Real life is the poor, lost cousin of pretence…
Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark in American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson, 20th Television, 2016
People now talk about big drama serials the way they used to talk about classic novels. If there’s one you haven’t caught up with you feel embarrassed, and you might ask yourself, when the conversation swells and you chase your salad round and round, what you’ve been doing with your life. ‘Oh, I missed that’ is no longer an option, as box-sets and catch-up services stare at you day and night, much like that copy of Ulysses that stands on the second shelf. Luckily for you, the Department of Overlaps at the LRB never sleeps, and I can bring news of an unquestionable link between Joyce’s great, many-peopled novel and the recent ten-part TV series on the fall of O.J. Simpson.
I can’t remember if it was Joyce or the O.J. trial’s Judge Ito who referred to ‘the ineluctable modality of the visible’, but that’s the kind of thing we’re talking about: the tendency of reality to give way to the fiction-maker’s abuse. Joyce’s many additions, subtractions, multiplications, and divisions are detailed in a wonderful new book by Vivien Igoe, The Real People of Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ (University College Dublin Press, £32), but let’s first pay a visit to The People v. O.J. Simpson, a show that reminded me – as if I needed reminding – that real life is the poor, lost cousin of pretence. Marcia Clark, the lead prosecutor in the Simpson case, is a shy person in life, studious, you might say. She did, it’s true, make some mistakes in presenting the case. But the main issue seems to be her hair. (The series producer, Ryan Murphy, is the magician who brought us the hard-hitting high-school documentary series, Glee.) The onscreen Clark comes to be fully known in episode five, when, regardless of what actually happened to her real-world equivalent, she comes home exhausted on a Friday night, and before she has even put down her handbag there’s a programme on TV about what she is wearing. ‘She’s frump incarnate,’ the presenter says. On a radio station, the topic of discussion is whether she is ‘a bitch or a babe’. Later, her boss thinks she should have a couple of ‘media consultants’ to help with the project of fixing her hair. ‘Marcia Hair Verdict: Guilty,’ blares the headline in a supermarket tabloid the day after she visits the salon. ‘I’m not a public personality,’ faux-Marcia says to a colleague. ‘This is not what I do.’ She might take heart from Hillary Clinton’s example. Before her run for the presidency, Mrs Clinton changed her hair about four times a day, often with the direct encouragement of the Washington Post in collusion with Womenswear Daily. But now, it seems, Hillary has ditched the up-do, the bouncing bob, the scrape-back and the Arkanfro, and has settled for a traditional, rock-solid, Oval Office quiff, the kind of hairstyle that looks like it might survive a nuclear winter.
Is this what Joyce meant by metempsychosis – the transmigration of souls? Some, it turns out, have a further distance to migrate than others.