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And the Winner Is Both

The scheduling of the trials of Heidi Fleiss and O.J. Simpson to start on the same day, Sept. 19, has thrown the news media into a quandary.

Both trials, appealing as they do to our basest human instincts, are going to require full coverage in order to relate every bloody and/or erotic detail to an anxiously awaiting public.

This, of course, will stretch resources to the maximum, and raises the inevitable question: Does everyone have sufficient personnel to mount two complete, all-inclusive, three-ring media circuses?

As you know from past experiences, a media circus is composed of elephants with cameras that stand on their haunches, bellow and smash their way through crowds, and of clowns with pencils, pads and tape recorders who flip, tumble and knock each other down in order to entertain the bystanders.

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It’s not easy mounting a media circus. Television is especially troubled. Both cases have terrific audience appeal and both cry out for live coverage. But how does one station cover both trials live at the same time?

Split-screen coverage would drive everyone crazy, and switching back and forth creates a condition known as the Blurred Screen Syndrome, which can lead to blindness, lunacy and a tendency to vote Republican.

What we’ve got to do is decide which is more important to the American public, sex or violence, and concentrate on one or the other. How do we determine that? I’ve been working on it.

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It just so happens we held a reunion of my extended family over the weekend, composed of everyone from great-aunts to grandchildren. Seventy of them came from as far away as New York, where they live incognito among Puerto Ricans, and from as close as Oakland, which is my native land.

They are from all walks of life. I have relatives with Ph.D.s in ancient languages who can balance six-syllable words on their noses, and relatives who can field-strip and reassemble an AK-47 before you can say N.R.A.

They are a fairly good sample of Americana in that they represent a cross-section of people in different educational, financial and criminal brackets, except for Aunt Zulema whose conditions of parole will not allow her to leave Arizona. She asked me to say, however, she is innocent.

I mention all this because I polled them during the reunion as to what they would prefer seeing as part of a media circus: sex, as it is represented in the Heidi Fleiss case, or violence, as represented in the O.J. Simpson case.

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One of the more interesting responses came from my Uncle Claude from Portland. Claude, who like Forrest Gump is not a very smart man, said simply, “Why can’t they combine them?”

He was thinking of the kinds of television shows that feature both sex and violence. I explained that was fiction and this was real life. When that eluded him, I said it would be like combining “Models Inc.” and “Real Stories of the Highway Patrol” and he understood.

A cousin with degrees from both the University of Chicago and Columbia launched into an oral dissertation on sex as violence and violence as sex, and became so boring that everyone walked away. She just kept on hypothesizing anyway until her husband finally carried her to the car, the poor thing.

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I thought my niece Maria-14 came up with a good answer. We call her 14 because so many of the female members of my family are named Maria that we had to resort to numerical designations in order to tell them apart.

Maria-14 said that since lawyers are the real stars of the shows, I mean trials, they ought to do what actors do and hold out for more money unless the trials are held on alternate days in order to give them maximum exposure.

Uncle Leo from Baltimore, whom everyone suspects of being a bookie, added to that by suggesting that the trial coverage, like major sporting events, be sold to the network that comes up with the most money. He offered 2-to-1 odds that Fox would get the Simpson trial and ABC would get Heidi.

I polled as many relatives as I could during the time I had. It was essential that the work be done within the first hour or so of the reunion due to a tendency in my family to drink a lot of wine and lose the thread of their response midway through an answer to my question.

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I don’t have exact numbers because I think my Great-Aunt Maria-2 from Santa Fe threw my notes away with her paper plate. But as I recall, it was a tossup between the sex circus and the violence circus, though my niece Maria-6 from Cincinnati was bold enough to shout, “I like sex!” as the evening ended.

“I’ll pray for her,” my sister Emily from Oakland said. Somebody better.


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