In "Wayward Puritans," sociologist Kai T. Erikson, citing Emile Durkheim's "The Division of Labor in Society," suggests that "crime . . . may actually perform a needed service to society by drawing people together in a common posture of anger and indignation." Erikson goes on to say that "people who live together in communities cannot relate to one another in any coherent way or even acquire a sense of their own stature as group members unless they learn something about the boundaries of the territory they occupy in social space. . . ."
Dominick Dunne's "Another City, Not My Own," which might be described as a screed in the guise of a memoir advertised as a novel, illustrates these ideas to the virtual exclusion of any others. Despite the title's shrugging demur, Dunne's book is designed, precisely, to stake a proprietary claim on the city in question--not all of Los Angeles, with its jumbled demographics, but the city of Beverly Hills--by incarnating its moral aporias: He will be its voice of Christian witness in the slough of despond, flog its miscreants and succor their victims and draw the community together in a common posture of anger and indignation.
Indignation is Dunne's forte. As a trial reporter for Vanity Fair, Dunne has for years purveyed the same demagogic "common sense" that talk TV impresarios share with their highly flammable viewers when pondering repellent concepts such as defendants' rights, innocent-until-proven-guilty and other constitutional protections that extend (what better proof of our justice system's evil?) to the culpable and the blameless alike. As the parent of a murdered child, Dunne has come to imagine himself an infallible expert on the dimensions of other people's guilt, whoever they may be and however complex their motivations might appear to more fallible minds. Various merchants of twaddle have ratified this delusion; Dunne has made a fortune off the cable chitchat circuit, where he can be found most any evening, nattering through his dentures about O.J. Simpson minutiae.
In "Another City, Not My Own," Dunne carries his loathing of Simpson into surrealistic realms. If the freed O.J. quite sensibly disguises himself to dine in a restaurant and take in a movie, Dunne, in tones worthy of Cotton Mather, wants to know what kind of man puts on a disguise to eat in a restaurant. If the film is "Showgirls," the question becomes, what kind of man just acquitted on a murder charge goes to see "Showgirls"? Such questions invite us to infer Dunne's nobility from the fact of O.J.'s supposed depravity. Dunne takes it for granted that Simpson is mocking all decency, even taunting Dunne personally, by showing his disguised face in public, or for that matter by continuing to live. Worse, Dunne offers the "Showgirls" story (evidently apocryphal) as proof that all Simpson ever thinks about are white women with big breasts.
Dunne's continual derision of Simpson has something wildly distasteful about it, a disproportion one can easily separate from the issue of whether he was guilty. This may be related to the actual community that Dunne's anger and indignation are intended to define and the stature Dunne awards himself in it. On one hand, we have the Hollywood royalty with whom Dunne spends his evenings, socialites and movie stars who live in unimaginable opulence and receive Dunne's reports over dessert as if hearing delicious news from a distant planet; then there are the little people, thrust into the limelight by their proximity to the Goldman and Brown murders--some of whom, by virtue of believing Simpson guilty, can be socially assimilated, at least for the duration of their celebrity, into the other more exalted realm with Dunne as the liaison.
Dunne declares the Simpson trial "the Dreyfus case of our time," but fails to remember that the Dreyfus case was about the anti-Semitic persecution of an innocent man whom enlightened people sought to exonerate. A rather different quality of interest obtains among Dunne's intimates, who chortle and gloat over each piece of damning evidence and swap rumors about O.J.'s sex life, falling silent whenever a black person enters the room. Though Dunne boldly vows never to forget Ron and Nicole, precious little is said about either, except as salacious or homiletic asides.