Thought Catalog

When Politicians Blame Pop Culture For Society’s Problems

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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

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    • ai

      The same inane claptrap happened on the liberal side, too. Remember the PMRC? Of course you do. It was started by Al Gore’s then wife, Tipper, who put Twisted Sister’s “We’re not gonna take it,” on their list of the so-called “Filthy Fifteen,” objectionable songs. 

      “We’re not gonna take it.  No we ain’t gonna take it. we’re not gonna take it. Anymore.” Such an outrage. Such vile lyrics.What kind of America did we esuffer through during the 80’s?

      The irony of course is that while Quayle is the butt of some half remembered joke at best, today we still have Tipper’s stupid warning stickers. Except now they’re written as [EXPLICIT] next to our mp3s. 
      Point being, both sides are equally guilty of pandering to their own, and both sides use the promotion or demonization culture to their advantage. That’s called politics, and there ain’t nothin’ new about it.

      • Evan Fleischer

        I don’t know if this is as exact an analogy as you might have been hoping it would be. I mean, I’d call the PMRC much more of a deliberate sideshow than something rooted in traditional Democratic political philosophy.

        I get your point (and I’m glad you took the trouble to write) — and it is surreal re-reading through old transcripts of the hearing (without a doubt) — but I was making fun of a specific rhetorical blip borne out of what I saw as a political philosophy not having all the tools in its box that it could have had, which — in some areas (I think, at least) — is still with us today.

    • Jeremy Sheeler

      Why the hell are you talking about Murphy Brown and Dan Quayle? Don’t you have anything more current to “outraged” at?

      • Evan Fleischer

        There is, yes, but I wanted to have some fun. (Sorry.)

    • Waicool

      articles like this explains why i visit thought catalog less and less, it’s gotta be like over 30 years old dood.

      • Evan Fleischer

         I’m just having fun, man. Don’t mind me.

    • Sal

      Reading this I imagined the author was a young man at the time of the riots. He heard Quayle’s speech and was rightly outraged. He sat down to write an opinion piece for his school paper, and somehow it took him 20 years to pen this completely unremarkable article. I like to think the author secluded himself in some remote wilderness while working on it, avoiding all news or media and rarely leaving his dwelling (possible a cabin, or furnished cave). There he subsisted on  reruns of Murphy Brown, and clippings from various LA newspapers at the time of the riots. Two weeks ago he returned to civilization, utterly ignorant of any events that had taken place since Clinton took office. I think this extremely dedicated writer will remain in our society for a few weeks until he learns that recently somebody called the muppets communists, then he will return to his cave and start work on his next opus. With all his practice he should be able to dash that off in 12 or 15 years.

      • Evan Fleischer

        Once I figure out a floral pattern for the cave, I’m heading right back.

    • Michaelwg

      I blame Will & Grace for the gay marriage crisis which in turn is responsible for the Recession which is stressful and makes people watch re-runs of Will & Grace…a vicious cycle.

      • Evan Fleischer

        Heh. It’s a miracle we’ve all made it this far.

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