COLUMN

Wife beating-a nation’s obsession

Guilty or innocent, O.J. Simpson terrorized his wife. Abusers are always cowards. Sometimes, they are murderers, too.

FRED BRUNING July 25 1994
COLUMN

Wife beating-a nation’s obsession

Guilty or innocent, O.J. Simpson terrorized his wife. Abusers are always cowards. Sometimes, they are murderers, too.

FRED BRUNING July 25 1994

Wife beating-a nation’s obsession

COLUMN

AN AMERICAN VIEW

Guilty or innocent, O.J. Simpson terrorized his wife. Abusers are always cowards. Sometimes, they are murderers, too.

FRED BRUNING

Outside the Los Angeles Criminal Courts building, supporters of O.J. Simpson were asked why they felt partial to a man accused of stabbing to death his former wife and her young male friend. This is what they said:

He didn’t do the crime. What happened, you see, is that Simpson went by the home of Nicole Brown Simpson and saw her mutilated remains and the corpse of Ronald Goldman, and, so in love with Nicole was O.J., that he held her lifeless body to him. That accounts for bloodstains. Then, Simpson panicked and fled the scene, which accounts for everything else.

Reports that 0. J. Simpson was an abusive husband? Big deal. Stuff happens. “My husband used to hit me,” a woman told the New York Times. “I left Louisiana to get away from him.” Apparently, the idea was that every wife gets hit once in a while. You don’t like it? Move across the country. She reasoned further: “0. J. must not have been so bad. This woman couldn’t leave him alone.”

Another woman bought a “Save 0. J.” T-shirt, choosing it over the zippy, ‘Turn the Juice Loose,” version also available from curbside entrepreneurs. The woman happened to be in a courtroom, herself, that day, testifying on behalf of her boyfriend who police say assaulted her. Loyal soul, the woman insisted it was a bad rap. She hit the boyfriend first, she explained to the Times, so it was understandable why he chipped her tooth with an iron. As for Simpson, the woman was similarly empathetic. “I’m going to stand by him,” she said. “I don’t believe he did it.”

T-shirt purveyors had opinions, too. “Look in his face,” advised one vendor proclaiming Simpson’s innocence. Another said he “idolized” Simpson and was sure his hero would be vindicated. As if to offer corroborating evidence, the salesman, who also hawked souvenir shirts following the Rodney King trial

market in 0. J. apparel was booming. “0. J.’s going to be the biggest seller.” Elsewhere, Jimmy Breslin, the estimable

Newsday columnist, visited a black church in Los Angeles. Black Americans seem particularly vexed by the 0. J. Simpson affair, and Breslin reported that bible-carrying parishioners at the first African Methodist Episcopal church on that particular Sunday felt sure Simpson was being railroaded. “A pack of lies,” said one woman. “They are framing 0. J.” A thousand times in the past, a black man

has been wrongly condemned by white authorities. Blacks ask what makes this episode any different? Early evidence might appear to implicate Simpson, but skepticism among minority Americans is no big mystery. If Joe DiMaggio had been accused of killing Marilyn Monroe, whites would have drifted into denial like seals into salt water. ItalianAmericans would have closed ranks and wondered aloud if Joe was getting a fair shake. People want to believe the best about themselves. It’s a matter of survival. Obviously, there is enough passion in the

Simpson case to cause emotional heat exhaustion. In the streets, on cafeteria lines, at

picnic tables—Simpson is all you hear. The story owns Page 1 and dominates television. During the preliminary hearing, we had CNN and the cable channel called Court TV, and all these attractive network anchorpeople looking grim and purposeful. Meanwhile, Americans have mostly forgotten President Bill Clinton and his various personal and political problems. And don’t bore us with Haiti or Rwanda or the 25th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon walk. Health care? Welfare reform? Not these days. No one can resist. “I go home every day

and say, ‘I will not watch a single moment of this stuff,’ ” said a sensible and informed fellow in the New York City suburbs who ordinarily spends evenings tuned to nature shows on the educational channel or reading magazine articles on anthropology. “But I turn on the news and watch for hours.” In North Carolina, a 24-year-old waiter said

the spectacle made him woozy. “It bothers me,” he said. “I mean, who is 0. J. Simpson? What makes him rate all this attention? Why is this a national event? What about the people who died?” Good thoughts, son. Now here’s a question for you: How have you been spending your days off? “The hearings,” said the hash slinger down south. Pop psychologists claim Americans have

lapsed into Simpsonmania because they want to peer into the abyss of evil without taking the plunge, and behold a national figure in mortal peril. If convicted of slashing to death Nicole Simpson, 35, and Goldman, 25, on the night of June 12, Orenthal James Simpson, 47, could go to the gas chamber. The possibility is slim—the death penalty is mostly reserved for poor folks in this country—but even the prospect is chilling. Both nightmare and morality tale, the Simpson case is a gothic romance with a spellbinding theme. We can’t get enough. But for all its gaudy trimmings and embar-

rassing excesses, the saga is instructive. It has demanded that we ponder again what we mean by “hero” and confront the sad fact that, by any definition, we have a mighty short supply. A guy who hauls the pigskin a million miles may not be a model citizen. That affable chap in the rent-a-car ads may have a decidedly unsmiling aspect to his personality. Raised anew, as well, is the ugly subject of

domestic abuse. Men who hit women—men who have even come close—should contemplate the somber, troubled face of the accused and take heed. Guilty or innocent, Simpson terrorized his wife with threats and fists. Abusers are always cowards and sometimes crazy. Sometimes, they turn out to be murderers, too. Perhaps most of all, the Simpson saga re-

veals Americans one to another. We are the ones who sell the T-shirts and shout the slogans and cheer on the highway as the chase goes by. We take snapshots at the suspect’s mansion and watch TV and wait for answers. Americans are the ones who try to believe the best when believing is the hardest thing to do. Fred Bruning is a writer with Newsday in New York.

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