When the whole unpleasantness involving Nicole Brown Simpson, O.J Simpson and Ronald Goldman exploded into the public consciousness my first reaction was, "Oh my God, O.J couldn't have done it. He's much too nice." In hindsight that response was incredibly stupid. What the hell did I know about O.J Simpson? All I knew about Simpson was his carefully cultivated public persona as an icon of assimilation, a handsome, smiling, non-threatening black man audiences of all races were only too happy to let into their homes as a Heisman Trophy Winner, NFL Hall of Famer, broadcaster and actor.
Bubbling just under Simpson's amiable façade was all manner of seamy tabloid drama. It was hidden in plain sight, a sordid, violent spectacle that spilled out in terrified 911 calls, police reports and National Enquirer articles. Until the double homicide the ugliness of Simpson's private life seldom overlapped with his public persona. At no point in the eighties did he ever slip during a Monday Night Football broadcast and blurt out: "You know, Frank, when I was pummeling my wife with my fists in a coke and jealousy-fueled rage last night I couldn't help but think that the Chicago Bears might just have the greatest defensive line in football history."
The first sentence of Simpson's Wikipedia entry says it all. It reads: Orenthal James "O. J." Simpson (born July 9, 1947) (also known as The Juice) is a retired American football player, actor, spokesman, and convicted felon. Take away the whole "convicted felon" part and O.J has led a life rich with accomplishment. And spousal abuse. And drugs. And allegedly/possibly/probably/almost assuredly double homicide. I, like the rest of the world, initially had a hard time reconciling the smiling All-American jock running through airports on TV with images of bloody gloves and bodies hacked to pieces. The culture-wide cognitive dissonance was shattering.
I have an unusually intense relationship with Simpson's tragic legacy. Simpson indirectly played a crucial role in my adolescence though that is a story for another time and place. That time and place is my memoir and seven and a half months from now (he writes self-promotingly/obnoxiously).
O.J's image as a lovable jock died a horrible, violent death alongside Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown on June 12th, 1994. Though he was found not guilty by a jury of his peers he was nevertheless branded with the scarlet M of Murder just as thoroughly as the big homegirl Hester Prynne was cursed with that infernal A. He was tried and found guilty in the court of public opinion. He was free but it was a cursed freedom. For Simpson would never be free from the glares of a public that now saw him as the worst kind of monster, a wife-beating, cokehead allegedly/possibly/probably/almost assuredly double murderer.
Simpson understandably kept a low-profile in the years following his trial. Even in a pop culture world as shameless and sleazy as ours he was persona non grata. There are some things people just can't forgive or forget and Simpson was allegedly/possibly/probably/almost assuredly guilty of at least some of them.
After years of laying low while doggedly pursuing the "real killers" of his ex-wife the shy and retiring Simpson grudgingly ambled back into the spotlight as the star of Juiced With O.J Simpson, a pay-per-view prank show only a short step up the respectability ladder from bum fights and Girls Gone Wild DVDs.
This is a strange thing to say about any project involving Ashton Kutcher, but there is a surprising amount of craft and artisanship in Punk'd. The hidden camera prank show is an art form. In order for a prank to succeed it requires a terrific premise, actors who can commit to bizarre characters and scenarios without breaking character or giving the game away and an almost musical rhythm of unbearable tension sustained as long as possible before it is finally broken with the raw, cathartic release of the prank being climactically revealed.
If Sacha Baron Cohen elevated the prank show to an art form, Simpson and Juiced drag it kicking and screaming somewhere deep into the bowels of the sewer. The DVD/Pay-Per-View special is a desperate, rancid rip-off of Punk'd, from its title on down to interstitial segments where a seated Simpson chucklingly lays out the premise behind each prank. Juiced peaks with its very first sketch, a Prank For Beginners bit where Simpson mans a drive thru where he antagonizes customers, drinks from their sodas and generally behaves like an ass. It's not, you know, funny but it is recognizably an actual prank.
A more representative bit involves Simpson coming to an open house where a buxom real estate agent knocks over a vase and blames the potential home-buyer for the destruction. After a few moments of awkwardness Simpson tells the confused house-shoppers that they've just been "juiced". There is no build-up, no methodical ratcheting up of tension leading to an exquisite, endlessly delayed release. Instead, there's just a stupid, borderline incoherent premise (oh man, what if, like, you were looking to buy a house and a hot real estate agent knocked over a vase and accused you of doing it and O.J Simpson was there and was all, "You got juiced!"), a few seconds of poorly edited awkwardness and finally the not-so-big revelation that O.J did it. The editing here blurs everything into an incoherent mess of jiggling naked breasts, out-of-focus reaction shots and footage of Simpson mugging for the cameras as if he doesn't have a care in the world.
Yes, O.J did it. O.J did it. O.J did it. O.J did it. In another puzzling/pointless bit, Simpson dresses up like Elvis, then wanders around drinking in the rubbernecking stares of passersby before blowing his subjects' minds by informing them that he's not just a dude who looks creepily like O.J Simpson: he is O.J Simpson.
Is it possible to look at O.J and see anything other than an American tragedy? Certainly not when he's indulging in pranks like this:
Simpson is still ruggedly handsome even if he does look creepily like a guy wearing an O.J Simpson mask but the effortless strut of his younger days has been replaced by a shambling, bowlegged gait that betrays his age and his once-lean physique is now doughy and paunchy. It's hard to watch Simpson flirt with a broad cross-section of skanks or ogle strippers, something he spends much of the video doing, and not think of his ex-wife's dismembered corpse.
Speaking of ogling and skanks, there are about five minutes of utterly gratuitous nudity sprinkled generously throughout the disc's 60 minute running time. Here's a taste of the disc's abundant T&A; in a ghoulish parody of a rap video:
Watching Juiced made me feel dirty, sad and violated. The phrase "escapability" reappears throughout Juiced, both in the above sketch where Simpson tries to sell a white Ford Bronco (it's funny cause he totally used it to try to escape after he allegedly/possibly/probably/almost assuredly committed a brutal double homicide!) and in his music video until it attains it a haunting, ironic resonance. For in the end Simpson didn't really escape anything. He didn't escape his tormented conscience, nor the icy glares and disapproval of a world that once deified him or, ultimately, the cold, brutal clank or prison bars and a life with no joy in it.