On Tuesday, FX aired the final episode of Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson. Over 10 episodes, the show revisited, rehashed, and painstakingly recreated the details of the murder trial of Simpson in 1994, considering the case’s manifold implications regarding race, justice, celebrity, and the media. Four Atlantic writers consider how the show succeeded in examining the trial through a modern lens.
Spencer Kornhaber: In 2006, If I Did It, the book in which O.J. Simpson offered a supposedly hypothetical account of killing Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, prompted such public outcry that its first edition never even hit shelves. James Wolcott at Vanity Fair got hold of a copy, though. “Justice and injustice have always seemed incidental to the Simpson case, tangential to the cesspool soap opera,” he wrote in his review. “After finishing If I Did It, I didn’t feel any inward swelling of moral outrage or righteous disgust, didn’t hatch any profound insights into sex, race, and violence in America—I just wanted everyone connected with it to go away.”
The notion of the Simpson affair as a sordid and ignoble piece of history, at best a cautionary tale but mostly an embarrassment that should be forgotten, is commonly held. American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, on some level, rebukes it. For nearly every figure transformed by the media spectacle into caricature or villain, it countered with a complicated human being trying to do the right thing. Last night’s finale left open the question of whether there was a wider lesson to be learned, but it made very clear that there were wider forces at work to explain the not-guilty verdict that many people found baffling. It also made clear that those forces are still at work today, and that to disregard them is to miss how the world functions.