In addition to her role as a co-producer of FX’s Impeachment: American Crime Story, Monica Lewinsky has another project coming out this fall in the form of an HBO Max documentary entitled 15 Minutes of Shame. The film, which Lewinsky executive produced along with co-creator and former co-host of Catfish Max Joseph, sets out to explore how public shaming and “cancel culture” have worsened in recent decades with the rise of technology and social media. Joseph is certainly an interesting choice, as one could argue he has actually based his entire career off publicly shaming strangers. I’m not sure I expect a man who just a few years ago put out a documentary called DICKS: Do you need to be one to be a successful leader? to have a nuanced and reasonable perspective on cancel culture.
In an interview with Variety, Lewinsky discussed 15 Minutes of Shame, as well as how her own history with public shaming might have played out differently (or not) in today’s world. “I’m not sure that, were it a young, charismatic, Democratic president, and one who is perceived as being quote-unquote good to women…” Lewinsky paused. “I think it would be different. But I’m not sure everything would be quite as different as people think.”
On the potential of public shaming as a means for disenfranchised people to exert agency:
“In moving forward, we need to think what are the subsets of cancel culture,” Lewinsky says. “I think that there is certainly a place for this. Something that we pull into the doc is the idea of shaming for change. We do see the public shaming tool used by marginalized groups and people who have traditionally and historically not had power and not have a voice.”
On whether the existence of social media would have helped her during the Clinton impeachment scandal:
“People would have been able to judge me and have a better sense of who I was based on what my social media profiles looked like,” Lewinsky says. “But in other ways, it would have been worse too. If I thought late-night shows and the comments I read online were bad, it would have been worse to see them piled on.”
On the similarities between her experiences with public shaming and the media scrutiny and mocking of pop princess Britney Spears:
“We were both fresh meat for this kind of behavior at the time,” Lewinsky says of Spears. “I always feel it’s important to say that I made a mistake, but Britney did not — not to say that I deserved everything that I got because I think it was much more severe, or it was not commensurate with my age and level of power. But Britney did not make those mistakes that I did.”
“With Britney and with all of these stories, we have to think about how we are contributing to that line of behavior in society, proliferating in a way,” Lewinsky says. “Our clicks matter, the things we read matter, the things we retweet matter. They all make a difference. I really wish only good things for her. That’s for sure.”
Read Lewinsky’s full interview with Variety here.