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Our Monica, Ourselves

The Clinton Affair and the National Interest

Lauren Berlant, Lisa Duggan

Publication Year: 2001

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.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii

We would like to thank Eva Pendleton, Alison Redick, and Micol Seigel for research assistance, Sexual Cultures series editors José Muñoz and Ann Pellegrini for their enthusiastic encouragement, and Eric Zinner and Cecilia Feilla of New York University Press for technical support and...

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pp. 1-6

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 public, the political parties, the president and his prosecutors—hurled charges...


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pp. 7

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1. The Culture Wars of the 1960s and the Assault on the Presidency: The Meaning of the Clinton Impeachment

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pp. 9-33

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...

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2. The Symbolics of Presidentialism: Sex and Democratic Identification

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pp. 34-52

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...


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pp. 53

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3. The Face That Launched a Thousand Jokes

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pp. 55-72

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...

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4. It's Not about Sex

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pp. 73-85

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 that neither one exists outside of narratives, and those narratives coincide. If we can tell a story of desire, then we are telling a...

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5. The Door Ajar: The Erotics of Hypocrisy in the White House Scandal

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pp. 86-101

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...

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6. Sex of a Kind: On Graphic Language and the Modesty of Television News

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pp. 102-115

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...

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7. The First Penis Impeached

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pp. 116-133

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...


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pp. 135

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8. The Return of the Oppressed

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pp. 137-155

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...

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9. Trashing the Presidency: Race, Class, and the Clinton/Lewinsky Affair

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pp. 156-174

When Toni Morrison suggested in the New Yorker that 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...

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10. Moniker

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pp. 175-202

"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...

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11. Monica Dreyfus

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pp. 203-222

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...


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pp. 223

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12. The President's Penis: Entertaining Sex and Power

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pp. 225-236

Forty years after the scene of these memories, Miller finds herself once again confronted by her father's penis. Her father, now stricken with Parkinson's disease, requires her help to bathe and urinate, a situation which leads her to reflect on the relationship between the phallus and the organ it represents. At first, she concludes that touching her father's penis has destroyed its mystique, writing that...

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13. 'Tis Pity He's a Whore

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pp. 237-245

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 historic 60 Minutes episode 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...

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14. Loose Lips

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pp. 246-267

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 around Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment has affected your response to the...

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15. Sexuality's Archive: The Evidence of the Starr Report

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pp. 268-282

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...


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pp. 283

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16. Sex and Civility

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pp. 285-290

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...

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17. "He Has Wronged America and Women": Clinton's Sexual Conservatism

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pp. 291-314

"He has wronged America and women," proclaims Pheda Fischer, who is described in the New York Times as "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...

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18. Sexual Risk Management in the Clinton White House

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pp. 315-335

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...


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pp. 337-340

E-ISBN-13: 9780814739280
E-ISBN-10: 0814739288
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814798652
Print-ISBN-10: 0814798659

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2001

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Social conditions -- 1980-.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1993-2001.
  • United States -- Moral conditions.
  • Sexual ethics -- United States.
  • Sex -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Political culture -- United States.
  • Culture conflict -- United States.
  • Lewinsky, Monica S. (Monica Samille), 1973-.
  • Clinton, Bill, 1946- -- Impeachment.
  • Clinton, Bill, 1946- -- Sexual behavior.
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