Friday, April 01, 2005

Courtroom Legacies

WHEN Boris Yeltsin stepped from his plane to meet Bill Clinton in 1995, the Russian president asked the most important question first: "Do you think O.J. did it?" The summit agenda could wait. The guilt or innocence of former gridiron and movie star O.J. Simpson, accused of murdering wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, was apparently of more concern to Yeltsin than the vital issues of trade, security and human rights.

Ten years on, Simpson's lawyer Johnnie Cochran died this week, aged 67. But the memories provided by Cochran's conniving, choreographed set-piece courtroom stunts will always endure. "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit," Cochran told jurors after Simpson had put his acting skills to good use in the witness box, fruitlessly trying to force his hands into a pair of gloves used by the murderer.

As a keen law student at the University of Queensland a decade ago, I can remember setting my alarm clock and getting up along with countless other Australians to watch the jury deliver its verdict, which was telecast in the middle of the night.

Until the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the O.J. trial was as close as generationX had come to appropriating for itself a collective, shared memory, much as our baby-boomer parents claimed the JFK assassination or the first moon landing. Having been brought up on stories of what my parents were doing when Neil Armstrong made "one giant leap for mankind", I always was prone to vague feelings that our elders had been brought up in more epochal times than their children.

In the post-Cold War world, with no power seemingly capable of challenging the Pax Americana and the threat posed by Islamic extremists yet to capture the public's attention, a celebrity trial with racial overtones in the US was as near as the MTV generation would come to its November in Dallas.

Then came the shock of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the war in Afghanistan and the conflict in Iraq. These events, along with the Asian tsunami crisis, helped to put the O.J. trial in perspective: it was the trivia of everyday life that we shed like our skins.

Even so, it should be noted that for all the momentous geopolitical events making headlines, millions of Westerners are at present besotted with the trial of Michael Jackson. Closer to home, the courtroom tribulations of accused drug-trafficker Schapelle Corby prompt endless discussion about her guilt or innocence, even as the victims of Middle Eastern conflicts slowly begin to fade from the public consciousness.

In a perverse twist on the "think globally, act locally" catch-cry, most Australians will tend to remember the details of the O.J. and Jacko trials in years to come, while they forget the names of the Bali bombers or 9/11 hijackers. The memory of Cochran will endure for us, yet in years to come we will scratch our heads trying to think of the first Iraqi leaders chosen by their own people.


Blogger Steve said...

I doubt it's just an Aussie issue, Michelle. I rather tend to think it's a result of pop culture's effect on society as a whole. I'd be willing to bet that in ten years most American high school kids wouldn't even be able to tell you that there was a bombing in Bali, yet they'd all be able to tell you with intimate detail what happened with OJ or Jacko.

10:33 PM  
Blogger Jack the blogger said...

I have forgotten so would you be so kind Michelle to refresh my memory; How the $?!# did he explain the bloddy glove?

3:11 AM  
Blogger No_Newz said...

Ahh, we do sometimes for get the most important parts of our history. To further expand on this, think of Johnny's family, not that I am a big fan of his, only have sorrow for any person's loss, in all of his 67 years, all anyone will remember or know about him is, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." Not exactly the legecy I'd like to leave. LOL
Lois Lane

7:00 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

Steve ~ So do i Steve. I just wanted to highlight the fact that it's so obvious here.

Jack~ LOL

Lois ~ LOL, me either, not too flattering!

6:22 PM  

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