May 9, 2012

When Politicians Blame Pop Culture For Society’s Problems

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What is the issue?

Remember when Dan Quayle hated Murphy Brown? Remember when he blamed her — and her characters single motherhood — for causing the L.A. Riots and for perpetuating the breakdown of the traditional family structure? Didn’t that go a long way towards solving all our problems?

I mean, when you look at Candice Bergen, don’t you just say to yourself, “Society-eroding skullduggery?”

Lest we confine ourselves to the doghouse of simplicity, here are some words of explanation: 1) the speech Quayle gave was three pages long, and the Murphy Brown reference comes in at the end; 2) in the speech, he trots out the seemingly inexhaustible conservative rhetorical trope that there has been a “breakdown of family structure,” and claims that the poor have had their lot made worse by ‘the welfare ethos,’ i.e., ‘You’re addicted to welfare and you’re not looking for work’; 3) he passingly refers to LBJ’s Great Society, saying, “It would be overly simplistic to blame this social breakdown on the programs of the Great Society alone” then adds that “It would be absolutely wrong to blame it on the growth and success most Americans enjoyed during the 1980s.” (Leave the 80’s alone! ); 4) and then he declares that “marriage is the best anti-poverty program of all,” unless — of course — you’ve read The Two Income Trap (see, perhaps, this interview, if you want a taste of the book’s argument, which I think is a good one.)

As for the riots themselves: remember that it came about from Rodney King driving while intoxicated (though just under the legal limit, which is twice the legal limit in California), thinking that an arrest would violate his parole for a previous robbery conviction; remember that he was tased and then beaten 56 times by a swarm of LAPD; remember that the police bragged and joked about the beating as King was brought to the hospital; remember that the attorney for the police in the trial deemed that Rodney King was a threat after he had been tased and while he was being beaten; remember that Los Angeles is nineteen suburbs in search of a city, as the old saying goes, and that a lot was at play that day (a lot of which I can’t squeeze into here, but, for instance: the then-police chief initially spending his time during the riots at a party raising money to fight police reforms while others were furious at being pulled from the 77th and redeployed to — say — protect a bus station); remember that 55 people died, 2,300 were injured, and scores of buildings were burned over the course of six days; remember that — during the riots — Rodney King appealed for calm and literally asked, “Can’t we all just get along?”; and remember that — in Judith Butler’s words — a circuit of paranoia is built around the projection of one’s “own aggression and the subsequent regarding of that projection as an external threat.”

Rodney King hasn’t had the best life since the incident, but that’s neither here nor there.

The point here isn’t the speech or the L.A. Riots, but the fact that Dan Quayle invoked Murphy Brown in reference to the L.A. Riots. Instead of talking about a specific locality and community — predominantly Hispanic, Korean, and African-American — worn down by things not being what could and should have been, Dan Quayle invoked an imaginary white lady.

What makes it even stranger is that Quayle talks about Murphy Brown as a rhetorical “icing on the cake” moment after describing what he sees as a never-ending cycle of gangs and welfare dependents perpetuating themselves.

So, in other words: either Murphy Brown was in a gang, or she gave birth to a Crip. ??And Murphy Brown wasn’t just at it on her own: she had help. She had people on the inside, straight up villains like Jim “Cut Yo’ Face” Dial and Frank “I Don’t Drink My Milk, I Shiv It” Fontana.

Just look at the plot descriptions of some episodes of Murphy Brown: “To start a significant dialog, Murphy decides she will break the technicians’ strike by bringing both sides together for cake and conversation.”

Disgusting. I don’t understand why this episode isn’t in jail next to Charles Manson.

“Murphy’s story wins freedom for an innocent man; when the rest of the team realizes he has a problem adjusting with the outside world, Miles offers him a job as Murphy’s secretary.”

Horrifying. I think I’m going to write a letter of complaint to the FCC, just to make sure it isn’t still on the air. I’ll also try and be flirty about it, too, writing things like “Rapidly bats eyes” in parenthesis after sentences like, “You should be ashamed of yourself.” (Then adding in a second pair of parenthesis, “Not ‘animal’ bat eyes. Though I’m sure they’re just as flirty.”)

“When Miles arrives to the office, the whole gang makes fun of his new suit. He says he bought it because his older brother is coming to town so he wants to look good. At Murphy’s office, Miles asks her to join them for lunch, Murphy reluctantly agrees.”

And there goes civilization. Shame it had it had to end like that – you know, because Murphy Brown accepted lunch and all.

Anyone up for a game of post-nuclear fallout foosball? TC mark

Evan Fleischer

His work has appeared on The Awl, Global Voices, The Rumpus, McSweeney’s, and elsewhere. The Guardian and the head …

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