On Buying What Monica Lewinsky Is Selling

3 years ago

I didn't want to get sucked in when I heard that Monica Lewinsky was writing for Vanity Fair about her affair with President Bill Clinton. The aftermath of That Woman, including the Congressional impeachment process, was so distasteful and damaging that I really didn't want to revisit it through a Lewinsky lens. I'd like to hear what Hillary has yet to say about that time, yes. I'd love to read more than the paltry, expected accounting Bill gave to it in his massive memoir. But Monica's version? I couldn't imagine being interested in the story I think I already know, stained dress and all, even if delivered by the former intern herself. 

Image: © John Zissel/Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com

But then I read the teased clip from the upcoming Vanity Fair article. A few paragraphs in, I realized I've done to Monica what so many others have done to her and to countless others: discounted the point of view of a woman—a relatively powerless woman—by remembering her as a trope (clueless ingenue homewrecker who ruined an otherwise-wonderful man), instead of as someone with agency and a complex story to tell. 

I'm still wildly suspicious that Monica is a selective storyteller selling a seductive snake oil designed to catch the tires of Hillary Clinton right as she merges onto the fast-paced electoral track of public discourse. Maybe that's ageist and sexist of me, or slut-shaming, or something else reflective of a cultural or political blind spot that bears my examination. But penetrating (we can't talk about Lewinsky without making inappropriate puns, can we?) all of that, I admit that Monica won me over when she talked about feeling suicidal after the humiliation of the public scandal. She invoked Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student who killed himself after a criminal webcam taping revealed his private moments kissing another young man. From the snippet of her forthcoming Vanity Fair piece:

Lewinsky writes that following Clementi’s tragedy “my own suffering took on a different meaning. Perhaps by sharing my story, I reasoned, I might be able to help others in their darkest moments of humiliation. The question became: How do I find and give a purpose to my past?” She also says that, when news of her affair with Clinton broke in 1998, not only was she arguably the most humiliated person in the world, but, “thanks to the Drudge Report, I was also possibly the first person whose global humiliation was driven by the Internet.” Her current goal, she says, “is to get involved with efforts on behalf of victims of online humiliation and harassment and to start speaking on this topic in public forums.”

Now I'm interested. If Monica can examine and shed light of this aspect of her story, we can learn a lot from her.

And if she can manage to explore public humiliation without further humiliating Hillary, who has paid an immeasurable price for her own humiliation stemming from the Lewinsky-Clinton affair, I will be amazed. I'm dubious, though. The snippet mentioned hearsay about Mrs. Clinton blaming herself for the affair because she had been "emotionally neglectful." That's not helping, Monica. It puts you right back into your old role of myopic (White) House wrecker, and that didn't work out so well the first time.

But the sneak-peek did its job, and I'm intrigued. I want to see how the challenge of talking about humiliation is managed. Yes, I'm probably also titillated by the promise of more secrets revealed, sexy snake oil and all. I'm ready to sit in judgement again and see what comes up for me. All told, this tell-all feels worth the price of admission—which is a digital subscription or a magazine copy for the entire story plus a willingness to relive the late '80s.

I'm in, Vanity Fair. Let's unzip Zippergate, haul the blue dress out of its dry cleaning bag and smoke the cigar of affairs remembered one more time. I'll be reading Monica's article as soon as it hits the stands.


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