Magazine article Artforum International

Starr System

Magazine article Artforum International

Starr System

Article excerpt

Steeped in celebrity and semiotics, book packages and product placement, has been a thoroughly post-modern coup d'etat. The investigation preceded the crime. The one who pulled the trigger was not a crazed loner but a star-struck groupie. The conspiracy was hidden in plain sight. The dog was wagged out.

The Contract with America had become a contract on Bill Clinton. A cabal of right-wing plutocrats, well-connected literary hustlers, and political opportunists funded, sold, and promoted a scenario that - whatever objections newsreaders might have had - was far too entertaining for any of them to ignore. Were these so-called liberals in the media compulsively destroying their hapless codependent? The contradiction was no more surprising than the spectacle of the hard-core right insisting that the graphic description contained in The Starr Report appear on the internet to be read by every schoolchild in America. Thus sex education merged with civics class as The Starr Report garnered an audience far beyond any previous example of state-subsidized American art.

The boomerography doubled back on itself. After successfully defeating two grumpy old men, both of whom had chosen to play sternly befuddled dads, the fifty-two-year-old rock 'n' roll president was now cast forever as an unruly, sullen teenager who would have to be disciplined by the fanatics of the religious right. Such were the wages of sin. (It took another perpetual adolescent, Donald Trump, to advise our prez to dump the ball and chain, quit his gig, and party on.)

The first postwar American president without the benefit of the apocalyptic Soviet threat was automatically diminished compelled to live out the cruel boomer nightmare of downward mobility. But if the parallels between Bill Clinton and Hollywood had been there all along, who would have predicted that this spiral would end with his incorporation into trash culture, making an involuntary confession on the national Jerry Springer show that would be replayed until the end of time? The dysfunctional, no-longer imperial president would rattle his sabers (as in February after the Monica Lewinsky story broke) and even launch missiles in vain. He was preempted by the very Wag the Dog scenario that everyone at the time professed to disbelieve as too obvious - although it was scarcely less obvious than The Starr Report's strategic publication six weeks before the election.

As Wag the Dog suggested, the Internet-driven round-the-clock cable coverage would be mediated at every point by Hollywood scenarios. Monica had her first sexual encounter with the president on November 15, 1995, scarcely thirty-six hours before the opening of The American President. Their second tryst came the evening after the movie materialized in malls across America. The American President had dared to ask, Is the leader of the Free World free to date? But long before the movie's blithe Oedipal scenario was liquidated by the tawdry details of Oval Office hanky-panky, Hollywood anticipated the second Clinton administration with three movies depicting the White House as a crime scene. (The first of these, Absolute Power, opened on the same day that Monica addressed the president with a personal Valentine's Day "love note" in the Washington Post. …

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