Monday, March 8, 1999

Week of 03/08/1999

Wrath Of The Church Ladies
The Crowd Doth Protest Too Much Over Monica
- by David Matthews 2

After a year of speculation, rumor-mongering, and political spin set between "crumb" and "liquefy," Monica Lewinsky finally had her time to tell her side of the story in front of the media. No third-person hearsay, no "masters of disasters" telling it the way Hillary wants it told, no former high school acquaintances trying to be the next gossip column diva, no Ken Starr, and certainly no Linda Tripp. It was just Monica and Barbara Walters and the ABC crew.

The next day, I was repeatedly asked whether or not I saw the interview. Nope. Sorry. I didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Monica finally got her time in the limelight. For over a year, she’s been an unwilling pawn in the spin battle between modern-day Torquamadas and forces rabidly (or, at least with the feminists, grudgingly) loyal to the Clinton Administration. Everybody talked about Monica, and most of it wasn’t pleasant. Worst of all, she wasn’t in a position to defend herself in the press about it. I was one of the few voices that mentioned this travesty online, so I’m glad that she finally has a chance to say what her side of the story is.

At the same time, however, I really wasn’t interested in what she wanted to say. Listening to her talk about her relationship with the President of the United States is not on the list of things I would want to spend my valuable time doing. I’d rather spend my time paying attention to the other things that Bill Clinton is screwing with, namely our rights, our freedoms, and our money. Things that really matter to you and me, or at least they’re supposed to.

But what really got me was listening to all the talk afterwards from people about the Monica interview. To many of them, their minds were already made up. She was a slut, and that was it. People weren’t even politely apologetic about the frankness in their opinions about her.

The curious thing about the post-interview talk, however, was the number of people who watched the interview anyways. What did they expect would happen? Did they actually expect Monica to prostrate herself in front of the cameras, sobbing endlessly and begging for forgiveness like Jimmy Swaggart did when he got caught with a prostitute? Sorry, but that was Clinton’s act last year, and it was about as believable as the plot line to "Santa Claus Conquers Mars."

So why did millions of people watch Monica? If anything, I’d dare say for the sake of pure schadenfreude - that perverse sense of joy out of the misery of other people. (With a word like that, I’m surprised it was created in Germany and not here in the southern US.)

Now let’s get brutally honest here.. I think that schadenfreude has become the latest American pastime, and that’s fine by me. After all, where would pseudo-news series like "Hard Copy" and "American Journal" be without that sense of feeling good out of the misfortune of others? Hell, even "America’s Funniest Videos" wouldn’t have been so successful if not for schadenfreude, never mind daytime talk show hosts like Jerry Springer!

But what really gets me is the utter snobbishness people took when someone like Monica poured her whole life out in front of the cameras, never mind when someone like Bill Clinton and his "masters of disaster" spin team do it to her. Let me ask you, would YOU be willing to have your entire life spread out - faults and flaws especially - for the whole nation to peer at and judge? I don’t think so.

We the public looked down at the Monica Lewinsky story with that pious church lady snobbishness that would make Dana Carvey’s famous character jealous. The only thing that was missing from this collective self-righteous attitude was the scarlet letter that people wanted to brand on Monica’s ass. (Somehow that thong image keeps sticking in their minds.) Although, I’m sure that, thanks to the media and the politicians, the very mention of the name "Monica" will now harbor images of stained dresses, oral sex, and cigars, which would be just as effective as any scarlet letter the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne could envision.

If Hawthorne’s tale of Hester Pryne is any indication to Monica’s possible future, she’ll redeem herself later on in life, while those who brought such a burden upon her will be humbled. But what about those of us who are so quick to judge and so slow to change our judgement? Have we learned the lessons of our highly idealistic yet realistically dysfunctional Puritan past? From our attitudes concerning "L’affair Lewinsky," it appears we haven’t.

It is sort of interesting, however, that the man responsible for this crisis gets rewarded by society, while we spend our time castigating the other half. Worse yet, it is our continued intellectual dysfunction that fostered this kind of situation in the first place. We think Clinton’s dalliances (consentual or otherwise) are either "forgivable" or "inconsequential," yet we aren’t so forgiving with Monica’s participation. That does little to prevent other such scandals from being made.

Conservatives and moralists fume that the aftermath of the "L’affair Lewinsky" scandal will leave us with allowing people to lie under oath, or to allow infidelity. I would daresay the opposite will be the outcome. I think more than anything, we’ll see a political arena even more sexually sterile; that marital fidelity - or at least the appearance of it - will be the hyped word of the campaigns. Much like the old church ladies who abhor the fun they had in life that they would punish everyone else further, our politicians and spin doctors will further punish society for their own sins.

And as Carvey’s church lady so eloquently said.. "Well, wasn’t that special?"

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