What does Monica Lewinsky, American Crime Story and cyber-bullying have in common?

If you’ve lost track of Monica Lewinsky over the years, or if you are reading this thinking ‘who is Monica Lewinsky again?’ you definitely need to be reading this. Recently, it was announced that she would be producing Impeachment: American Crime Story 3 which deals with her storied past and according to all reports is a feminist take on the now infamous scandal. It seems like Lewinsky will finally be able to tell her side of the story.

Okay, but seriously who is she?

What today is known as the Clinton–Lewinsky scandal, was an American political sex scandal revolving around the then 49-year-old US president Bill Clinton and the then 22-year-old White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. According to all reports, their sexual relationship took place between 1995 and 1997 and was revealed in 1998. This all led to President Clinton, during a conference in January of 1998 stating that “[he] did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

This, of course, was a lie and investigations into former President Clinton’s case led to charges of perjury and the eventual impeachment of the President. This is more or less the story that everyone knows – in August of 1998 President Clinton finally admitted to the relationship and Monica Lewinsky withdrew from the public eye almost completely.

So why the sudden return?

Welcome to #MeToo America. It’s 2014 and the wheels are starting to come off as more and more emphasis is placed on women who are forced into compromising situations. Lewinski breaks her silence in an essay she wrote for Vanity Fair.

And yes, the article clearly positions her as part of the #MeToo movement but not in the way you might think. She speaks about a culture that was willing to put a 24-year-old through what she has endured, but even more importantly she calls out the feminists who back then joined in the chorus.

“We have created … a “culture of humiliation” that not only encourages and revels in Schadenfreude but also rewards those who humiliate others, from the ranks of the paparazzi to the gossip bloggers, the late-night comedians, and the Web “entrepreneurs” who profit from clandestine videos.”

What I like about her is that she does not shy away and she doesn’t shift responsibility. Yes, she was victimised, but as she admits in the article, because of her own doing. She still insists that the relationship was consensual and that the abuse only came afterward. And yes, she’s critical as hell about feminists that stood on the sidelines, in fact, she says, “ The movement’s leaders failed in articulating a position that was not essentially anti-woman during the witch hunt of 1998 … they joined the humiliation derby.”

The origins of cyber-bullying

I recently also came across a TED talk that Lewinsky gave in March of 2015 titled The Price of Shame where she calls herself the “first [non-public personality] to have my identity and reputation savaged by the virality of the Web”. The talk, touching on the dangers of cyberbullying followed just a few months after her decade-long silence.

And yes, the talk is captivating. Lewinsky has had time to reflect, and she opens with her signature self-reflecting humour. She has spent a big chunk of her life trying not to let the events of 1998 define her. As she notes in the Vanity Fair article; “I was so young that I had no established identity to which I could return … If you haven’t figured out who you are, it’s hard not to accept the horrible image of you created by others.“

It was the first scandal where the impact of digital media could really be felt. She explains that the story broke online and that it was one of the very first instances where the online media came in ahead of printed media. The irony is that this is even before social platforms, but the online world removed so many barriers to the access of information that the scandal spread like wildfire.

Impeachment: Amercan Crime Story 3 is set to release in September 2020 and already there have been criticisms online because of its release during the 2020 election year. Favourites like Sarah Paulson and Annaleigh Ashford are also returning to American Crime Story for season three in key roles. If you haven’t yet checked out the first two seasons, and you are a fan of the true-crime genre, be sure to also check out The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story and The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story now streaming on Netflix.

 

Image courtesy of Vanity Fair

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