How the OJ trial foreshadowed internet culture

How the OJ trial foreshadowed internet culture

In June 1994, when the late OJ Simpson was charged with the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her lover Ron Goldman, the World Wide Web was in its infancy. Yet, with hindsight, it's easy to realize that modern internet culture was all around us.

Not literally, of course. The Netscape browser won't be released for another six months. If you want to tie up your phone line, fire up your 56K modem and “surf the Internet” (a then-obscure phrase Prepared by a librarian.), you can use the Buggy Mosaic browser. But you had to know your sites and services: some idiot had just started a directory called Yahoo, but wouldn't add a “search” feature until 1995, after the OJ trial began.

The Internet grew exponentially this year. It did so in part by offering places for OJ fanatics to congregate. “OJ-related databases (sic), interactive discussion forums and electronic mailing lists have been open in cyberspace since last June.” The New York Times Noted in February 1995, a A story that now seems too strange to be true.. Defunct service provider Prodigy “already has 20,000 OJ-related messages in its database,” while the “Court TV forum is full of armchair analysts” on “America Online.”

In “The First Trial of the Digital Century”. Times Peter Lewis exhorted, “Anyone with access to a personal computer, a modem, and a telephone line could be (defense attorney) Robert Shapiro, (prosecutor) Marcia Clark, (judge) Lance Ito, or Geraldo. You Park Avenue.” You can almost hear the pearls being held up and down.

Some of our most online futures were already hiding in these forums. GIFs: Check. (“One area on the web, as it's called, allows visitors to repeatedly watch a video clip of Mr. Simpson pleading not guilty to his arrest,” Lewis wrote. ) Casual Conspiracy Theorists: Check. (Ito swapped his Toshiba laptop for an IBM ThinkPad. They Surfing the Internet while on trial?) Randos suddenly become experts: check. (“We're as up-to-date as lawyers,” boasted the owner of an OJ website in Canada to his 10,000 users. “It makes for intelligent conversations.”)

But here's the thing: With wall-to-wall cable TV coverage and screaming front pages, those online debates often what Sounds smart. (For a sense of media behavior at the time, compare This is a very simple website From a reporter at the time to the shocking CNN page on the case, which splashed crime scene blood on its front page. 1994 and 1995, albeit in a modified form.

The Bronco chase, where OJ escapes arrest, threatening to shoot himself while a fleet of police chases him for 75 miles? It was the 20th century's version of an essential live stream. The barely changed picture had an estimated 95 million viewers, more than that year's Super Bowl, and Ten times the current live stream record. If it happened now, Bronco's pursuit would break the Internet — or at least come much closer than OJ's friend Robert Kardashian's daughter. (The OJ trial sparked controversy among the Kardashians, and the reality show culture that led to it.)

These days, social media users with drones will likely find Bronco faster than news helicopters, which took an hour to find him. Still, if anything, the Bronco was chasing. More Interactive vs. Live Stream: Knowing that Carr was tuned into his radio station, a sports announcer connected Simpson to a former coach. Convinced OJ to put the gun down..

OJ Simpson doing his live stream as a fundraiser in 2000.
Credit: AFP via Getty Images

The memes were there during the trial, sure, even if we didn't call them that. Star witness Kato Kellan, a Z-list actor who lived in OJ's guesthouse, was a one-man meme machine. “Oh, the lawsuit” became one of the most overused phrases of 1995 after Kellan uttered it. He had accidentally poked a juror with a pointer he was using to mark areas of the Simpson estate on the board.

The fact that Kellen's mind had gone there seemed to encapsulate the madness swirling around the court. There were lawsuits and threats of lawsuits everywhere. No one even comes close to wanting their 15 minutes of fame as much as any modern influencer. The scrutiny of this cast of characters was unbearable for any of them, and everything was still long after the image trial (hence the transformation of Marcia Clark, who He continued to change).

The entire trial turned into something that was, and remains, a very popular meme. “If the gloves don't fit, you're acquitted”: star defense attorney Johnnie Cochran's rhyme was as reductive as a political tweet (and just as lame: the glove found at the crime scene didn't fit OJ's hand because dried blood It had shrunk., and the defendant was not trying to pull it on the rubber gloves at all). In 2024 Poetry is an image macro.spread far and wide on TikTok and Instagram.

Comedy Is At least change. What's really strange about remembering at this distance is that comedians and late-night talk shows felt like they had a license to produce. Content that will look tasteless.Today on YouTube, and racist or misogynist. Tonight Show host Jay Leno regularly featured a group of dancers who looked like Judge Ito and one who looked like Marcia Clark, even changing her haircut. That was it, that was it.

But in general, the conversation America was having about the issue — about domestic violence and murderous men, about racism in the LAPD, about celebrities buying their own level of justice — was the same. There are conversations we are having now 30 years later. They were happening at street level, on the letters page and on cable news, rather than social media. The more you delve into this seminal 1990s affair, the less nostalgic that era becomes.

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