Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story Review: 1x03 "The Dream Team" (Image v. Reality) [Contributor: Rae Nudson]

Full size image

“The Dream Team”
Original Airdate: February 16, 2016

Anyone who thinks looks don’t matter is kidding themselves. The more the curtain gets pulled back on the O.J. case, the more it shows that “optics” are the only things that matter. It doesn’t matter that there’s blood evidence if the defense can spin it. It doesn’t matter that a glove was found on the scene if it looks like a racist cop planted it there. What ultimately wins this trial isn’t the facts — it’s how people view them.

While having dinner with his kids and future reality TV superstars, Robert Kardashian gives a speech about how Kardashians value being a good person more than they value fame. (... Is he trying to convince himself, or his kids?) Yes, I think the show is trolling us, but I also think this scene has real power because it dissects what matters most to the people involved in this case, and to the American people as a whole. 

To value fame is to value your image and to know that often image matters more than what’s real. The current Kardashians understand that — they have monetized their image. And, ultimately, image is the crux of the entire O.J. trial. Marcia and her boss were talking about optimal optics of having a trial downtown to get more black people on the jury, even though that will ultimately hurt them because they don’t fully understand the image they are presenting. Time magazine made O.J. look darker than he is because — consciously or not — the magazine believed it would make a more salacious and villainous cover. Truth and justice in this trial is just a mirage, and those who understand that can play the game and maybe win it.

Notice how when Johnnie Cochran joins the case, he doesn’t ask if O.J. is guilty or innocent. He says he needs to look into O.J.’s eyes and believe him. That is an entirely different thing than asking for the truth. He needs O.J. to convince him and present the image of an innocent person, and O.J. complies by displaying more emotion that he’s shown so far and saying how much he loved Nicole. Were his tears real or crocodile? And does that matter to Johnnie, or does he just want plausible deniability?

Much of the power of this scene comes from the brilliant acting of Cuba Gooding Jr. and Courtney B. Vance. Gooding plays it right on the edge, where it’s unclear if he’s telling the truth, or if he is really begging for help because he’s innocent. Maybe sometimes it’s unclear to O.J. himself.

Before watching this episode I had the vague idea that Shapiro would mess things up and then Johnnie Cochran would come in and save the day, but it looks like it was actually Shapiro’s idea to introduce racism to the trial in the first place. He understands how the game is played, and his genius idea is what sets O.J.’s defense in motion for a win. He uses an interview with a journalist to introduce the idea that the LAPD is a racist organization setting up O.J. (Note to journalists and anyone with a large platform: You don’t have to print everything everyone says to you. Know when you are a pawn in someone else’s game.) And the thing is, Shapiro isn’t wrong: LAPD was a racist organization that employed some racist cops. Cops like Mark Furhman, who shouldn’t have been anywhere near a case this big or any case at all. The best lies have a kernel of truth.

Marcia finally wakes up the fact that this case won’t be a homerun and they should put some effort into it. But it might already be too late. Victims are on TV telling their stories and losing credibility, and Nicole’s 911 call has been leaked so early it will likely lose all its power before the trial even starts. She’s lost control of the image already.

Robert Kardashian, big friendly doofus that he is, doesn’t understand the game or the stakes, and he is not up to the challenge. He made it clear at dinner with his kids that he still thinks being a good person will help O.J. in this situation.

It won’t.

Notes from the case file:
  • Johnnie Cochran’s wife Sylvia has great clothes, and I love her.
  • “Yeah I caught it on the news,” F. Lee Bailey says casually about the car chase, as if it weren’t the biggest thing to ever be on TV.
  • How was Mark Furhman even still employed if he was suing the city?
  • “I’m not black, I’m O.J.”
  • “Fame is complicated.” Kato, never change. 
  • I didn’t have much space to talk about this in the review, but it is very likely the entire Kardashian family learned the value American people place on image by watching this trial unfold. And making a business out of their fame is capitalizing on what America told them it wanted. They are pioneers in the publicity business, which is maybe America’s biggest business, and I will not stop until they get the respect they deserve. (Not that they need my help.)


Post a Comment