Behind Our Fascination with OJ Simpson


By Jackson Stone

It’s been 25 years since Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were infamously slain and football star-turned-media mogul OJ Simpson was shockingly acquitted of their murders in what became known as the Trial of the Century.

However, in 2019, “The Juice” is still as relevant as ever in pop culture, even with a generation that was not around to experience the hysteria that surrounded both the murders and the subsequent trial.

Recently, Simpson, who was freed in 2017 after a separate prison sentence stemming from armed robbery, joined Twitter, and in under a week has amassed nearly one million followers. His first tweet was a video of himself pledging to use Twitter to “set the record straight,” before informing his followers that he has “a little getting even to do.” Not exactly the words you want to hear from OJ Simpson.

The incentive is clearly there for Simpson himself to want to utilize social media as a platform, when virtually every media publication refuses to post anything positive about him.

“[Simpson’s use of Twitter] is very reminiscent of what President Trump does with Twitter,” says UGA social media and journalism expert Dr. Amanda Bright. “He sees it as a conduit for him to speak directly to the people and set the record straight.”

Simpson’s name popped up in the news quite a bit in 2016 as two different TV productions—one an extensive documentary by ESPN and one an FX mini-series—aired around the same time that cast a light on the racial aspect of the trial. The trial took place in Los Angeles, a city whose police department’s reputation had been severely damaged by events like the Rodney King beatings and the subsequent riots. The defense used these racial tensions to suggest that Simpson was the victim of systematic injustice in law enforcement, and this aspect was a big reason why they won the case. Of course, police brutality is still a topic that is prominent in today’s society, so this may be a reason why the story of Simpson still resonates so heavily with people.

“I would say that he is still relevant because his case touched on so many issues that are still with us today, especially domestic violence and race relations,” said UGA public relations and media expert Karen Russell. “The trial was a television sensation, but everyone already knew who he was before that because of his football career and TV endorsements, so there was a celebrity angle as well.”

In 2017, rapper Jay-Z released “The Story of O.J.,” a song commenting on Simpson’s alleged belief that his fame and wealth could transcend his race. This song, along with the accompanying music video, also brought Simpson’s name back into the limelight, which could contribute to how younger social media users may be familiar with him now.

It doesn’t reflect well on our society that Simpson is now treated as more of a joke or a meme by younger audiences, despite the tragedy surrounding the murders he may or may not have committed as well as the racial tensions with which he is associated. A quick scroll through his Twitter comments will lead you to find hundreds of puns to the effect of, “you’re really killing it on Twitter, OJ!”

“You look at the replies, and it’s a bunch of people making memes and joking about how he’s on Twitter,” said high school student and Twitter user Noah Monroe. “The whole thing is just a funny situation.”

What makes people today so willing to joke around with a man whom many suspect of being a murderer?

“For the younger group, there’s really no cultural relevance; they don’t remember the verdict being handed down, but they know the general concept of it,” said Bright. “I think it’s easier to make fun of when you’re a step removed.”

Even beyond the jokes and memes, there is still an undeniable fascination with the man who was once a loveable athlete and media darling and then became associated with cold-blooded murder.

“I think that desire to hear from someone who has been closeted for so long is overwhelmingly attractive,” says Bright. “All of his [Twitter] videos are poolside…he looks like he’s from a place of luxury, and you juxtapose that with the 25th anniversary, and you think ‘oh my God, this guy’s living the life.’”