Im not sure why I turned on the television that Friday night. Mountains stand between me and most airwaves, and my old TV set tunes into only two channels. I like it that way; Id much rather spend an evening with friends or a good novel. But it had been a hard week, and I was exhausted.
Somehow it seemed right to stretch out on the couch and catch the 11 oclock local news before heading to bed.
But there was no local news that night. There was only a bizarre picture of a white Ford Bronco, flashers going, winding its way along the Los Angeles freeway with a phalanx of police cars in pursuit. Im not sure why I turned on the television that night; Im even less sure why I didnt turn it off.
Like 95 million other viewers, I became riveted on a three-hour non-event. I listened to ABC newscasters offer such astute commentary as, "Is that a dog we see in the picture? I think it is a dog" (it was obviously a dog). The consummate comment was Barbara Walters breaking newsflash that when he was finally apprehended, O.J. Simpson would be placed in a cell next to parent-killer Erik Menendez.
Ms. Walters, after all, had had her show 20/20 pre-empted by the live coverage from LA. Perhaps she was only doing her part to deliver to America what America wanted? Were viewers hoping for some three-hour special edition of Hard Copy, Cops, and Americas Most Wanted rolled into one? Was there some expectation that the low-speed chase was going to end in a grisly police shoot-out or macabre suicide scene?
If our televisions are any indicator, we have become a nation obsessed with violence and voyeurism. It is telling that one TV ratings expert compared the popularity of the O.J. Simpson chase to the start of the Gulf war, which was viewed by 118 million Americans.