Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Monica Lewinsky, the First Reality Star

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Monica Lewinsky, the First Reality Star

Article excerpt

Of course, she's not going away. That's what so many people have wished for Monica Lewinsky this past week - out of a mix of sympathy, distaste or both - now that she's thrown herself back into our consciousness with an essay in Vanity Fair.

Why now? Conspiracy theories abound. But the stated reason is that Ms. Lewinsky needs a job and sees a cause: to be the poster child for the perils of online fame. She compares her '90s shaming in the Drudge Report to the torment kids endure today on Facebook. She calls herself "possibly the first person whose global humiliation was driven by the Internet."

But she's wrong. She wasn't the first victim of the Internet age. She was the first reality star.

That concept didn't exist when Monica met Bill in the corridors outside the Oval Office. There was no "Survivor," no "Real Housewives" or "Dance Moms" or "Jersey Shore," no camera crews trailing various Kardashians, helping them spin long careers out of sex tapes and marital squabbles.

Back then, there was a nascent Internet dirt machine - not to mention a powerful political machine - that gladly chewed Ms. Lewinsky up alive. Her recounting of those days has attracted sympathy, much of it deserved. She writes that her relationship with Mr. Clinton was consensual, that the damage came in the aftermath. She was a neophyte to Washington and adulthood, manipulated by people far more savvy about both.

But Ms. Lewinsky is 40 now, too old to claim that she's still being bullied by the grown-ups. At a certain point, she made a conscious decision to let a scandal define her.

This is what reality stars do. Today, we're beyond the point of "they edited me to look bad." Today, the lines are blurred between infamy, fame and opportunity. People enter TV contracts understanding precisely what's expected of them when the cameras roll: a willingness to overturn a table in faux-anger, to "privately" gripe about people who will eventually hear you say everything, to pick a scab from your distant or recent past and talk about it, again and again.

The tradeoffs are clear: money, yes, and something more intoxicating. …

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