by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
April 7, 2001
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- This isn't about voting, right and wrong -- although at the time that was the big story. It's about what we know now because we listened then.
We listened carefully to the proceedings discerning the validity of a ballot by determining whether dimples, pin pricks and hanging chads would make it all right. We discovered the whole process was all wrong and now we finally understand how the Electoral College really works.
We learned about States' Rights and then listened to the United States Supreme Court in action as they deliberated -- questioning the rights of a state. Just by being within earshot of any radio or television set, we learned a valuable civics lesson we probably missed the first time around.
During the O.J. Simpson trial, we learned about DNA,(deoxyribonucleic acid) a method of identification superior to fingerprints, and now a science so precise it is factoring in the release from jail of long-term incarcerated but innocent persons.Because of DNA, if the possibility of identificatio= n lies in the person of one already dead, exhumation orders are freely execu= ted to determinea match.
Remember Anya Miller? For decades after being rescued from a drowning suicide attempt, she claimed to be Anastasia, daughter of Nicholas II, Czar of Russia.
Nicholas and his entire family had been executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918 but this Anya Miller concocted stories of escape, insisting until her death she told the truth, thus creating a shadow of a doubt and leaving us wondering even today. It could have happened. Did it happen? With DNA there would be no doubt and Anya Miller would be given either short shrift or the $10,000,000 in trust.
Thomas Jefferson's descendants are being identified through DNA comparisons. We would eventually learn all this but because of O.J.Simpson's high profile trial, DNA quickly became a household word beforewe knew what we were talking about. Because of Anita Hill's testimony before the Senate JudiciaryCommittee, we now know less about Justice Clarence Thomas' decisions on the Supreme Court than we do about sexual harassment in the work place. Again, this is not about right and wrong, who or what. It's about what societal changes took place as a result of very highly profiled cases.With just one pat on the fanny, an empowered secretary can have theChairman of the Board out on the street for sexual harassment. Lurena Bobbit's trial certainly opened conversations both cautiously at home and amusingly around the water cooler. Until she had to testify as to what exactly she had done, the male appendage was most commonly referred to his "thing." Peter Jennings, with the aplomb of a Prime Minister, spoke the word for the first time and opened the floodgates.
Newspaper headlines proclaimed what she had done, radio and television reported what she had done -- and even then, they had trouble with exactly what she had done. Did she lob it off, cut it off, slice it off or chop it off? We only knew she took it off with a knife, thentook off herself and tossed it out the window.
Although I can never go back to calling male genitalia "his thing," I still can't make dinnertable conversation over the "P" word.
Lurena's defense was rape, spousal rape, and from this came the woman's moral and constitutional right to say "No." Women came forwardto defend their rights and crisis centers and shelters grew.
Sadly, it took the death of popular screen idol Rock Hudson to lend dignity to homosexuality where it had brought disgust to theuninformed regarding gender identification -- and those uninformed numbered in the millions. When Elizabeth Taylor embracedhaggard-looking Rock Hudson, she took away the fear of closeness.
Her campaign to raise funds and eradicate the dreadful disease put things in perspective for the rest of us. That high profile shone light in the dark corners of our own imaginations, and now AID's Foundations rank as highly as The Heart Association and The Cancer Society in receiving ashare of our personal contributions.
With such open dialogue about sexual harassment, sexual behavior, sexually transmitted diseases, it would follow that words fromthe headlines would lead discussions.
The words "date rape" triggered stories and opened dialogue leading to arrests on college campuses. "Don't ask, don't tell," was the weak response to gays in the militar yand "zero-tolerance" for hate crimes based on race or gender preference.
High profile role models emerge and we find ourselve= s betterable to understand what might happen to any one of us. We see Vice President Cheney check himself into the hospital at the first sign of chest discomfort -- as per his doctor's orders. When he bounces back to health in two days we learn that's what we will do, rather than sit it out in case the pain goes away.
The Nanny case told us daily and for months, if you shake ababy, for whatever reason, that baby will die or be brain-damaged. Regardless of the outcome of that case, I know hundreds of babies lives have been saved because a warning is louder and clearer in a courtroom than on a label.
High-profile cases tend to give us glimpses of something that could happen to any one of us -- including Lurena's rage. Sadly, it's former President Ronald Reagan who gives us a glimpse of Alzheimer's disease. Here is a man so healthy, handsome, robust, debonair, charming, eloquent, beloved -- and, not to mention, rich -- yet today it's all reduced to well-groomed and handsome.
A candid picture shows us what we would like to see: smiling, carefree, waving. But, it's his wife, Nancy who sees the towel she holds to his chin as he dribbles his soup. Some high profiles merely open a Pandora's box, as with Roe V.Wade, and we're never quite the same again.
Other pictures, like Rodney King (was it because he was black?) or Reginald Denny (was it because he was white?) leave us with questions, knowing less than we did before, despite listening intently to what is said. We still ponder, and wonder what he meant by that.