O.J. Unmasked

HALLOWEEN has always been a party with erratic tastes, combining the excesses of a horror film and a candy store. Subtlety is not the favored style.

But Halloween 1994 threatened to ride right off its broomstick with the totally tasteless introduction of an O.J. Simpson costume, featuring an Afro wig, a football jersey, and a bloody glove. For matching his-and-her grossness, the market is also supplying a Nicole outfit - blonde wig, knife, and lots of blood.

The good news is that, in the ugly face of this fashionable ghoulishness - with a touch of racism thrown in - the public, along with many costume retailers, are saying: ``Enough!'' Halloween may be a season for fantasy, but even children know the difference between the funny, make-believe Addams family and the tragic, all-too-historical Simpson family.

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Polls on the Simpson case measure a predictable split opinion on the question of his guilt. But on the subject of the costume, the verdict is ``guilty'' on charges of being ``tasteless,'' ``gruesome,'' and ``revolting,'' to quote popular terms of indictment.

At first glance the existence of the costume and the prevalence of what may be called the O.J. joke suggests that the country has been driven silly, literally, by the overkill coverage of the murder case. Would it not be understandable if a trial that has turned into a circus even before it begins should lead to a gory giggle in the Halloween night air?

But the fact that the public, on the whole, is saying ``No'' to this Halloween prank indicates that crime is being taken seriously - that justice is being taken seriously.

Selecting Simpson jurors amid all the hype and frenzy may be a nearly impossible task, as judge and prosecution and defense agree. But perhaps it now appears a little less impossible on this evidence that common sense still survives.

Slamming the Halloween door on this distortion of the O.J. Simpson tragedy into a cheap case of trick-or-treat reflects a reassuring sanity on the part of ordinary Americans, and a recognition that the due process of a fair trial and the dignity of all those who participate in it must be preserved, even under the most distracting circumstances.

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