Cursory Thoughts on Monica Lewinsky
The cinema has always counted among its attributes a capability for inducing Mass Hypnosis, a result of its stimulative excesses. Take as example a film I saw recently again for maybe the seventh time: Fritz Lang's enthralling Frau im Mond. It's got action, SFX, extraordinary set-design, and incessant variations on the size of the subjects in relation to the shape of the frame, a variation that in relation to the montage, sets a rhythm, and in relation to the découpage, embodies an unusually elastic pacing — a trait of Lang's films throughout the silent period, particularly in Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler., Spione, Frau... (The three films which make up his Here-and-Now Trilogy.)
With the goosebumps comes an inattention, perhaps, to the undercurrents of the picture and the prophetic details — in the case of Frau: the rocket project, the hairstyle of Mr. Turner, the seizing of gold on the moon (from die Mondgebirge) before "anyone else" does... — all 'signs' of the Nazi enterprise already, in 1929, underway.
An especially auspicious viewing, then, given its vicinity to the 70th anniversary of the week of Anne Frank's proxy murder by illness in the Bergen-Belsen infirmary from which no-one escaped healed and alive. And given its vicinity within the weeks following the English-language translation in The Nation of Stéphane Delorme's lengthy editorial in the Cahiers du cinéma regarding the massacres at Charlie Hebdo and the immediate after-events inside Hyper Cacher and the printing plant. To quote from Delorme (English translation by Nicholas Elliott): (passages underlined for emphasis by me):
"To block the rhetoric of terror, we must also be able to analyze images. The terrorists’ scheme is to introduce images of war so we speak of “war” rather than “attacks.” How remarkable that Friday’s double assault on the Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibaly, shown through cross-cutting, was aimed at two similar buildings, two big gray or black cubes, reminiscent of a barracks and a bunker. The anchors who don’t look at what they are showing did not see that the Hyper Cacher supermarket is a dark green bunker relaying an image of “war” to dazed television viewers. Western journalists are tremendously naïve when it comes to the instinctive power of sound and images. On BFM TV, Christophe Hondelatte dared to proudly announce, “We are broadcasting Coulibaly’s recording with the propaganda passages deleted because it is out of the question that we be complicit.” But doesn’t he realize that, by contradicting the “fanaticism” argument, the mere calm of Coulibaly’s voice is as effective as any propaganda? We need journalists better equipped to face these images, or we’ll be heading for disaster. Sometimes it’s not so serious; we can force a laugh, as on the day of the march, when TF1 reporters started talking about the crowd of “anonymous people,” as opposed to the group of heads of state. Since when are demonstrators “anonymous”? Was everyone supposed to be called “Charlie”? Cahiers had been thinking about returning to media critique for a while. We begin this month.
"There’s no need to be sorry that the irreverent Charlie has become a “symbol,” for symbols take on great significance in an archaic war of images. If the word bothers you, just tell yourself that Charlie Hebdo has become an idea: one of courage, liberty, and conviction. But don’t forget other words: intelligence, impudence, irony, warmth, generosity, joy. And perseverance. Charlie Hebdo had asked for donations last November because it was in financial peril. The paper moved forward alone until finally there was this amazing recognition. Do not be bitter: this is how it is; important things are achieved alone, at night. Perseverance bears its fruit, even if this time fate interfered in a fashion too cruel. For our part, we have a model. Those men sitting around a table, we see them alive. Let us hope it is possible that this mental image will structure the political ideas of tomorrow."
I'm retaining that second paragraph in the quote because it's the last one in Delorme's piece and the content of the final sentences, even if perhaps somewhat more tangential to the surface of this entry, deserves reflection and general bearing in mind. Moving backward from there, the mention of symbols taking on "great significance in an archaic war of images" is an apposite and appropriate dove-tail from the discussion of the preceding graf, wherein we learn from the television presenters about "the propaganda passages", and that the marchers were "anonymous," in contradistinction to the heads of state (the U.S. president, of course, missing from the défilé).
The U.S. president, of course, missing from the defile: see Jessica Bennett's New York Times profile of March 19th, "Monica Lewinsky Is Back, but This Time It's on Her Terms", in which Lewinsky is portrayed as still coping, not merely to overcome (which term implies a triumphant survival, and exists as a ready-made trope of the media-narrative variety) or to succeed (in the positive and implicitly condescending [at least as seen from 2015] Mary Tyler Moore ditty of "You're gonna make it after all" – note the freeze-frame at the end of the show's intro in which Mary tosses a blue beret to the skyscrapers) but to explode her trauma and control her narrative. We learn of her preparation for a debut TED Talk: we read of the speaking coach, the rehearsals in the living room, the reminders to "[p]ush in arm muscles, engage back and neck," i.e., to project and, consequently, control.
All of this was predicted, surmised, and thrown on-screen weeks before the Times article hit, in the form of Doron Max Hagay's brilliant and hilarious web-series Monica: everything from meetings that hinge upon Monica 'telling her story' to the engagement of a spin-doctor publicist (Jacqueline Novak) who controls the stabs at control. Monica is a view of the aftermath of the Lewinsky/Clinton circumstances which, from where I'm sitting, came to be perceived, in the nascent '90s new-media surge, with its 24-hour-cable-news-cycles and then-novel compulsion of browser-refresh clicking, as a Camp Event par excellence which, in turn, transformed Lewinsky into perhaps the premiere Camp Icon of the late '90s, a status which, if no longer so pre-eminent, persists even today. Every new photo-portrait of Lewinsky suggests a corrective of the now iconic intern-badge (or whatever it was) image which latently contains a posthumous Warhol.
Lewinsky's refusal, as documented in the Times profile, to get in on the gold-hoop-earring'd teen's selfie perhaps underscores more than any of the piece's more overt documentations of self-development the seizing of control by taking back the Image: the selfie with Lewinsky and the 'fan'-teen is what you will not find upon Google Imaging "monica lewinsky": the very absence of the Monica-Selfie (which is obviously no auto-portrait but the phenomenon of a third-party turning the lens back upon them-self/their-selves and Monica, mutual-association by vicinity, two-way identification by proxy, implication upon publication, and, as such, more propaganda for feeding the media feedback loop) is thus the Image Lewinsky Can Control.
I can't figure out what purpose Nelson Shanks bore in mind by publicly announcing that Clinton's presidential portrait depicts the shadow of an actual blue dress that the artist positioned on the mannequin in the vicinity of his model-decor. Couldn't the shadow imply all it was meant to (suggestion of 'shadow of the cross / shadow of Bill's alabtross,' etc., whoopie) without Shanks' explicit mention-plant in the media, which only makes Shanks come off as intellectually specious or as straining to put across how clever he is, such that the National Portrait Gallery might even wave such trivia-tidbit bate in an effort to satiate the tourist headsetters who spend no more than the length of the audio-capsule synopsis in front of any given painting before moving on to the next one? — He's an entire sun away from Marguerite Duras sitting unseen in the classroom next to Dutronc's in Godard's Sauve qui peut (la vie), for reasons which should be obvious enough, but if not would require another blog entry at least as long as this one to explicate...
Anyway the crucifixion in the image is Lewinsky's, not Clinton's.
Lily Marotta plays Monica ("Monica") as she moves to Greenwich Village on the eve of her reintegration into normal life, such as it is. She's employed a publicist, has begun envisioning her handbag line, undertakes yoga and other wellness regimes, and successfully pitches a documentary to HBO, the premise of which is a town-hall-style Q&A event at Cooper Union provisionally titled Monica in Black and White. "Monica"'s name seems only 'nominally' attached to her person: the separation between the actress Marotta (also co-writer and co-producer with Hagay) and her namesake subject conveys a (necessarily) caricatural quality, a creation, in which the gap between actress and role, role and subject, advances the notion of Monica/Lewinsky as something of a cipher. Her first yoga lesson upon arrival in New York finds the instructor massaging her back while asking: "Is your name Monica?" "Uh-huh..." she responds, parroting the instructed stock-response. Monica's new publicist (Jacqueline Novak) presents her client with a gift of Magnolia Cupcakes, "otherwise known as Carrie's favorite." Sex and the City gives way to its own doppelgänger through-a-glass-darkly when Casey Jane Ellison on host duties at a Cakeshop stand-up show observes that GWB is "such a Rachel." Before hitting the show, Monica's design buddy (Steven Phillips-Horst) suggests she swap a black baseball cap in place of the black beret; Monica: "Too Monica?" At the end of the doc pitch, the execs bid her "Welcome to HBO"; in response, her publicist floats: "Welcome to Monica."
A cautious tale, Monica's, foreboding the modern era of social media, shaming, trolling, deprivacy — like the moon, she belongs to everyone, though just out of reach.
Monica (you can view all six episodes here) boasts an insanely and uniformly talented band of collaborators (whose number also includes, in small parts in Episodes 2 and 6 respectively, the ferocious [ferocii?] Kate Berlant and John Early), but two tangential pieces to mention before signing off:
(1) Watch Doron Max Hagay's 49-minute 2013 work Perfect Thoughts for free at NoBudge here, which Kentucker voted NoBudge film of the year in 2013, and which I wrote a piece about that I've been sitting on for over a year in the still-haven't-finished-it Issue 6 of NoBudge Notes; I should probably post the piece here at some point.
(2) Everything Casey Jane Ellison does is incredible, and I'll put money to mouth that she's one of the next big stars. Start by checking out her Ovation web-series Touching the Art by watching the first season's first episode at YouTube here.