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In a New Series on Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton, #MeToo Gets Complicated

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05.09.2021

The chief sign of whether you’re a winner or a loser — a victim or a victor — is whether you get to write your own history. By those terms, in the 1990s, Monica Lewinsky was a victim through and through. Her affair with President Bill Clinton, once exposed, made her a pawn to those who wanted to take Clinton down, a threat to those who wanted to keep him in power, a lurid fascination to the media, a joke that fed successive evenings of ugly entertainment. Everyone knew her name, and nearly everyone was implicated in her public shaming. The idea that she was human, with feelings and opinions, seldom made it into the narrative.

In 2021, Lewinsky is fully in charge of her story, thanks to a reputation rehab that began with a Vanity Fair essay in 2014 and worked its way to the pinnacle of modern-day storytelling: a 10-part, star-studded miniseries on prestige TV. “Impeachment: American Crime Story,” which premieres this week on FX, is a production of Ryan Murphy, the creator of “Glee” and “American Horror Story,” who also retold the O.J. Simpson trial for an audience with a fresh perspective. This new series recalibrates an old political scandal for modern sensibilities, starting with the fact that it has Lewinsky’s input and her blessing. (“All that matters to me is what she thinks,” Beanie Feldstein, the actress who plays Lewinsky, told the Hollywood Reporter.)

Revisiting the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal in the #MeToo era underscores how much has changed in our baseline view of sexual harassment, power dynamics and behavior that crosses the line. Over and over, characters pass off as meaningless — a nonstory, a non-crime — the kind of workplace behavior that just toppled New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in record time. (“Having sex with an office girl is not a high crime or misdemeanor!” a young conservative operative named George Conway shouts at one point.) The series reminds us how much casual sexism was marbled into the culture at the time, from the white men making lewd jokes in Hollywood writers’ rooms to the lawyers on Kenneth Starr’s independent counsel staff who try to flip Lewinsky as a witness, and call the effort “Operation Prom Night” — because, as one of them explains, all it should take is a “half hour with a girl in a hotel room.”

But if “Impeachment: American Crime Story” acknowledges #MeToo, it also complicates the narrative, and maybe even serves as a course correction. When the movement first emerged, there was a broad focus on punishing bad actors and weeding out the problematic people — a........

© Politico


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