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'The People v. OJ Simpson' Gives Us a Depressing Look At The Origins of Reality TV Famewhoring

By Vivian Kane | TV | February 18, 2016 | Comments ()

By Vivian Kane | TV | February 18, 2016 |


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We’re three episodes into The People v. OJ Simpson, and this show continues to be a gift that keeps on giving. I’ve already talked about the things I love in this show: the spectacular performances across the board, the surreal experience of watching this huge event from the not-distant-enough past. But there’s another major element that has been driving this show since the first minutes, and it may be the single greatest thing about the series. Yes, even better than Sarah Paulson’s perm.

While this show is, on its surface, the story of OJ Simpson and the people involved in his arrest and trial, it is, on a deeper level, a story about us, about the world we live in now, and how it got to be this way. The way many of us remember it, and as the show paints it, the OJ Simpson case collided with the beginnings of the 24-hour news cycle to create a landscape where celebrity and entertainment and news are indistinguishable, or at least inextricably interwoven.

The People v. OJ Simpson has been setting this up from its first scene, when OJ’s driver was starstruck. The police, likewise, didn’t really know how to handle the investigation of a celebrity they admired. Marcia Clark (in the show) was the most outspoken critic of granting Simpson special privileges because of his celebrity, but saw no way around it. In the second episode, the close and constant coverage the news outlets were giving to such a high-profile case was the reason Simpson’s car chase was allowed to drag out so long. This new type of constant attention made everyone afraid of missteps.

And it wasn’t just the authorities who were affected. That freeway chase scene showed us other drivers who were over-the-moon excited to see that white Bronco, because the chase wasn’t news, it was entertainment. And that brings us to the secret stars of this entire series: these little Kardashian kids.

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Look how amazed and proud they are to see their father on television. Look how proud they are of themselves.

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Knowing what we know about where these kids end up, that they’ll likely eventually be featured in history textbooks (or, you know, whatever the future brainchip version of that is) as the prime example of fame for fame’s sake, this show reads like an origin story. This is ground zero for pointless, inexplicable, yet overwhelming fame. And in this week’s episode, we got this beautiful moment, when a restaurant hostess tells them they can have any table they want at their favorite restaurant AND DON’T EVEN HAVE TO WAIT IN LINE. For a bunch of Brentwood kids, what could be cooler? This is the exact instant when you can see it all click for those kids:

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Fame = skipping the line at Chin Chin! Everyone knows (some mispronounced version of) your name! Everybody looks at you while you eat egg rolls! This is the Kardashian origin story, and therefore the story of the entire culture they symbiotically created/feed off of.

And that’s what makes Robert Kardashian’s (David Schwimmer) speech at the end of this scene all the more depressing. The show takes some liberties with facts (obviously, it IS television), but making Robert Kardashian its moral center may be a big one. Still, this is what he tells his kids when he sees them reacting so strongly to this attention:

We are Kardashians. And in this family, being a good person and a loyal friend is more important than being famous. Fame is fleeting. It’s hollow. It means nothing at all without a virtuous heart.

The dramatic irony here, in knowing how this turns out for the children, is on par with any Greek tragedy. Does that sound hyperbolic? I don’t think so. Tell me you wouldn’t watch the crap out of an Oresteia remake modernized with Kardashians.

For everything this series is telling us about that period in the mid-90s, it’s really telling us more about our exact present. And it is as depressing a mirror as any show could ever hold up. Ultimately, sweet, simple Kato summed it up best this week:

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Vivian Kane just came up with the title The Fame Whore-esteia, and now she needs to go write this thing, pronto.



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