OJ Simpson: an eternal symbol of racial division- or has America moved on?

Hes the subject of documentaries, drama and enduring fascination. But as walks free, does he still stir a meaningful debate about race?

Older, greyer and chubbier, a punchline for late-night TV hosts, all he apparently seeks is a quiet life and” simple pleasures” like seafood, steak and a new iPhone.

OJ Simpson strolled out of prison on Sunday a free man in a country which on the surface seems ready to treat him as a topic for macabre slapstick rather than psychodrama.

” He’ll be picked up … via helicopter and be flown directly to the situate of Dancing with the Stars ,” said .

” He’s been a model citizen in prison. He petitioned for books for the library, he coached a softball team, he never get in trouble. To me, that’s kind of a reason to keep him in prison – it’s the only place he’s not committing crimes ,” said Trevor Noah.

The cable news countdown to the release has a theatrical air closer to soap opera than breaking news, with speculation about how many cookies Simpson ate during nine years inside.

OJ as a symbol of America’s racial divide may feel anachronistic, a cobwebbed cliche now associated with John Travolta’s wig in the dramatised TV series The People v OJ Simpson. The , after all, has moved on, though not inevitably forwards.

OJ Simpson leaves a parole hearing in Lovelock, Nevada. He left prison on Sunday. Photograph: Bloomberg/ Bloomberg via Getty Images

A black man occupied the Oval Office for eight years and the Los Angeles police department is no longer the overtly bigoted institution which turned LA into a racial cauldron and inspired a mostly African American jury to exonerate Simpson of murder in 1995 in apparent payback for the Rodney King verdict.

Black Lives Matter, National Football League players and Donald Trumpare the new protagonists in debates about race.

In this climate the 70 -year-old former athlete who emerges from incarcerate may seem more a pop culture phenomenon- a Tv ratings machine- than source of actual debate about race.

But Simpson does, in fact, suffer as a totemic figure, said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, an writer and media critic.” OJ will always, till the end of time, be a emblem not only of racial division and polarisation but of how criminal justice systems are dealing here with African Americans. He’s an eternal emblem .”

His acquittal for the 1994 slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman still divides Americans along racial lines, said Hutchinson.” People who weren’t even born then have an opinion about OJ. Anytime I mention him on Facebook, it blows up .”

The gap has constricted but remains stark. In a 1995 CBS poll 76% of whites thought the former FNL star was guilty while simply 22% of blacks thought so. Now 79% of whites and 41% of blacks is considered that. Some 10% of whites and 39% of blacks think he is not guilty.

More than a decade after the murder acquittal, Simpson was sentenced to 33 years for a 2008 armed robbery and kidnapping in its relationship with a confrontation with two sports memorabilia merchants in a Las Vegas hotel room.

In July a Nevada state parole board awarded parole, cutting his time served in the Lovelock correctional center in northern Nevada to nine years.

‘ If it doesn’t fit you must exonerate’ … OJ Simpson trying on a pair of gloves in court has become an enduring moment in pop culture. Photograph: Sipa Press/ Rex/ Shutterstock

Simpson wished to see his family, who lives in Florida, and enjoy” the very simple pleasures” of life, including feeing seafood and steak and getting a new iPhone, his lawyer, Malcolm LaVergne, told ABC’s Good Morning America last week.

TV critics initially groaned last year when FX announced a 10 -part dramatisation, The People v OJ Simpson, and ESPN announced an eight-hour documentary, OJ: Made in America, saying the narrative was over-familiar. But both gripped audiences and the latter won an Oscar.

The response surprised even the documentary director, Ezra Edelman.” I underestimated the appetite people have for this story .”

Simpson may try to shun the spotlight but he will still divide America, said Hutchinson, author of Beyond OJ: Race, Sex and Class Lessons For America.” No matter how softly he tries to live he’ll aways be a lighting rod .”

The current commotion in the NFL over protests by Colin Kaepernickand other players, in contrast, will eventually fade, said Hutchinson.” I can’t imagine people 20 years from now will be taking about Kaepernick .”

Simpson will remain in the judicial crosshairs because of a dogged campaign by the family of Goldman, the waiter murdered alongside Simpson’s ex-wife. In 1997 Simpson was discovered liable for the killed in civil court. He was ordered to pay $33.5 m, a figure which since then has nearly doubled with interest to more than $65 m, according to David Cook, an attorney for the Goldman family.

Fred Goldman, the victim’s father, recently told the Guardian that Simpson’s parole only steeled the family’s quest for justice.” Nothing ever takes away from the sorrow. You have a situation like this and it merely adds to the impressions … he’ll be out again and we’ll start the process all over again .”

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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