“I was Patient Zero,” intoned Monica Lewinsky at the Forbes 30 Under 30 summit this week. (Monica is 41.) “I was the first person to have their reputation completely destroyed worldwide via the internet.” She promptly joined Twitter, and started off her digital existence with the hashtag “#HereWeGo”.
So begins Lewinsky’s attempt to reimagine herself as a feminist, anti-bullying activist, decrying the “shaming” of internet culture. Am I the only one thinking: excuse me, what?
Inevitably, Monica Lewinsky has recast her own poor decision-making as youthful indiscretion and now claims that she was the first victim of an ugly modern culture that persecutes people online and destroys their reputations.
But while it is undoubtedly true that the internet can be a cruel and unforgiving place, some people are not the innocent victims they claim to be. And it’s only when we are honest about who the victims are that we can make sure we look after them, and don’t waste time on trolls, professional attention-seekers and those seeking to make a quick buck from their notoriety.
Here’s the thing. What people normally mean when they complain about “shaming” culture on the internet is that someone has found out something they’d rather have kept private. They don’t understand why they’re suddenly so unpopular and they don’t like having ready access to unfavourable opinions about themselves.
Lewinsky made her Oval Office; now she has to kneel in it. Joining Twitter, surely the most needless provocation, designed solely to elicit the sort of “abuse” needed to legitimise her new narrative of victimhood, was cynical and beneath the dignity of a woman who claims to be trying to reboot her life.
Newsflash: people are judgmental. This has nothing to do with “the internet” and everything to do with the fact that if you are a woman best known for – sorry in advance for this – presidential semen stains on a dress and doing unspeakable things with a cigar, people are going to want to talk about it, and laugh about it, for as long as you live.
No one, truth be told, cares much that Lewinsky had an affair with Bill Clinton – except perhaps Hillary, and my impression is that even she got over it when she realised how much leverage it gave her over her husband and how much public sympathy she could wring from it. Had it not been for Lewinsky, would Hillary be a prospective presidential candidate now?
What people object to – and here I find myself for perhaps the first time in my professional life agreeing wholeheartedly with the Daily Mail’s new editor at large, Piers Morgan – is the intellectual dishonesty with which Monica is attempting to rewrite the past. And they reserve the right to make jokes about the whole situation, as well they should.
These days, if you claim in a loud enough voice to be a “victim” and blame some nebulous bloc of bullying bastards on the internet, you can get a wad of cash from someone like Forbes to “bravely speak out” and a standing ovation from a room full of idealistic young morons.
What a lot of outraged celebrities and public figures don’t realise is that if you don’t want to be shamed online, it might be worth avoiding shameful things. After all, Lewinsky wasn’t a child taken advantage of by a predatory old man: she was a smart, ambitious 22-year-old who seduced a President.
“I fell in love!” she told the audience at Forbes. Well, of course you did, dear… with the idea of boffing the most powerful man in the world. I’d practically nosh off Obama myself if I got to do it in the Oval Office. I mean, who wouldn’t? OK, rhetorical question. But what a thing to be able to brag about!
The President in question, of course – the coolest non-Republican to hold that office, if we’re honest – did take advantage of his position. He was older and in a position of power – the ultimate position of power, in fact – not to mention the fact that he had a wife somewhere upstairs in the same building.
But Lewinsky is not without fault, and what mystifies me about her is that rather than retreating into a dignified life away from public scrutiny, or accepting that the two-year affair she voluntarily entered into had the entirely predictable consequences it did, she is still, twenty years later, trying to blame someone else.