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Was Monica Lewinsky the First Cancel Culture victim?

'15 Minutes of Shame' suggests that without understanding the true nature behind it

Monica Lewinsky is taking charge of her life’s next chapter.

The woman forever known as President Bill Clinton’s paramour endured decades of grief for that relationship.

  • Late night barbs
  • Media attacks
  • Her last name turned into a vulgarity

Slowly, carefully, Lewinsky came back into the spotlight. “Impeachment: American Crime Story” on FX retells the sordid affair from her perspective. She served as a consultant and executive producer on the miniseries, with cast members declaring their fealty to her vision, her voice, in every interview.

She’s not done, though. Her next major project takes on Cancel Culture.

15 Minutes of Shame | Official Trailer | HBO Max

“15 Minutes of Shame,” debuting Oct. 7 on HBO Max, considers her story along with other, more recent, examples of online bullying.

Lewinsky once again dons her executive producer hat for the film, an expansive look at both her history and others “canceled” for various sins.

“I was patient zero in having your reputation destroyed because of the Internet, and I would not be the last,” Lewinsky says in the documentary trailer.

Here’s the official description:

This original documentary film … examines social behavior by embedding with individuals from across the U.S. who have been publicly shamed or cyber-harassed – while exploring the bullies, the bystanders, the media, psychologists, politicians and experts in between. 15 MINUTES OF SHAME is about one of the most pressing and unaddressed issues of modern life, brought to you by the people who know it best.

The subject couldn’t be more worthy of the documentary treatment, but its arrival on HBO Max should give audiences pause. Major corporate platforms eagerly bow to Cancel Culture, suggesting the documentary may pull some punches.

Case in point?

HBO Max canceled “Gone with the Wind” last year after a single column suggested the movie isn’t suitable for modern viewers due to its antiquated depiction of slavery. The platform later restored the film, but audiences must endure a “trigger-warning” style explainer at the beginning before watching it.

There’s another nagging question, one that’s uncomfortable to say. No one deserved the public drubbing Lewinsky endured, full stop. The power disparity explored in modern gender discussions has never been more true than the Clinton-Lewinsky bond.

There’s no other example that comes close. There may never be one. And he should have protected her, not pounced like a predator.

And thank heaven for Lewinsky’s sake that the incident occurred in the 1990s, not 2021. The ensuing social media frenzy would have dwarfed almost every other recent event.

And yet Lewinsky actively participated in the sexual relationship. She was in her early 20s at the time (various reputable outlets can’t agree on her precise age), a young woman but hardly a child. She had to know what might happen if news of their relationship spread.

More importantly, didn’t she consider what else could happen if politicians, and later world leaders, learned about them?

Cancel Culture and cyber bullying evoke something more sinister. People are often canceled for minor offenses – a vile Tweet (Roseanne Barr), a few vicious jokes (Kevin Hart) or simply having the “wrong” opinion that roughly half the country agrees with anyway (Gina Carano).

Meanwhile, many public figures act in ways that could find them cancelled, and yet they survive without a hint of punishment. Think Jimmy Kimmel, Bette Midler and Alec Baldwin.

The cultural Left often muddies the Cancel Culture waters by bringing up folks like Harvey Weinstein, now sitting in jail for his sexual crimes. Yet Weinstein in no way represents Cancel Culture. He’s a criminal who got caught and is paying the price for his actions.

Lewinsky isn’t a monster like Weinstein, but she actively pursued a sexual relationship with the most powerful man in the world. Did she expect that world to let her off the hook? What’s sickening, in retrospect, is how the culture all but destroyed her reputation while some did everything possible to protect his., anyone?

“Hey, it was just sex…”

And it’s still happening.

Let’s hope “15 Minutes of Shame” explores why some wish death on others on social media, and the reasons we take such joy in destroying the lives of strangers without knowing all the facts in play.

Or doing the same even when we do.

Plus, it would be great to learn how Lewinsky rebuilt her life, and name, in a way that should fill her and her family with pride. The documentary must also tackle the larger issues in play, though. It’s often power, not decency, driving this vile trend.

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