Maybe it’s the approaching millennium or the bad egg sandwich I had for lunch, but it seems to me that the tempo of our culture has attained unheard-of speeds lately. Everything is evolving faster: Musical fads pass in the blink of an edit, children learn about sex before they’re out of rompers, whole new media of expression pop overnight from the mulch of Silicon Valley. Just think: Two years ago, the only people who had heard of CD-ROMs were cutting-edge librarians — and now, with one new release, the discs have achieved the same level of pop-culture maturity as film, radio, and television. That’s right, with The People vs. O.J. Simpson (CNN Interactive, CD-ROM for PC/ Windows and Mac, $20 and under) CD-ROM enters the arena of tabloid exploitation.
Intellimedia Sports and CNN, the producers of this disc, are of course taking the high road, positioning their product as the essential viewing companion to the trial that started Sept. 26. It indicates how deeply the Simpson case is perceived by the entertainment community (which certainly includes the news organizations) as a more unpredictable — and therefore better — kind of TV show. In which case, programs, scorecards, and souvenirs become justified as dandy add-ons.
The idea is that as the trial goes on, you fire up People vs. O.J. and get a brief bio and video or still (85 people are covered). When evidence is discussed, you can check out photos on the disc: blood spots, mug shots, estate maps, white Broncos, and so on (in what passes for tact here, the bodies of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman are shown only in coroner’s sketches). You can replay the 911 calls to your crabbed heart’s content, listen to legal experts hash out the not-so-finer points of jurisprudence (”What is voir dire?” is a typical topic), or replay any portions of the generous amount of CNN news footage divvied up by subject and category. For the trial addict, there’s even an on-line component: Sign up for the free CompuServe trial subscription and you can access the latest developments.
To get corporations like CNN and CompuServe to cooperate must have taken planning, and in fact, People vs. O.J. was a go project as early as this summer. Of course, if Judge Lance Ito boots the media out of his courtroom, as he’s threatened, this disc may end up as nothing but a fancy hors d’oeuvre tray. But there’s also a chance that People vs. O.J. could be the CD-ROM that the multimedia industry has been waiting for: the first true Killer App. C