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Our Monica, Ourselves

Our Monica, Ourselves: The Clinton Affair and the National Interest

Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 349
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    Our Monica, Ourselves
    Book Description:

    Alongside the O.J. Simpson trial, the affair between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky now stands as the seminal cultural event of the 90s. Alternatively transfixed and repelled by this sexual scandal, confusion still reigns over its meanings and implications. How are we to make sense of a tale that is often wild and bizarre, yet replete with serious political and cultural implications? Our Monica, Ourselves provides a forum for thinking through the cultural, political, and public policy issues raised by the investigation, publicity, and Congressional impeachment proceedings surrounding the affair. It pulls this spectacle out of the framework provided by the conventions of the corporate news media, with its particular notions of what constitutes a newsworthy event. Drawing from a broad range of scholars, Our Monica, Ourselves considers Monica Lewinsky's Jewishness, Linda Tripp's face, the President's penis, the role of shame in public discourse, and what it's like to have sex as the president, as well as specific legal and historical issues at stake in the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Thoughtful but accessible, immediate yet far reaching, Our Monica, Ourselves will change the way we think about the Clinton affair, while helping us reimagine culture and politics writ large. Contributors include: Lauren Berlant, Eric O. Clarke, Ann Cvetkovich, Simone Weil Davis, Lisa Duggan, Jane Gallop, Marjorie Garber, Janet R. Jakobsen, James R. Kincaid, Laura Kipnis, Tomasz Kitlinski, Pawel Leszkowicz, Joe Lockard, Catharine Lumby, Toby Miller, Dana D. Nelson, Anna Marie Smith, Ellen Willis, and Eli Zaretsky.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3928-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)
    Lauren Berlant and Lisa Duggan

    It was a moment of astounding incoherence. The Clinton affair—the sex, the lying, the investigation, the impeachment—was a historic public event, yet central to it was a debate about whether it was worthy of attention. Had politics and prurience become identical, and whose fault was that? All parties—the press, the public, the political parties, the president and his prosecutors—hurled charges that the others were up to their necks in corruption. People scurried to find the moral high ground, but then again it seemed that we were drowning in moral high grounds, too. In the wake of...


    • 1 The Culture Wars of the 1960s and the Assault on the Presidency: The Meaning of the Clinton Impeachment
      (pp. 9-33)
      Eli Zaretsky

      The impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton was one of those extraordinary historical events whose nature historians will debate for centuries.¹ Among the problems they will have to address are the Republicans’ motivations, the chasm between the electorate and the normally dominant media elites, and the Republicans’ remarkable achievement—if we can call it that—in turning Clinton’s Paula Jones deposition into a protracted national emergency. The problem of the Republicans’ motivations is particularly vexed since, while it was unfolding, impeachment blatantly contradicted political calculations and, afterward, resulted in the collapse of the conservative movement’s pretense to hegemony. Of course, any...

    • 2 The Symbolics of Presidentialism: Sex and Democratic Identification
      (pp. 34-52)
      Dana D. Nelson and Tyler Curtain

      This essay takes the form of a dialogue, where we explore the forms and functions of “presidentialism,” an (anti-)democratic practice that one of the authors recently critiqued at length. The Lewinsky-Clinton drama tested, challenged, and ultimately exacerbated antidemocratic tendencies in our political culture’s insistence that the spectacle of personal interactions at the federal level constitutes the proper limits of democracy. From different critical orientations, Dana Nelson and Tyler Curtain analyze the mechanics of presidentialism—the representative mechanism that attempts perpetually to defer our hopes for democratic self-management—as a step toward disrupting its power over our imaginations and political practices....


    • 3 The Face That Launched a Thousand Jokes
      (pp. 55-72)
      Laura Kipnis

      A friend with a penchant for gnomic remarks once said, “Ugliness is the last frontier for socialism.” He could just as easily have said “for democracy.” I can’t now recall what prompted it (discussing some unfortunate mutual acquaintance?), but this doomy pronouncement has perturbed me ever since, or at least whenever my gaze falls upon some particularly unsightly visage and involuntarily the ruthless machinery of aesthetic judgment springs into motion. If ugliness registers with such visceral immediacy despite knowing everything there is to know about the historical and cultural variability of such standards, despite full comprehension of the damage these...

    • 4 It’s Not about Sex
      (pp. 73-85)
      James R. Kincaid

      Americans are in the happy position of being able to invest just about anything with erotic desire. I say this without having recourse to studies or opinion polls by virtue of my position as a representative American,¹ not in all areas, only in sex.

      My subject here is the relation of the Lewinsky-Clinton matter to our abilities to have sex or to think of having sex in response to it. Sex exists where we can find ways to talk about having sex.² Where we can’t do that, there is no sex. Desire, then, is the same thing as sex, in...

    • 5 The Door Ajar: The Erotics of Hypocrisy in the White House Scandal
      (pp. 86-101)
      Simone Weil Davis

      Clinton’s first apology speech in August 1998 was not entirely apologetic. Less contrite than stern, the president insisted that his errors had been private and should have remained as such, so that he could “go on with the business of running this country.” Despite his patriarchal gravity that night, more Cotton Mather than François Mitterand, many of Clinton’s defenders used the bon vivant dalliances of European politicians to remind us that the Puritanism of a repressed America had led in this case to the criminalization of consensual sex. These lines of defense seem commonsensical and, at first glance, just about...

    • 6 Sex of a Kind: On Graphic Language and the Modesty of Television News
      (pp. 102-115)
      Sasha Torres

      Indulge me in a fantasy, if you will. What if queer sex advisers like Susie Bright, Dan Savage, and Pat Califia had been engaged by the major networks and 24-hour cable news channels as in-house experts on the Clinton sex scandal?¹ What if, when we tuned in to ABC, say, we encountered Sam Donaldson updating us on the latest White House press conference, George Stephanopolous ventriloquizing the president’s advisers, and Bright discussing the considerable overlap between the definition of sexual relations at issue in the Jones deposition and the notions of topping and bottoming that circulate within the s/m and...

    • 7 The First Penis Impeached
      (pp. 116-134)
      Toby Miller

      There are so many reasons for the left to loathe Clinton: gays in the military, health insurance, welfare, poverty, the environment, secondary schooling, antisocialist and pro-market rhetoric, failure to support left appointees when they were assaulted by the right (you sack the surgeon-general for recommending promiscuous hand jobs instead of promiscuous penetrative sex when that’s your own M.O.?), and brutal military violence. Consider Clinton’s two inauguration speeches—grotesque assortments of biblical and Catholic teaching plus clichés from the Gipper, signaling an ecumenical but strong religiosity and debts to fellow conservatives. A form of “civil religion,” these addresses troped the United...


    • 8 The Return of the Oppressed
      (pp. 137-155)
      Frederick C. Moten and B Jenkins

      My mom, B Jenkins, and I have spent the last couple of years talking, laughing, singing, and arguing by phone and letter about Bill Clinton. I’d like to submit to you a portion of our exchange, the collective authorship of an old ensemble, the ensemble of the recliner, in honor of Ma’s blue La-Z-Boy planted right in front of the television in the den where she watches C-SPAN. There’s reference here to a mode of conversation, a way of writing that cuts and augments academic conventions and the increasingly delusional style of what passes here for a public sphere. Ma’s...

    • 9 Trashing the Presidency: Race, Class, and the Clinton/Lewinsky Affair
      (pp. 156-174)
      Micki McElya

      When Toni Morrison suggested in theNew Yorkerthat Bill Clinton continued to hold the support of African Americans throughout the unfolding of the Lewinsky scandal because they understood him to be America’s first black president, she provoked significant controversy. Morrison asserted: “Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.”¹ In making this claim, Morrison highlighted a central element of the scandal—she exposed the interplay of race and class narratives in representations of Bill Clinton. While doing this important work, however, she woefully misnamed this construct as “blackness.” Far from...

    • 10 Moniker
      (pp. 175-202)
      Marjorie Garber

      “Why don’t we hear very much about Monica Lewinsky being Jewish?” joked comedian Emily Levine at a Los Angeles fund-raiser for the Morning Star Commission, a group of professionals from the media and academia who have organized to combat the stereotype of the “Jewish American Princess.” (The group gets its name from the eponymous heroine of Herman Wouk’s fifties novel,Marjorie Morningstar, about an aspiring Hollywood star who changed her name from Morgenstern.) “A Jewish girl with oral sex? I don’t believe it,” quipped comedian Jackie Mason to a Florida audience. “An oral surgeon, maybe, that’s what a Jewish girl...

    • 11 Monica Dreyfus
      (pp. 203-222)
      Tomasz Kitlinski, Pawel Leszkowicz and Joe Lockard

      A specter haunted more than one continent last year, the specter of Monica Lewinsky. Stories about Monica did not remain stories: they mutated into political facts and explanations. Repetition transformed and localized stories, and another story emerged reinterpreted from the husk of its forebear. We live in an economy of stories where trading has been globalized, an economy where we seek the embodiment of power within these globalized mystery stories interwoven with images.

      As the stories swirl, interpretation descends into conspiracism. Conspiracy lives within an empty shell of factuality, a shell that has long been deserted here by the self-sufficient...


    • 12 The President’s Penis: Entertaining Sex and Power
      (pp. 225-236)
      Catharine Lumby

      In an elegant essay titled “My Father’s Penis,” feminist author Nancy Miller recalls watching her father pottering around the kitchen when she was a child, his drawstring pajamas slightly agape. She writes:

      This almost gap never failed to catch my eye. It seemed to me as I watched him cheerfully rescue the burning toast and pass from room to room in a slow motion of characteristic aimlessness … that behind the flap lay something important: dark, maybe verging on purple, probably soft and floppy

      Forty years after the scene of these memories, Miller finds herself once again confronted by her...

    • 13 ’Tis Pity He’s a Whore
      (pp. 237-245)
      Ellen Willis

      As Bill Clinton looked me straight in the eye, tightened his jaw, and denied having sexual relations with That Woman, I had a fantasy: suppose, on that historic60 Minutesepisode in 1992, he had said, “Yes, I had an affair with Gennifer Flowers.” And suppose Hillary had added, “Not every marriage is monogamous. Relationships are complicated, and ours is no exception.”

      Why is such candor unthinkable? After all, most of the voters who elected Clinton didn’t believe his denial that he’d slept with Flowers, any more than they would believe his denial about Monica Lewinsky, five and a half...

    • 14 Loose Lips
      (pp. 246-267)
      Jane Gallop and Lauren Berlant

      Lauren Berlant: We wanted to interview you for this book because you have become so famously well versed in the law and the culture around sexual harassment, along with being a distinguished theorist of sexuality. So I wonder if you could begin by reflecting on how the expertise you’ve gathered from the events aroundFeminist Accused of Sexual Harassmenthas affected your response to the Clinton/Lewinsky sexual scandal.

      Jane Gallop: There were two main things. One of them was that as soon as I started writing about sexual harassment (in 1994), I said that it was going to become a...

    • 15 Sexuality’s Archive: The Evidence of the Starr Report
      (pp. 268-282)
      Ann Cvetkovich

      My disenchantment with the office of U.S. president makes me a somewhat reluctant commentator on the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, but I come to the topic out of long-standing interest in the sex life of the U.S. president. During the late 1960s, at the age of twelve or thirteen, I used to have fantasies about being a sex counselor to the Nixons. I imagined that Tricky Dick and his long-suffering wife Pat, she of the Republican cloth coat, were still living in the benighted era of the Hays Code and the TV sitcoms of the 1950s and hence sleeping in side-by-side twin...


    • 16 Sex and Civility
      (pp. 285-290)
      Eric O. Clarke

      Despite having the ring of an old-fashioned crankiness, the epigraph from Adorno touches on a vexing issue raised with near screeching annoyance during and after what has come to be known as the Lewinsky affair: the decline of civility in America. According to this decline narrative, Americans are just not nice to one another anymore. Across a range of situations and occasions, their behavior is downright inappropriate. No shared codes of conduct prevent us from yelling, cursing, honking, insulting, disrespecting, intentionally annoying, obscenely gesturing, or otherwise hurling abuse.

      Much more than a simple plea for politeness, however, this decline narrative...

    • 17 “He Has Wronged America and Women”: Clinton’s Sexual Conservatism
      (pp. 291-314)
      Janet R. Jakobsen

      “He has wronged America and women,” proclaims Pheda Fischer, who is described in theNew York Timesas “a 74-year-old retired nurse from Waveland, Miss.” She continues, “I don’t understand why the women’s organizations don’t get upset. Don’t they have any morality? I still want him gone” (January 26, 1999, A15). The standard response to Ms. Fischer’s inquiry about the morality of “women’s organizations,” or feminists in general, is that while they don’t like what Clinton has done and find him (as supposedly does the rest of America) to rate “near rock bottom” as a “moral leader,” they like his...

    • 18 Sexual Risk Management in the Clinton White House
      (pp. 315-336)
      Anna Marie Smith

      As Clinton leaves office, his aides mention time and time again that he is concerned about his historical legacy. Feminist historians will look back at the Clinton administration and give it a mixed review. On the one hand, Clinton will be remembered for a few key initiatives on late-term abortion, family leave, and the earned income tax credit. His partnership with Hillary Rodham Clinton will be compared to that between the Roosevelts. Women and minorities also won a substantial number of the appointments to the Clinton administration. On the other hand, Clinton abandoned many of his best nominees, presided over...

  10. Contributors
    (pp. 337-340)