The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Reality Show Saturation Story
The events covered on ‘The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story’ happened before I was born. Somehow I knew the basic details -O.J. Simpson was an African American celebrity, many people thought he got away with the murdering his wife, the Kardashians’ father was one of Simpson’s lawyers, the case and verdict raised a lot of issues including racial discrimination. Throughout my life the name O.J. Simpson would be referenced in American TV shows and stand-up comedies I watched. I’ve lived in the UK all my life but these details slip into the random-general-knowledge box that might be useful if I go on a game show in the future. I didn’t care about the case or decide to read more about it… until recently.
In February 2016, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story was aired in the U.S. and the UK. This was just as Celebrity Big Brother (CBB) was coming towards the end. Before CBB I had been in a reality TV detox, a slightly pretentious phase where I thought it was stupid to watch these shows I used love. What pulled me out of it was Tiffany ‘New York’ Pollard, the queen of reality TV and hilarious cast member of Flavor of Love, and the news that she was on CBB. She was an extreme entertaining character but a real person who wasn’t created by a group of writers and the main reason I carried on watching the series.
American Crime Story started at a good time, as I needed a reality-type-show to fill the void of CBB. The show sounded interesting. I thought it could be something I can watch from the beginning without being way behind everyone and without the ending being spoilt. (I’m looking at everyone who has recommended countless Netflix series that are in season 3+ with spoilers scattered across the internet.)
The couple of episodes were ok — with unnecessary chanting young Kardashians — and I hoped it would get better once they got to the trial. And it did. Then I was hooked. After every new episode I would read about the events covered and watch interviews about the people involved. Through this I learnt a lot more about the case and 1990’s American society. Great cast, great writing, great directing.
Once the series has finished, I didn’t feel fully satisfied and the end of series blues came on. Although I know it’s not like any fictional series where I literally won’t know what happens to the ‘characters’ in the future, since they are real people, I wanted to know more.
Some people said the trial was like a circus, like a reality show. It was intrusive and digging into everyone’s past to find out who these people really were. They were not actors and they had real lives outside of the court. The people following the case also had a life they needed to live. But the people seemed so invested in this case as there were different things people seemed to relate to, whether it be race, dysfunctional relationships, or just injustice. As well as watching the unexpected downfall of a once loved American figure.
The case of The People v. O.J. Simpson had an interesting public journey from real life tragedy to court case reality show to true crime TV show. It’s probably odd to compare this case to today’s popular reality shows, as they usually don’t involve murder, but it had elements of a soap opera -shocking reveals and twists in the story. It seemed like the reality show the American audience was craving.
The past 20 years has shown the rise and over saturation of the ‘famous for being famous’, the ‘why do we care but we’ll keep watching’, the ‘reality star’ or whatever you’ll call it! There have been many reality spin off shows that have been inspired from across the pond and vice versa. The era of ‘Real Housewives’ and ‘Big Brothers’ television doesn’t seem to be slowing down but spreading to other countries.
Do we just love a bit of real life drama?