One may smile and smile Robert Tashman inspects O J Simpson's self-defence manual

I WANT TO TELL YOU: My Response to Your Letters, Your Messages, Your Questions O J Simpson Little, Brown £12.99 Prior to the murders, the more amiable Simpson was, the finer his character seemed to be; today, the more amiable he is, the worse he may appe

As a teenager in Los Angeles in the late Sixties, I loved history and sports; my heroes were A J P Taylor and O J Simpson. At that time, Simpson played football for the University of Southern California; he went on to have an outstanding professional career but it was in college that he performed most spectacularly. He was a new sort of football runner: he combined bruising power with elusiveness. (The claim made by his defence attorneys, that he was physically incapable of committing the murders of which he is accused, seems far-fetched.)

Off the field he was generous and self-deprecating, an exemplary sportsman. For most of his life he played for an unsuccessful team, but he did not complain or sulk. After leaving football he became a broadcaster and film actor; his series of car rental commercials with Arnold Palmer, the renowned and politically conservative golfer, were regarded as pathbreaking for their portrayal of a black man enjoying success equal to that of a white. Throughout, he maintained a kind of intimacy with an adoring public to whom he was "OJ" or "Juice".

Simpson was distinctive in that he had known success in one area, and was enjoying it in another, disproving Scott Fitzgerald's famous dictum that there are no second acts in American life. A comparable figure in England would have to develop a persona that combined the jauntiness of Botham, the decency of Lineker and the good humour of Gascoigne. Last year, though, Americans were told that Simpson may also be a brute and a weakling, a bored and abusive man ruled by denatured emotions.

From his jail cell, Simpson has produced a De Profundis which whether or not it is true, is skilful in exploiting and suppressing his earlier persona. I Want to Tell You may not be convincing as a whole, but parts of it seem authentic and are compelling; it is abundant with clichs, but there are also insights. Simpson's task is to invoke the former smiling image but adapt it to his new circumstances. Prior to the murders of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman, the more amiable Simpson was, the finer his character seemed to be; today, the more amiable he is, the worse he may appear.

The text consists of edited remarks that Simpson made in conversations with Lawrence Schiller, the journalist and TV producer who conducted interviews for Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song. It is interspersed with letters he has received in jail, many of them supportive, others not. Three hundred thousand people have written to him. Schiller and Simpson are familiar with the arts of rhetoric, and understand that the most effective way to counter the view that Simpson is completely bad is for him to acknowledge that he may not be completely good. It is also useful for him to put his detractors in the most negative light possible, and to that end, several sick, racist letters to him are printed. In places Simpson is surprisingly frank: he even admits to a financial motive in writing the book. One correspondent asks why, if he is innocent, he is reluctant to undergo DNA testing. He answers that he has learned that the test is unreliable; moreover, he knows he is innocent.

Simpson flatly denies involvement in the murders and prudently does not deal with specific details that might implicate him. He emphasizes character over evidence: "Anyone who knows me knows that I'm innocent." He speaks straightforwardly of his divorce from his wife, of a new girlfriend, and of subsequent relations with his wife; as if to suggest that if he did have lingering feelings for Nicole, they were manageable. He mentions Othello, and says comparisons are unfair. There are many glossy colour photographs of Simpson with family and friends, and with Nicole, but they are lurid and unedifying. In the text he is sentimental about his family and marriage. He says that spousal abuse is an important social problem but that he cannot discuss it further, for it will be an issue in his trial.

Simpson protests, but not too much. He describes the degradation of life in jail. He has learned harsh truths about racism; he complains that he is being treated, by the press and the institutions of justice, as a guilty man. Although he is bitter, he is much less so than when his confinement began, for he has read the Book of Job, and experienced an awakening of religious feeling. He would probably wish to emphasize that his religious faith has given him the strength to endure bad publicity and an unjust accusation, not to engage in repentance for a misdeed. Indeed, his profession of faith is more convincing than it might be for its being good-humoured: he is amusing about the devotional mannerisms of his friend Roosevelt Grier, a gigantic former lineman. But most of the religious matter is directed to a particular audience. During the first month and a half of his imprisonment, when his girlfriend Paula Barbieri visited him, "all we talked about was Scripture".

In some places Simpson is persuasive, but he is not wholly convincing. And there is a feeling that the story is tailored for effect. He and Schiller can also go too far in drawing sympathv by making concessions to doubters and opponents. Schiller says that he interviewed Simpson, but none of his questions are printed. He intervenes only once after his introduction to the book, not to state a question but to describe Simpson breaking down and weeping.

The problem, from Simpson's point of view, is that the portrait of him that emerges is, in spite of the self-deprecation, as one-sided as that created by the media prior to the murders. And there seems to be a contradiction: although Simpson does not fully explain the famous ride in the white Bronco, he states that, in addition to grieving for his wife, he was distraught over the presumption of his guilt by the previously fawning media; he claims to have been surprised by subsequent betrayals in the press, but also to be able to disregard what others say about him because he knows he is innocent. Even allowing for his claim that he came to be stoical about public perceptions gradually, through religious faith, it is difficult to reconcile his stating repeatedly that the important point is that he knows he is innocent with his suggestion that it can be as emotionally trying to seem guilty of murder as to be guilty of it. That the collapse of his public persona was part of the impetus for the Bronco ride may be true, whether he committed the murders or not. It emerges, by the way, that the ride was a Borgesian episode: Simpson recalls that for part of the journey he was listening to the radio coverage of it.

Simpson's trial is watched daily by millions of Americans for whom it satisfies a yearning for something more formal than the usual TV fare. The proceedings are often bizarre. The prosecution has made much of Simpson's reporting to a friend, after the murders, that he had had dreams of murdering his wife: as if his having had good dreams about her would help prove his innocence.

The racial element is obvious, and is being exploited by lawyers on both sides, but it is secondary. Simpson's flight, arrest, imprisonment, and trial offer the spectacle-in a culture that grants excessive status to athletes and actors, and under fast-changing economic circumstances that have caused many people to worry that they will lose their jobs - of a man's sudden, irrevocable loss of stature and credibility. There is more fear than pity in the public's interest.

Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?