If O.J. Simpson whined in the Mojave Desert (Nevada side), and no one was around to hear him, would he still make a noise? Do we care?
Not most of you. And not me. I am so over O.J. I had it up to here with the guy back in the 1990s. For almost three years, his low-speed chase and lowbrow misdeeds, his murder trial and civil trial were front and center in Americans' craniums. We ate, slept, dreamed O.J.; watched, read, listened, argued O.J. His murder trial turned us all into students in Sociology 101 -- Race, Gender, Class and Justice.
Then he got off in the criminal case, and we got on with our lives. Simpson moved to Florida, defiantly idle, dodging the 1997 $33.5-million civil judgment against him, bashing golf balls, pirating satellite television and simmering at the injustices that force him to scrape by on a $25,000-a-month pension.
Now, in a perfect iteration of a Karl Marx observation that could have come from Groucho Marx, Simpson's life has sunk from tragedy to farce.
He's on trial in Las Vegas on a dozen counts of kidnapping, armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and coercion in a stickup at a budget, off-the-Strip Vegas hotel. He was allegedly trying to get his "stuff" back from a sports memorabilia dealer at gunpoint, though he didn't say "stuff" and he says he didn't know about any guns.
Simpson was a lot more interesting when he shut up. During his murder trial, his only courtroom utterances were his plea -- "Absolutely 100% not guilty" -- and his sly aside to the jury, without benefit of cross-examination, as he waved his bloody-gloved hands at the jury: "Too tight, too tight."
Now he won't close his yap, at least not on the audiotape evidence of the caper. A voice that witnesses identified as Simpson's sounds like he's imagining himself in some heist picture, uttering lines from a spec script for Joe Pesci. "I gotta be at my intimidating best," he supposedly says, and "I'm gonna show up with a bunch of the boys and take the [memorabilia] back."
Simpson hasn't changed. Thankfully, we have.
Nearly 600 press credentials were authorized for the Vegas trial, but there are days, as The Times' Las Vegas bureau chief, Ashley Powers, told me, when jurors come pretty close to outnumbering reporters in the courtroom. A lot more will drop in if Simpson testifies, and again when the sideshow is over and there's a verdict, which shouldn't be too far off; the judge has a cruise booked for late October.
Readers aren't posting many comments about this. Simpson doesn't rate "most viewed" or "most e-mailed" on The Times' website -- even Brazilian oil news beat him one day. A fairly typical e-mail to Powers and Times reporter Harriet Ryan excoriated them: "O.J. Simpson is not news. What an incredible waste of a life and news space." (Still, The Times' stories on Simpson get a lot of hits, even if the people who read them are embarrassed that they can't stop themselves.)
Simpson can't even star in his own story. This week's biggest news splash in Las Vegas was generated when celebrity crime writer Dominick Dunne, who has haunted Simpson like Banquo's ghost for more than a dozen years, was sent to the hospital.
Melissa Arseniuk covers the trial for the Las Vegas Sun, working 14-hour days to file three online stories a day and send a stream of Twitters-- 140-word electronic updates -- to subscribers who now number more than ... 50.
She watched the Simpson murder trial as a schoolgirl in Canada, and we talked about "then" versus "now." The closest this case got to social complexities for her was "during jury selection when one black woman was booted from the jury -- that was a legitimate story."
On Tuesday, she watched a radio reporter depart Vegas for Galveston. "I thought, well, that's a far more appropriate allocation of talent and attention than this. ... There are so many more important things going on in the country and the world than O.J. Simpson's kidnap-robbery case."
She's right. In 1995, the Oklahoma City bombing slapped a sense of proportion back into us in the middle of the Simpson murder trial. The 9/11 attacks sobered us up from the Gary Condit rumor mill.
Now, in the midst of a financial meltdown, we don't have time to read about O.J.; we're too busy refreshing our 401(k) investment page every five minutes.
We're serious people now. We've learned our lesson.
Until next time, when we backslide again and gobble up the gossip.
Why do we do it? Because, like O.J. Simpson, we never learn from our [expletive] mistakes.