On Our Monica, Ourselves, and reflections on the the aftermath of the Lewinsky Affair
The first part of this piece originally appeared in the publication formerly known as Salon.
“I’m not sneering at sex. It’s necessary and it doesn’t have to be ugly. But it always has to be managed.” –Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye
“How could he resist her?” Watch—really watch--the famous footage of Bill Clinton embracing a then-unknown Monica Lewinsky during a White House event. “Look at the way she’s gazing up at him,” a female friend of mine said, “all dewy-eyed and hungry and adoring.” And voluptuous and ripe she might have added. “What man could?” We can’t see Clinton’s face in this footage, only his back. And yet because we know Bill Clinton it’s easy to imagine it: Crinkle-eyed smile as he sees Monica, the look of a kid encountering a treat, an unexpected one but one he’s ready to claim. And enjoy.
But it was the earlier reaction that predominated, the one that came with the release of Monica’s government ID photo just hours after it was reported that Clinton was suspected of having an affair with a White House intern. The photo was awful in the way ID photos usually are: Monica has pouffed and shellacked hair with spiky bangs; a pale complexion on a face that looked both broad and flattened; a disconnect between the wide smile and the slightly vacant wary eyes; nondescript black dress and pearls. It wasn’t an attractive photo, it gave no hint that the young woman being photographed possessed any sparkle, any imagination. She seemed both thoroughly average and a bit overdone. And it produced two simultaneous reactions: revulsion, and immediate certainty that the rumors were true. People said, cattily, “of course he’d go for a woman like that.” Because that’s the type of woman Bill Clinton would go for: a mallrat tart for a trailer trash president.
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