Friday, February 24, 2017

Meaning of Justice - the case of OJ Simpson ( Jottings - 105)

On June the 12th 1994, in a posh, upscale locality of Los Angeles, in the wee hours of morning, a middle aged man taking his dog on a stroll found the bodies of a young male and female lying beside each other battered, stabbed and decimated near the front gate of an elegant home. The policemen who arrived immediately at the scene were taken aback. Such brutality with blood stains all over the place seemed out of context in a neighborhood such as this. When they started looking around, they identified the female to be Nicole Simpson brown, the ex-wife of the legendary footballer O J Simpson and the young man to be Nicole’s friend Ron Goldman. For strange reasons inexplicable ( which defense lawyers would later use to their advantage) the puzzled detectives drove over to OJ’s house to ensure he was alright. But when they got there, their probing instincts quickly pointed out suspicious blood marks, an oddly parked white Bronco with few stains on it, and an used glove. Within a day, visible evidence pointed to OJ, and a warrant was issued to take him into police custody. Before they could do it, OJ, distressed, and in a fit of eccentricity, decided to escape from his home in his Bronco to speed along the spreading freeways of LA with a gun to his head threatening suicide. Incidentally, NBA finals was happening that day and it was showing live on television. And for sports fans, it was strange to see their favorite game interrupted by most infamous real life car chase in American criminal history. It was chilling scene, straight out of Hollywood movie, with ten police cars, unwilling to shoot because they had orders not to, trailing OJ on the winding roads of LA, requesting him to stop and surrender. Roads were cleared, traffic was diverted, road blocks were placed, excited public congregated on bridges and balconies to watch a spectacle they have never seen before or probably will never after. Finally, after hours of chase, on 17th morning ,OJ’s car slowly drove into his mothers home, and he surrendered himself to the police. Thus began one of the most important, controversial, divisive, publicized trials of the twentieth century. The repercussions of this case will have far reaching effects on what it means to be a celebrity and black American, the use of DNA as forensic evidence, the role of media in private and public life and importantly, the thin line that exists between moral and legal justice, or in a philosophical tone - the meaning of the very word “justice” itself within a courtroom.
Who was OJ Simpson and why was his arrest so pivotal . Anybody having a casual interest in American football will know that OJ was one of sports greatest Running backs. His popularity as a talented sportsman was unquestionable, but it is also true that his success was to great extent fueled by the fact that he rose to fame and celebrity in a post-segregation world, despite all early odds of childhood, His success vindicated to the Black community the meaning, purpose and goal of the Civil rights movement which culminated in the Civil rights act of 1965 . In essence then, OJ was a flower of the post civil rights era, who had proved that it is possible for a Black American to be successful and talented. When OJ retired from the sport in 1979, after establishing numerous records and breaking old ones, he was not only one of the richest sportsman in the world, but a social and cultural celebrity leading a life style hardly conceivable to Black Americans a decade ago. With homes in posh localities, cars, endorsements, girls, parties, Oj transformed himself from a superlative athlete to demigod worshipped by millions, achieving cult status cutting across demographies. His marriage to young blonde and beautiful waitress Nicole, after divorcing his high school friend and wife Marguerite , was the icing on the cake. Not many believed such a union could happen or sustain beyond few months, but it did, and the husband and wife outwardly showed all signs of successful marriage. There were occasional incidents of abuse in the Oj household, but nothing really came out of it. While this dream love story was running its course, there was in parallel a strong undercurrent of resentment and condescension in White American’s perception of black that continued unabated In spite of all claims of the civil rights movement. Despite all outward forms of respectability and equality ,racial prejudices were not fully obliterated, but simply brushed under the carpet. White supremacists were still active, Los Angeles Police department ( LAPD) had a bad reputation for victimizing blacks for no reason at all. Every now and then an awkward incident would flare up, bringing into doubt and question the flimsy balance of equality pervading the surface.
It was in these circumstances that Nicole was found murdered, and the needle of suspicion fell upon OJ. from the day he was arrested, a nation was divided. While all evidence pointed to his guilt, the verdict of the trial proved otherwise. What a trial it turned out to be. It was eleven months long, and everything about the trial was historic and momentous. From the moral dilemma of Judge Lance Ito; to key witnesses turning out flawed and racist; to flared tempers of Jury members juggled around, cloistered and restless in a Five star hotel for nine months; to the star team of OJ’s lawyers including Robert Shapiro and John Cochrane who manipulated the case to suit their own professional and political agenda; to public prosecutor Marcia clark who wanted to nail the case of the century to her advantage and redeem her own abuse and rape as young lady; to Robert Kardashian ( yes the father of the famed Kardashians today) who remained a loyal friend of OJ throughout the case, even though he was convinced that OJ was guilty; to controversial tapes of lead detectives spewing racial invectives to disbelief and despair of public; to the incontrovertible DNA evidence used for the first time in criminal case , but was discredited for lack of surety and procedure; to the toll it took on the emotional and family ties on everyone involved; to the glare and spotlight of media already showing portent signs of the ominous effect it would have in times to come on private lives - everything about those eleven months was otherworldly. What started off a case of murder with crystal clear evidence transformed itself into a fiasco of racial prejudice, media morality, lure of money and the janus faced truth of Justice.
When the verdict was finally delivered in November 1995, Jury took just 4 hours to deliberate reaching a verdict of “not guilty” on both counts of murder. OJ walked free out of court room full of smiles and hugs. The tragic question that remains unanswered is whether Justice was done or not. Was Simpson acquitted only because of prosecutorial incompetence, subversive defense strategies and the issue of race which played such a prominent role towards the last few months of trial? Was all the evidence that pointed to Simpson fabricated by LAPD. if so, how ? These questions remains unanswered till today. What is palpable, real, irredeemably tragic is that two young lives were brutally cut short on that horrific night, and their deaths still remain heavy on American conscience. The lawyers who tried the case for prosecution and defense went on to become famous and rich in their own ways, and Robert Kardashian regretted his friendship with OJ, cut ties with him, and eventually died of Cancer in 2003. He was the only man who stood by OJ because he was his friend, and not because he believed OJ was innocent.
OJ lost his celebrity status, and his familiar world of pomp and wealth disappeared as quickly as it came. He may have won the case, but lost everything else in the process.. Sometimes, justice that reality metes out is much more poignant that legal justice. For ten years, an ostracized Simpson lived out off his money he had, paying off compensations, taking custody of his children and moving to Florida to safe guard his assets. In 2008, in one more eccentric act of foolishness, he attempted burglary and extortion at gun point. This time however, the courts were swift in their judgement. It did not take them long to imprison for 33 years. As I write this article, OJ is seventy years of age, leading a mellowed life in prison and waiting parole sometime later this year. Some would way, Justice was finally rendered.
Many years later, Megan Kelly the Ex-fox news reporter during an interview with aged and wise Robert Shapiro( the lead defense lawyer), asked him “
“Rob, do you believe justice was done in OJ’s case”
Rob grew pensive for few moments, and looked into Megan’s eyes
“Megan, There are two kinds of Justice - Legal and Moral. In Oj’s case, I believe Legal justice was done…”
There was a long pause and Rob didn't compete the sentence.
But his unsaid words resonated loud and clear in the studio.
God bless…
yours in mortality ,
Bala

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Jottings - Slice of life - 98 ( Anatomy of fame..)

Jottings - Slice of life - 98 ( Anatomy of fame..)
I recently finished reading a book by Journalist, film and art critic Leo Braudy titled “ The frenzy of renown”. Braudy wrote it in 1986 and is a voluminous book running into over 700 pages in small print, and quite a deep read. Its subject is the notion and understanding what “fame” means, and changes in its meaning and manifestation over time from early Greeks to Modern day stars and performers. It is a fascinating study of history and human activity from an angle never conceived before. Almost everything man does has an undertone of fame substantiating its execution. It could for fame within ones family, or circle of friends, society, professional, national, global, inner, outer - any possible category - but it is an undeniable fact that it is our innermost desire to have our existence, our acts, our thoughts immortalized in some way or the other. We fervently wish to leave behind a “legacy”. Even those who conspicuously shun fame, mostly do it for fame. The very act of defiance of norms only enforces the need to be renowned as a retrograde or rebel. There are however exceptions, and those exceptions are when the light of fame is mysteriously turned inward, and a point is discovered where fame loses its meaning as an actively pursued object, but it descends upon one without volition or choice.
Artists in general are very conscious of fame. After all, perpetuation of their art depends upon how much they leave behind. When, in the past, the world was localized and fame had to be earned over a period of time in the midst of discerning and critical public, it was difficult not only to achieve fame but to sustain it. However, In modern times, fame is cheap commodity, because the reach of art has spread enormously wide. Every printed word, every note of music, very swab of paint brush , every click of a camera is instantly broadcast, if needed to millions and billions across the globe. Anyone who wishes to be “known” has only take the trouble of learning to be media savvy, the rest is taken care of. In such a case, fame can be very ephemeral. It burns like a fiery flame for few moments only to be mercilessly extinguished, and rekindled in some other form and place.
The point is ,when fame becomes so temporal, it leaves behind deep psychological scars in its possessor. When an artist used to accolades for few years suddenly loses it and their work is forgotten in the tidal wave of ever changing public loyalties and taste, it becomes difficult for them to inwardly reconcile to their new downgraded position on the podium of fame. Unless, they do something outrageous or miraculous, it is virtually impossible for them to get back within the radar of renewed public attention and adulation. For many, to put in that kind of effort may be an uphill task, simply because their art was mediocre at best to start with, and the little fame which accompanied them was sheer chance bought about by modern technology and nothing else. When this piteous realization dawns on them, their inwards selves take a steep tumble into desolation and self-pity, which in turn leads to tragic self-abuse and eventual annihilation.
However, there is no end to true art. Artists may come and go, but the life breath of art form which pulsates within them will resonate across ages through myriad forms. The reams of symphonies that Mozart wrote, the brilliant plays Shakespeare conceived, the marvelous tales of Jane Austen, the surreal paintings of Michelangelo, the lyrical brilliance of William Blake or Wordsworth, the filmography of Satyajit ray will continue to inspire and warm many an aspiring artists’ heart and intellect. Fame then, is not individualized in the final essence of it. Fame is for the act not the actor. The actor remains only a point in space and time for its consummation, but the artistry which flowed through them will takes various meanings, shape and form as ages go by, infusing different forms with the same zeal and spirit which sparked the original genius, and through them continue the everlasting process of creation - the principle of “Elan Vital” of Henri Bergson.
Leo Braudy did not revise his book after his wrote it in 1986. Thirty years later, he may have had to change his stance on some of his views. His book stopped shy of the internet age. Rightly so, the concept of fame in the digital world is still evolving, and we really dont know if fame, as we know it, will remain in its original form or not. Our attention spans have reduced, and so have artists capacity to create for long periods. In such a context, there is nothing called fame, there is only recognition. Like the beauty of a rose, which can be enjoyed while it is there and dont expect it to last long, fame now needs to be transmuted to suit the needs of modern age. So be it..
Was it Keats who said “A thing of beauty is a joy forever”? Well, it still may be, if we can wake up to it.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Lady Gaga

It was one of those extraordinary moments in sport, when the Patriots came in from virtually nowhere to beat the Falcons last Sunday. It definitely left plenty of broken hearts here in Atlanta, but I guess, this is exactly the strange and mysterious lure any game has on its followers. Its unpredictability, to spin up the unexpected in the most normal of times. Some may attribute the victory to the genius of one Man, but in all fairness, Falcon’s couldn't finish the game they started so well. It is possible the pressure, the stage and their incredible closeness to victory paralyzed their free flow of sporting energy. And in that frail moment of weakness and indecision, the Patriots swooped in, stole the cup from under their very noses.
The game fascinated me, no doubt, but what fascinated me even more was the brief 15 minute performance by Lady Gaga ( born as Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta). As I watched her float down the stadium , decked in her florescent garment, mike in hand , and booming vocals that reverberated with energy and confidence, I could not but admire the career and spirit of this fantastic singer-performer, who for me, epitomizes the artistic consummation of an American singer. In the west, singers cannot merely sing and get away with it, they have to be performers on stage. They are loved not only for the music they make, but for their entire personality. The way they dress, the way they talk, the society they move in, the cars and houses they possess, their rebellious acts of outrage - all of them are factored into the career of an artist to achieve greatness and immortality. Fame has a different meaning in the West. Except for few genres , where it is alright only to record albums with the comfort of closed studio, for most part singers have to perform under the glare of the public eye, and it is there they seek their name and salvation. And in that sense, Lady gaga has more or less mastered the art of public image for the last decade or so she has been in business.
Over the years, I have been following her work. You cannot afford not to, considering she is constantly in the news and always performing. Her metamorphosis from a young girl a decade ago striving to find her footing in an adult music world to a woman of extraordinary self possession , confidence and firmness of purpose ; reinventing herself into different musical avatars each time she steps on to the stage is fascinating, and scary sometimes. She transforms herself completely for every piece of music she makes. To each song, she brings in a megalomaniacal focus and dedication that makes one want to respect her even if the song is not particularly pleasing to the ears, or her presentation of it is outrageous. Her presence on stage is electric and authentic. One can see her self-belief shine through in flesh and blood, even if it lies buried underneath layers of paint and reams of garments she wears.
A few years ago, during our official annual day on board a boat in Chicago, a very senior member drew our attention to Lady Gaga’s performance on a cold wintery night in Newyork. In that blistering chilly wind, with sub zero temperatures, Lady gaga dressed in light transparent outfit with elongated head gears, performed for two hours without flinching or dropping a single note. The speaker said he was spell bound by her singular commitment. Very true!! thats the word which come to mind, when we think of Lady gaga. Commitment and perfection. She is one of few singers in the industry who does not lip-sync while on stage and prefers to use her own vocals. In such a case, it was almost an impossible act to sing on the freezing stage, but she did that day in Newyork with style and grace.
The other important part of Lady Gaga’s success is her meticulous preparation for a show. A month ago, I wrote about another artist, who could not sing in her own voice even for fifteen minutes during new years eve, despite having one one of the best voices in the industry. She simply wasn't prepared. But with Lady gaga, with every show, every meticulous detail is carefully drawn out, and in her ten years of stage performance in diverse contexts and circumstances, never once has she faltered in her execution. She has a fanatical attention to detail. Last year, during the annual fashion show of lingerie created by the house of Victoria Paris, she led the gorgeous models onto the ramp with her popular “One in a million” song. Clad in a sumptuous translucent gown printed with rose petals, mellowed, with nothing of her usual pyrotechnics, she lifted the moment to an ethereal space, where her deep vocals coupled with the limpid grace of girls who cat walked formed together, for twenty odd minutes, a paradise of idealistic beatitude - a glimpse of Eden perhaps, as God would have conceived in his pristine moment of awakening. Such was the brilliance of her orchestration and execution on stage.
It was a fitting interlude to the super bowl 2017. A great game and a great performance by a great performer. However, One of the enduring images for me of Lady Gaga would be the picture of her sitting alongside the revered Dalai lama conducting an interview last year. There cannot be two more contrasting people together on a single podium. One ,a man of great humor and spiritual depth, the other a young girl clad in cut jeans and powdered face. Yet, both of them vibed tremendously well. In one of the striking moments during that interview The Dalai lama jokingly told Lady Gaga
“I’m one 81-year-old person with quite a lot of experiences, My experiences much bigger than your experiences….”
Without missing a beat, Lady gaga instinctively responded with equal depth and sincerity. She replied :
“You didn’t know this, but I’m much older than you.”
In that single remark she revealed a depth far greater than her outward persona would seem to suggest.
God bless….
yours in mortality,
Bala