There's a terrible injustice in the fact that President Clinton is the most popular politician in the world today, while Monica Lewinsky is the cheap punchline to dozens of blow-job jokes. And shame on us all for it. We're nothing more than the villagers from The Scarlet Letter, augmented and amplified with the help of the cowardly anonymity of social media.
As we learned from Twitter yesterday, Nathaniel Hawthorne's 19th Century take on 17th Century morality is thriving in 21st Century America, where trolls and self-righteous, misogynistic scolds have been gifted the unearned privilege of a media platform while masquerading behind spineless pseudonyms, enabling and semi-legitimizing their irrational screechings and obscene bullying of anyone foolish enough to use their real name in public.
Monica Lewinsky had a consensual adult affair with Clinton nearly 20 years ago -- an experience millions of American women and even more American men engage in every year, and yet Lewinsky is the devil, cursed with a rhetorical red-letter "A" branded onto her reputation for all time, while the married man with whom she, a single woman, had the relationship is barely mentioned in that context. That was certainly the case when Lewinsky signed onto Twitter this week in support of her campaign against, ironically, cyber-bullying.
Here's just a sample of what she was greeted with:
It's important to repeat that Lewinsky wasn't cheating on anyone. Clinton, on the other hand, was. But for a moment, imagine you're a woman -- an important distinction given America's sexual double-standard -- who had an affair with a married man. Now imagine if that affair went public. Imagine your formerly good name being relentlessly flogged to death by the so-called legitimate press, not to mention every comedian in America (on and off television) and, of course, digital bottom-feeders like Matt Drudge. Imagine trying to get a job or having a meaningful career. Imagine trying to sign a lease. Imagine trying to have a normal life without that relationship and the subsequent slut-shaming following you wherever you go. Imagine knowing that your posterity will read about your relationship in history books. Imagine the humiliation.
Based on serious accounts, and not to mention the very revealing and fascinating Vanity Fair piece earlier this year, Lewinsky is a smart, strong woman, and should therefore be treated according to her merits -- beyond whatever mistakes she made (or didn't make). The public, however, can't let go of this one thing from 20 years ago, and a legion of snickering douchebags have made it their business to tsk-tsk her to death. No matter what she does or where she goes, she'll be pursued by the freak show, with their ridiculous torches and pitchforks, hurling epithets not mature enough for grade-school playgrounds.
Of course the only thing she can do now is to own her name and weave the inescapable reality of the public's disgusting reaction to the Ken Starr witch hunt into something that can actually help people. Hence her activism on cyber-bullying, something with which she has plenty of experience, illustrated perfectly on Twitter by digital eunuchs who can only fantasize about being as ballsy as she's been, jumping into the melee with her full name and confronting this issue with courage and authority, in spite of all the horseshit.
Increasingly, social media is mutating into a blight. Seldom do we experience a week in which the discourse is actually improved by its existence. It could've been so much more. It could've both highlighted and benefited our democracy. Instead it's cheapened it, allowing anonymous morons to stampede anything of value. If Twitter intends to survive beyond its shelf-life, its executives ought to listen very closely to what Lewinsky has to say about cyber-bullying. The inmates are taking over the asylum, and Twitter's future depends almost entirely on not becoming a 4chan-style Thunderdome where the post-apocalyptic mob calls the shots.
MORE FROM BANTER: Here's Chez Pazienza on the toxic nature of Twitter.