Lessons From The Lewinsky Scandal: 20 Years On

Lessons From The Lewinsky Scandal: 20 Years On

20 years ago, the scandal that would define the latter part of the Clinton presidency broke on The Drudge Report. With the advent of the Internet Age, this story would take on a life of its own, exposing a changing media and political landscape traceable right through to today. Although the focus of the scandal would consume the next year’s news, resulting in the impeachment of the president, its elements and themes remain ever prevalent. In retrospect, we can now understand just how significant this cultural moment was for a) partisan politics, b) media sensationalism, and c) the online community / cyber bullying. Just how, you ask?

a) Partisan Politics

To be fair, 1998 can hardly be pointed to as the year in which partisan politics turned ugly. It’s not even when tensions began to spark between the Clinton Administration and the Republican majority. It is, however, reasonable to identify it as the year in which these tensions took a hold of the national consciousness and shifted the focus away from the issues to the ideological fronts on play. In establishing the impeachment process against Clinton in December 1998, the Republicans ushered in a new breed of malice that would become commonplace over the course of the next 20 years.

Of course, Clinton survived impeachment and his approval ratings even soared as the public saw past the petty under goings of the Ken Starr investigation but the bar for civility in politics was undoubtedly lowered. From thereon, the creed of the Republican Party became largely associated with winning on any level, as opposed to winning on the issues. Thus, support for Trump.

b) Media Sensationalism

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Again, 1998 wasn’t the year sensationalism in the media was born but it easily got vamped up a notch as every sordid detail was covered in this case- from the blue dress to the definition of what sex is (“it depends on what the meaning of the word is is”- smooth Bill, really smooth).

Now, I’m not saying it’s in any way appropriate for the president to have an affair on the job but to be fair, a president’s always on the job and it’s a private matter. The media loves a scandal, of course, so in many ways Clinton can be blamed for digging his own grave. (It is conjectured by many that he’s a self-saboteur.) What many pundits, anchors, and journalists failed to recognize (or rather, chose to ignore) at the time however was a) how distracting their constant coverage was to the political and legislative process, b) how distracting it was from serious issues that could have been addressed- e.g. the growing threat of terrorist activity or the rise of Smash Mouth, and c) how damaging it was to a young woman (which we’ll cover in a moment.)

It’s one thing to make a case out of a proper injustice in the system (e.g. Watergate) but unlike any scandal beforehand, save that, this was covered with more gall and obsession than could ever be justified. And whilst being frank about it, let’s put to rest the claim that Clinton’s evasiveness and lies damaged the moral fabric of America. Yes, he was wrong but also politically motivated like any of the Republicans going after him, to save his own ass so that important things could be accomplished. Of course, many of his greatest opponents, like Newt Gingrinch, would later come under fire for their own affairs. Somehow, that just didn’t leave the same mark on the mass media’s blueprints however.

c) Cyber Bullying

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Lewinsky at her 2015 TED talk

Today, you only have to load the comments’ section on any Youtube video to encounter the ugliest, most vile, and seemingly illiterate people around. In some ways, Monica Lewinsky was patient zero for this new wave of bullying (at least on a national level) and it took a long time for her to come to grips with what had happened, especially because the focus turned to her so immediately. As she remarked in her 2015 TED talk; “overnight I went from being a completely private person to being completely publicly humiliated.”

It could be argued that she hardly helped the situation. She, of course, had an affair with a married man and later admitted to having done this before, all whilst under the delusion that this could result in an actual partnership, swayed by the charm of old Slick Willy. (She even kept the dress…) Her mistakes were her own but the backlash was insatiable, as she struggled for years to find work and at every corner, was reminded of the shame she had brought upon herself and her family.

Years later, she became an activist against cyber bullying, relating her own experiences to those targeted on social media and other platforms: “I couldn’t count how many horrible things people online had said about me, but I could count when somebody said something face to face on one hand.”

This is symptomatic of what’s going on today and ties in with the points above, in illustrating the inner portrait of America that was being painted a la Dorian Gray style. I’m not saying things were perfect before this happened but in these three respects, they were a little nicer and political relations were a little more civil. When you lower your standards, it only gets harder to reach for a higher platform. Trump, the modern GOP, social media, and mass media have largely followed this line to to its natural next breach and where it goes next is beyond daunting.

 

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When Hollywood Politicizes: The Oscars & Some Other Thoughts

When Hollywood Politicizes: The Oscars & Some Other Thoughts

On Tuesday, the Oscar nominations will be revealed and a maelstrom of ill-informed opinions will flood social media, ranging from whether the #metoo movement is appropriately being represented to what degree of whiteness this year’s festivities have lauded upon us. Of course, most of these people will not have seen the majority of these movies because a) most of them have only seen limited releases in America and b) people don’t seem to think before they enter the foray of the comments section (no doubt, a golden idea for Aaron Sorkin’s next outing.)

But hold on- this is the Washington Walrus- so why are we talking about the Oscars? Well, we thought with the Government Shutdown, it’d be a nice opportunity to delve into something a little different. Besides that, Hollywood’s been the focus of a lot of controversy lately thanks to the likes of Harvey Weinstein (well, not thanks… but you know what I mean.) So, sit back and relax with a few thoughts on what’s been going on lately:

Is Oprah Gonna Be There?

Maybe but people need to stop being stupid and suggesting she run for higher office. I mean, she’s a good interviewer  (if a bit emotionally exploitative) and that was a nice speech at the Globes but just because Trump’s lowered the bar so far, doesn’t mean we should resort to castigating intellectual political leaders and rallying around celebrity icons (albeit successful and smart ones). This kind of playful discourse might seem harmless but it’s what led to Trump getting much further than he ever should have. If we accept his leadership as a new level of normalcy, then we are in deep trouble.

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Oprah now wears glasses, a key point the mainstream media failed to pick up on. Although, she may have been wearing them for awhile. We’re not sure.

Do Female Roles Suck Compared to Males’?

Kind of. Jessica Chastain recently demonstrated with the help of an ever-giddy Jimmy Fallon the difference often found between male and female roles in movies. It’s a fair observation, especially for blockbuster franchises where women are often relegated to the role of eye-candy love interest, worrying mother, or deceptively kickass but otherwise entirely boring allies. To address this latter part in particular’ a “strong” female role should not necessarily mean that the female character is wholly competent or even treated as an equal (depending on cultural and historical context) but rather, that they are simply three-dimensional and complicated beyond what their primary role is supposed to be.

Take Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones for example- at first, she’s the annoying, princess aspiring elder sister of the much cooler Arya Stark. Then, for a few seasons, she’s treated like shit and learns to accept her role in an aggressively patriarchal and chauvinistic society. Then, she begins to understand the dynamics of these politics and drags herself away from an awful position to a point of both political and emotional influence. On the surface, it’d appear that she’s a useless, albeit sympathetic figure. But within this role, despite the frustrations she encounters at every turn, there’s depth there and an opportunity to explore a range of emotions. That’s a well written character.

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Sansa at her ex’s wedding.

How about Sarah Connors from Terminator. She’s initially unremarkable but soon toughens up and becomes a resilient rebel in the war against Cybernet. Is she perfect? No– she’s temperamental and not exactly the best mom. That’s good though, no character should be perfect- in movies, that’s almost just as bad as being useless.

So of course, the bigger, better, and meatier roles are still being given to men (just look at most theatrical posters) and this may be an issue with the fact that some male writers are just not that great at writing female parts because women can sometimes be confusing to us. An effort needs to be made to change this however, because variety is simply invaluable for the creative process. It’s good that there’s a female Jedi now. It’s good that there are female-led franchises (like the Hunger Games.) It diversifies the medium, draws in a larger audience, and inspires women. With that said, Hollywood figures and producers must also recognize that these movies must be treated with tact; a lazy idea with an agenda can be spotted pretty easily… Female Ghostbusters…

Is The #metoo Movement A Witch Hunt?

Liam Neeson recently caught a lot of flack for an interview he did in which he acknowledged the importance of this watershed movement, whilst asserting that it was a ‘bit of a witch hunt’. Matt Damon, faced similar criticism, when he pointed out the undistinguished degree to which each figure faced with allegations was being reprimanded. Many people are outraged because they feel the legitimacy of this movement could easily be undermined by the questioning of its execution by those, who for all practical purposes, exert influence in this industry. This is understandable. There are also a lot of emotions out there. Women can relate to harassment on a level men just can’t. Plus, it’s long overdue.

It’s a difficult topic to broach and there are not a lot of popular, alternative ways of thinking outside the central narrative. With that said, if people are not willing to admit an element of paranoia inhabits this discourse, they should be willing to debate the intricacies of it. That’s what people do in a democracy, no matter how ugly or offensive the arguments mustered against them are.

Recently, James Franco and Azis Ansari have come under fire. Both Globe winners, their immediate careers now hang tenuously over the statements made by them and others in the coming couple of weeks (although Ansari seems relatively in the clear). Franco’s case is the more interesting one as he was until recently, for many, a surefire nominee for an Oscar. That could very well still be the case but given the toxic environment that it would create as well as what appears to be a call-out from Scarlett Johannson at the Women’s March, it seems ever more unlikely. Has his treatment been fair? Well, due process doesn’t seem to exist anymore for the collective public (even though this is not a legal case) but his responses have, at best, been tepid. If someone’s making false allegations against you, why not respond to them appropriately and call them out for what they are-lies. Clearly, he’s uneasy about something or at least giving that impression, at the worst point possible, to the public.

Again, because this movement has been long overdue, there is an element of bullshit fatigue for women. In the past, many figures have been afforded enough wiggle room to overcome their controversies and continue working. For example, Casey Affleck won an Oscar last year, despite mass protestations online and one of the most memorable facial expressions ever delivered by Brie Larson.

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Brie won the 2015 Oscar for Room- which Casey may or may not have seen.

So what is the solution? To simply label it a “Witch Hunt” is to many, a way of undermining and thus, delegitimizing the movement. However, without some due process and recognition that the likes of Weinstein and Franco are not equal offenders, what can be said about the credibility of this cause? Clearly, we have no answer to offer but question marks are often just as good because they keep people thinking and thinking is never a bad thing (comment exceptions below).

So Should I Watch The Oscars? Is It Gonna Be Relentlessly Political?

I will- or rather, I will record and skim through it because it’s far too long and certain categories are boring (you know the ones).

It will be relentlessly political however. If you thought last year’s apology for 2016’s #oscarssowhite was encroaching (and it was), then prepare yourself for a a female win in every category (including Best Male.) Nah… but there will be speeches addressing all that’s gone on lately (as well as Trump) and there will be some half-assed attempt to draw parallels between today and what’s going on in Spielberg’s The Post. (Did you know when you were making it???)

Still, for the most part, I’ve always felt good movies were rewarded at the Oscars that otherwise might not have seen the light of day in a Box-Office driven market. They don’t always award the Best Picture category wisely (Goodfellas lost out in 1991 to Dances with Wolves). They don’t always go smoothly (last year’s La La Land kerfuffle). Most the speeches are pathetically cringeworthy (literally just type “Oscars Acceptance Speech” into Youtube.) But… the opening monologue is usually good and the forced grace by which the losers conduct themselves is something else…

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DiCaprio eventually won an Oscar for the feel-good The Revenant but for years beforehand, he gave his greatest performance on these occasions.

So that’s all! Any thoughts yourself? Will Meryl Streep blast Trump? Will the statue now be of a woman’s figure? Who will win?