Every time I think life is getting too complicated, I listen to Dan Quayle and learn how simple-minded it really is.
I have been trying to understand the causes of the riots in Los Angeles. It is easy to dismiss them as the work of thugs, thieves and sociopaths. But must there not be some serious social problems that would lead so many people to civil insurrection?
Now, I have learned the answer from our vice president: Murphy Brown did it.
Speaking in San Francisco Tuesday, Quayle blamed the Los Angeles rioting on the breakdown of the American family and the abandonment of traditional values as typified by Murphy Brown, "bearing a child alone and calling it just another 'lifestyle choice.' "
Murphy Brown is a TV character on a show I never watch. But I did know from all the publicity that the character, played by Candice Bergen, was having a baby without getting married.
What I didn't know was that Dan Quayle apparently thinks the show is real. In preparing for his speech, he probably thought to himself: "We never had riots when Ozzie and Harriet slept in separate beds. We never had looting when Lucy and Desi stayed together for the sake of Little Ricky. So why do we have riots now?"
And a light bulb goes off over his head and he realizes that it's because Murphy Brown has been acting like a little tramp.
Well, I hate to be the one to break it to you, Mr. Vice President, but not everything you see on TV is real.
When the Road Runner hands Wile E. Coyote that stick of dynamite, Wile E. doesn't really blow up .
And the Brady Bunch? Just actors.
But you can see how this affects Quayle's thinking. He probably thinks "The Cosby Show" was not only real, but represented the typical African-American family.
"Gee, what are all the black folks complaining about?" he must have wondered. "They're all doctors and lawyers, aren't they? How else could they afford those nifty sweaters?"
But even if you give him the benefit of the doubt and assume Quayle knows that "Murphy Brown" is a fictional show, it is clear that Quayle believes that life imitates TV.
He believes that if TV shows a woman having a child out of wedlock and not getting run over by a bus, that this will encourage others to have children out of wedlock.
In fact, however, TV imitates life. TV hasn't been on the cutting edge of anything--except maybe Nehru jackets. TV is a conservative medium (shows would never get sponsors otherwise) and it tends to reinforce values already accepted by society.
So if Murphy Brown has a baby out of wedlock, it is because TV executives think the public can handle it.
And the public probably can, especially considering that more than one-fourth of births in America occur out of wedlock.
Try this quiz. What do these couples have in common? Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. Woody Allen and Mia Farrow. Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. Jessica Lange and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Jessica Lange and Sam Shephard. Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O'Neal.
That's right: They all had kids without being married. Yet no rioting broke out .
I can't understand it. You'd think when Jessica Lange had out-of-wedlock children with two different guys, at least we'd see a few windows broken. But, no, the public took it in stride.
Not all women are big stars, of course, and not all of them have the child's father sticking around to help raise the child. Given the fact that there are so many such births in America ever year, however, what would Quayle prefer--more abortions?
This is the knotty problem Quayle did not think through before he spoke. And so Marlin Fitzwater, the presidential spokesman, was dispatched the next day to praise the same show that Quayle had criticized.
"The 'Murphy Brown' show is an excellent show," Fitzwater said. "The fact is, she is demonstrating pro-life values, which we think are good."
Quayle said, however, that what this society really needs are "social sanctions" against women who bear children without getting married.
And Quayle must feel really deeply about this. After all, he saw Rodney King being beaten by cops on TV and was not moved to make a speech about it. But a fictional character has a kid on a TV show and Quayle makes a speech blaming it for the downfall of American society.
Quayle takes it so seriously because he believes children turn out badly when they are not raised by "two parents, married to each other."
But maybe they do. And maybe they don't.
Caterina, whose last name is unknown, had a child by Piero da Vinci, whom she never married. Their child was named Leonardo.
Corinne Pulliam married James C. Quayle. And their child was named J. Danforth.
I rest my case.