O.J. Simpson's famous car chase — if a chase at flashers-on speed can be called as such — was 20 years ago today. It was a do-you-remember-where-you-were kind of moment.
Nearly 100 million Americans sat glued to their TVs watching. ESPN has done a "30 for 30" documentary on June 17, 1994, with O.J.'s movements that day as the centerpiece of the story.
Books, dozens of them, were written about the trial that would follow the next year. But the chase and the events leading up to it were some of the strangest and most gripping reality TV most of our eyes ever had seen.
Here's a mind bender: What would that day had been like if Twitter was a thing?
Think about how much the way we absorb news has changed since then. Newspapers were still the main vehicle of hard news, with network television — cable networks still were second fiddle in many people's eyes — the biggest complementary part of people's daily consumption.
But the Internet was still a fringe thing. Yahoo had only been founded in January of that year and wouldn't be officially incorporated until the following March 1, in 1995. No one knew what a blog was. Geocities, believed to be the first major "social media" website, had not come to life until a few months later. Twitter was founded in March 2006 — three World Cups happened in that time.
If there ever was a live-tweet-worthy event in our lifetimes, it was O.J.'s day — first simmering when the police announced they were charging him with murder, coming to a rolling boil by the time he left his Brentwood house (and then failed to show up at the police station) and later had his assumed suicide note read on live TV by Robert Kardashian. By the time we first laid eyes on the white Bronco putt-putting down the Interstate 405, there might have been 50 million sets of hands nervously smacking keyboards around the country.
Reality TV started gripping the country within a few years. Chat rooms started booming, Suddenly people found a way of broadcasting their lives, and their interpretations of others' lives, for everyone else to see. Now, looking back, we've taken to social media sites, such as Twitter, to express our still-embossed disbelief of that day.
(And what I forgot until recently, perhaps blocking out the morbidity a bit: Many of us were watching that ride with the idea that there was a chance we could witness Simpson commit suicide on live TV. What does it say about our fascination with death? I don't know. But I can't lie: I knew there was a chance that could happen.)
Sports fans watch games and simultaneously live-tweet big events. We do the same for elections, television shows and anything else we witness — why would O.J. have been any different? We might have shut down Twitter's servers for a week that night.
We're just now coming into a day and age where we think of — and can interpret the meaning of — web clicks the same way we do TV ratings. I don't know what the metrics would have shown that day, but they would have been monstrous. Industry-changing, for sure. People who never had been on Twitter previously would have signed up for accounts in droves on June 18, 1994.
I, for one, am glad I lived in a pre-Twitter era and did not have it that night. We're well past that time now, and we got a small glimpse of what might have happened when Aaron Hernandez was arrested on murder charges last summer. But that was only a sliver of the O.J. story because of Simpson's rock-star like popularity combined with the sheer oddity and length of the drawn-out freeway chase and police intervention once he arrived at home, which seemed to last for hours.
But what would the activity had been like? Impossible to chart or categorize, naturally, but we would have been awash in rushed judgments, racism, sensationalism and, of course, sheer disbelief expressed in various forms. It would have been a stream-of-consciousness roadmap of people's boggled minds played out in 140-character bits.
What a wild day. Let's hope we never have anything like it again.
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