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ROBIN ABCARIAN

Now for Something Really Tasteless

October 23, 1994|ROBIN ABCARIAN

Talk about ghoulish.

The O.J. Simpson masks and the Nicole Brown Simpson blond wigs that have appeared in costume stores are tasteless, to be sure, but the really grotesque marketing ploy of the season is last week's release of the O.J. workout video.

(In case you plan to take the low road on Halloween, you should be advised that, according to Simpson attorney Alan Dershowitz, the so-called O.J. mask, in fact, resembles one of his other celebrity-athlete clients, convicted rapist Mike Tyson.)

The Simpson video was shot last May, less than three weeks before Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered. Shortly after charges were filed against O.J. Simpson, executives of the Playboy Entertainment Group, which produced the tape, announced that they were reconsidering releasing the video.

The reconsideration doubtless lasted only as long as it takes to open a centerfold. Said a Playboy spokesman: "We don't feel like we are exploiting the situation."

The hope, obviously, was that any potential buyers turned off by the murder charges would be offset by the morbidly curious willing to plunk down $14.95 for a look.

The workout would be unremarkable-- absolutely unremarkable --except for the fact that it affords the opportunity to spend 70 minutes with a man who now stands charged with slaughtering his ex-wife and her friend.

"Is this a sweat that I detect?" asks a playful Simpson as the 25-minute aerobic workout segment concludes. Having watched the video twice, I can tell you it wasn't sweat I was trying to detect.

And isn't that the point? It's like peeking through your fingers at a train wreck: fascination and repulsion at war. In my case, I say with some chagrin, fascination prevailed.

Which is certainly what Playboy, and all other participants in the mini-industries that have sprung up around the case--be they T-shirts or tell-alls--are banking on.

*

The video begins innocently enough.

"Hi, I'm O.J. Simpson," he says, with a strained bonhomie that persists throughout the entire tape. "You may know me as a sportscaster, a commercial pitchman or an actor, but I also played some pro football a while back. That was a couple years ago, a couple of good knees ago and a couple a million frequent flier miles ago."

Yeah, and a couple of . . . well, you know.

If you've never seen a "Naked Gun" movie, you may not fully comprehend what a dreadful actor Simpson is. He is hammy, self-conscious and almost completely unbelievable, as this video proves, even when he's working out. When he delivers mini-lectures on nutrition while ensconced in the trophy room of his Brentwood estate ("Here's the skinny on fat!" and "Save that candy and cake for a really rainy day. And hopefully, you don't live in Seattle!"), you want to gag.

Except you're too busy watching for clues.

When Simpson shows stressed-out capitalists how to exercise while in the office, he cautions them not to work up a sweat: "We're just trying to get that blood flowing."

Uh-huh.

And in a video moment that seems destined to be widely lampooned, Simpson walks with a trainer near his home.

"What a great day!" he exclaims. "I used to think you had to run to get a workout like this. In recent years, some people have said it's better to walk. Hey, especially with a bad knee like I have. Well, I used to walk on the wild side, now I just . . . walk."

The video is aimed at the sedentary type, the guy who is too busy to go to the gym, a guy who . . . well, a guy kind of like Simpson himself.

"I used to be one of those guys that went out dancing a couple of days a week," says the Juice. "Today with my schedule, hey, I just don't have the opportunity."

*

"We'd like to direct your attention," read the PR pitch letter, "to a particular portion of the video where O.J. discusses his own particular method of reducing stress. . . . You may find it intriguing."

I fast forward the VCR.

Simpson is sitting in a chair wearing business clothes.

"Here's a little tip to deal with stress at the office," he says. "Take a one-minute vacation. I call it my little getaway."

Visions of white Broncos float through my head.

"When I'm a little angry or have a little too much stress, I have a little trick. I sit down, take some deep breaths and I think of Mt. St. Helens--you know--I think of the explosion, all that energy building up, and I see it exploding and shooting all of the dust into the air, and I just get all the exploding energy out of me."

When I called the PR man to ask what he found so intriguing about the scene, he said: "I guess it's just--I dunno--it struck several of us as a different way of reducing stress, that it might have the opposite effect."

Right.

And run that thing about not exploiting the situation by me again.

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