The People v. reality
I was in high school during the O. J. Simpson trial. I remember a teacher rolling a TV cart into the classroom to watch the verdict. My family was in a phase of evangelicalism that held TV and popular culture at arm’s length.
Perhaps it’s because I missed formative moments in popular culture that I couldn’t stop watching The People v. O. J. Simpson, the first season of FX’s new American Crime Story series. The show recreates the trial and surrounding events from the perspective of the prosecution and defense teams. Friends who obsessively watched the real trial were just as addicted to the television version as I was. A colleague who couldn’t watch the season finale the first night it aired said, “Don’t tell me how it ends!”
Watching The People v. O. J. Simpson invokes the same sense of vertigo many Americans felt watching the real trial: Where do we draw the line between a believable story and “what really happened”? Or is there such a line? Halfway through the series, prosecuting attorney Marcia Clark (played by Sarah Paulson) mocks the defense strategy. “The defense is just making up stories,” she huffs, confident in the power of evidence to trump all. “People like stories,” responds her assistant, Chris Darden (Sterling K. Brown).