Marcia Clark, O.J., Et Al.

THESE columns are generally an O.J.-free zone, as we feel most of our readers prefer.

But the Simpson trial illustrates many of the major issues that American society faces today: crime and punishment, justice and the courts, racial and gender tensions. Morbid fascination notwithstanding, these are questions close to people's hearts.

This is, for starters, a murder trial, and Americans worry about crime, not without reason, alas. If these gilded ones were not safe from a murderer or murderers, who is?

A case that many blacks view through the filter of suspicion about how one of their race will be treated by the police is seen by many women through a different filter: of resentment against male privilege, against the ease with which domestic violence is trivialized and ranks are closed around a sports hero to protect him.

There are issues of character and celebrity: The smiling face in the Hertz ads was as familiar as our own kin, but do we really know this man?

There are legal issues: Can the United States really afford all the protections of the Bill of Rights? Will a guilty man get off on one of those hated ''technicalities?'' Will police racism convict an innocent man? Does the jury system really work?

Now the issue of child care for working mothers has been caught in the Simpson spotlight: Gordon Clark, estranged husband of prosecutor Marcia Clark, is seeking primary custody of their two sons on grounds that he is better able to care for them, since he gets home earlier in the evening, whereas the ''trial of the century'' has been keeping her tied up till 10 p.m.

Maybe he should be the primary caregiver for now; the trial will not go on forever. We don't want to see divorce cut off hands-on dads from their children. But in an age when divorce too often means that women have to be both caregivers and breadwinners, we have the possibility of a double standard: ''career women'' who must provide mothering around the clock to avoid losing custody of their children, and men who get credit for being ''superdads'' if they simply spend more time with the children than their own fathers did.

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