24 hours was the swelling controversy surrounding the Hypothetical O.J. Book and Accompanying TV Special, “If I Did It.”
Those of you who happen to know me personally would probably characterize my view of the Rest Of The World in general as something between “deeply suspicious” and “downright incensed,” and in this case, it didn’t take 30 seconds’ worth of “coverage” for me to start feeling murderously myself. Literally. As soon as I realized what the deal was, I ran into the street and killed the first living thing I saw. Luckily it was a garden plant my mother didn’t particularly care for, not something more important … like a pet, sibling, or anything else that could press charges.
Fuck you, O.J., I thought, crushing the universal remote in my rage-filled grasp. Wasn’t getting away with murder enough for you? After monopolizing the national consciousness for 15 months, couldn’t you have given us a break for a few solid years? Couldn’t your obituary have been the next time I thought about you and all the horrible things that you represent (athletes-turned-criminals; acquittals earned by celebrity status and the accompanying ability to afford expensive attorneys; Johnnie Cochran’s horrible poetry; the Naked Gun movies; the fact that my beloved Bills haven’t won anything since you retired)? Why couldn’t you have gone, dug yourself a nice, deep hole, and sat in it for a decade or two, clutching your acquittal to your guilty, guilty chest?
I realized the answer to my last question as soon as I asked it: O.J. can’t disappear for good — he has to look for the real killers.
Wait, wait, no, that’s not it. Oh, right: he’s broke and he owes the victims’ families $33.5 million. I knew there had to be reason he was still sniffing around the airwaves.
And that’s precisely the reason: money. Money for O.J., money for ReganBooks and — in this case perhaps more significantly — money for NewsCorp, the enormous media conglomerate that Rupert Murdoch didn’t even bother to name something un-reminiscent-of-a-creepy-power-thirsty-totalitarian-entity.
And the idea for a special must’ve seemed like a winner. Of course, it’s impossible that the despicable nature of the Hypothetical O.J. Confession Book and Accompanying TV Special didn’t occur to the people calling the shots. It’s despicable from conception to marketing; even the title — amended from the grammatical “If I had done it” so the phrase “I did it” would appear — is a blatant ratings ploy.
But the money-making potential is obvious. Sure, a few people might object on moral grounds, but the only thing more difficult for Americans to do than stop moralizing is stop fixating on the chance to experience immorality vicariously. We are a nation of anti-porn Pam and Tommy Lee watchers, of outraged Ken Starr readers, of bible-thumping rubber-neckers. Our interests are more or less as righteous as they are prurient. And of course the Big Media creeps know that, because they’re the ones conditioning us that way in the first place … so that they can sell us crap like the Hypothetical O.J. Confession Book and Accompanying TV Special. It’s horrifying to watch, and even more horrifying to fall victim to.
So I went back inside and shut off the TV. OK, I broke the screen by throwing the remnants of the remote through it. The point is, I knew better than to keep watching, lest I cause any more property damage.
After 30 seconds or thereabouts I was bored, so I grabbed my computer and made my second mistake: trying to read the news online.
Naturally the top story on the news Web site in question was also O.J. This time my ire was partially self-imposed, since I took it upon myself to click on the damn link. I can admit that. But my ire was inflamed further by the tangled web of fingerpointing I encountered: NewsCorp called the project “revolting and exploitative” and essentially claimed not to have known about it; Judith Regan said she agreed to publish it because she was an abuse victim and was trying to exorcise her own demons; O.J. said that things had been “miscategorized,” but that he couldn’t comment further for legal reasons. In short, everybody involved was claiming to be just as horrified as the American public, and nobody was claiming responsibility for the damn thing: none of the people who stood to profit from the Hypothetical O.J. Confession Book and Accompanying TV Special were willing to stand by it.
Spin, spin, spin. Watching the major players try to construct defensible positions for themselves in the mainstream media was downright nauseating. It reminded me way too much of the House leadership’s carefully worded comments about who knew which parts of Mark Foley’s attempted pederasty. It reminded me way too much of the “we don’t remember exactly who claimed what about the WMD intelligence” game we’ve had to swallow from the Bush Administration. It reminded me way too much of the fallout from the Jack Abramoff thing, or the Tom Delay thing, or the Bill Clinton thing, or any other fucking “scandal” that immediately turns everyone around it into a pandering liar to avoid losing face.
The truly insane thing is that it’s losing face in the media, not necessarily losing face with the public itself. Who even knows whether the public at large gives a shit about any of the initial issues (in this case, whose deplorable idea was the Hypothetical O.J. Confession Book and Accompanying TV Special), or even about who could have prevented them. All that matters is that people in the media — newscasters, pundits, two-bit columnists — can get on your ass about it and create the impression that there are actually lots of people unhappy with you. The way spin works now, it’s so far removed from actual people that actual people don’t even matter anymore … it’s a game of appearances, not reality, so creating the right appearance is all that counts.
And I can’t fucking stand it. I can’t fucking stand everybody chiming in and everybody lying to me, when I have no way to call bullshit. I can’t fucking stand it. I can’t fucking stand being treated like an idiot just because everybody else in the world is one.
I think I had something else to say about this, but I can’t remember; I got so irate writing this column that I hurled my computer into the nearest wall and broke it.
So now what have I got? A head full of anger, a broken TV and a broken computer. I need money. I think I’d better go firebomb O.J.’s house, NewsCorp’s headquarters and maybe most of Capitol Hill while I’m at it … and then write a book about it.
David Chernicoff is a senior in Branford College and, at the rate things are going, a card-carrying member of Project Mayhem. Be nice to him; he’s fragile. And angry.