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Monica Lewinsky's Liberation From The Shame Game

27/03/2015 8:11 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Fernando Leon via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 11: Monica Lewinsky attends the Rachel Comey fashion show at Pioneer Works Center for Arts & Innovation during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week on February 11, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Fernando Leon/Getty Images)

She was a chirpy, confident and even audacious 22-year-old intern at the time of her dalliance with the most powerful man in the entire world. He was her boss. Bill Clinton, the President of the United States of America.

The very foundation of Capitol Hill shook like never before. The doors rattled and the windows whispered. The suave Bill Clinton, who had taken the world by his charm, swift administration and tough decisions after an unprecedented electoral victory, became just another cheating husband. The blue dress, the sex act, the lies and the revelations took centrestage.

But his wife Hilary stayed by his side and Bill Clinton continued occupying the office after his impeachment. A plump young intern called Monica Lewinsky was shown the door, surreptitiously and firmly. She was to be hidden, cast away and forgotten. Now it is Hillary who hogs most of the limelight and has all plans to occupy the high office if her health keeps up.

But, let's just pan the camera away from the Clintons for a while. The young intern is now a 42-year-old woman. She tried to make a success of her life, trying her hand at everything from hosting a TV show to a degree in psychology in the UK. She tried entering the fashion scene, and launched a line of handbags.

Any attempts she made, though, she was again turned into that 22-year-old. It was like she could never move on. And any attempt she made in this regard would be quashed under the weight her past wielded on her present. She could never quite find her professional moorings or long-lasting stability in her personal life.

Her starting point was exactly where her life met with a roadblock. The world forgave the 49-year-old President of the United States but it was merciless with a girl who was not much older than a teenager. How does it feel to be judged, recognised for all the wrong reasons and lampooned constantly for what was actually little more than a youthful indiscretion?

Lewinsky herself has answered these questions eloquently in her recent re-emergence with a powerful TED talk, 'The Price of Shame'. She bared her soul, and detailed her pain. She said, "A marketplace has emerged where public humiliation is a commodity and shame is an industry."

Lewinsky was galvanised into breaking her silence by the death of teenager Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after he was bullied on the internet. She speaks of her pain at also being the wrong kind of internet sensation, also acknowledging that the web was not quite as terrifying in the late 1990s and early 2000s as it is now. Even then, she says, the scandal gained traction from the "digital revolution."

"How is the money made? Clicks. The more shame, the more clicks; the more clicks, the more advertising dollars ... We are in a dangerous cycle: the more we click on this kind of gossip, the more numb we get to the human lives behind it. And the more numb we get, the more we click."

Lewinsky's message, ultimately, is one of compassion and of positivity. It is possible to survive public humiliation even in the digital age. Hers is a strong and contextual question before a society that is feeding on hate and judgment. A direction we need to immediately turn away from. And it is only fitting that the person to hold this mirror up was Monica Lewinsky, one of the first victims of the internet and its "culture of humiliation". Her youth may have been ravaged but it looks as if mid-life has begun well for her.

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