John Oliver dedicated a large portion of his show on Sunday to the concept of public shaming and the nuances of what makes such shaming good (making fun of Tucker Carlson, for example) and what might make it bad (ruining Olivia Jade’s life forever). To help him define an acceptable spectrum of public shame, Oliver sat down with a woman who has been a lightning rod for ridicule for the past for nearly three decades: Monica Lewinsky.
For the past few years Lewinsky has become a public speaker on shame and bullying, as the world finally catches up to the fact that she was a young intern who made a mistake and not the conniving villain talk shows and politicians made her out to be in the 1990s. “We tend to look at [it] as a binary question; should we public shame or shouldn’t we?” Lewinsky says in the interview. “I do think there’s a spectrum of behavior on which we can kind of judge as a society, is this where shaming is effective to change social behavior or is it damaging?”
At one point Oliver asks Lewinsky, point blank, how the fuck did you get through what you went through? “I don’t actually know,” she says, laughing. “It was an avalanche of pain and humiliation.”
“I think at 24 years old it was really hard to hold on to a shred of dignity or self-esteem when you’re just the butt of so many jokes,” Lewinsky says, as she talks about how people made fun of her weight and the character the media made of her. Her shaming contributed to her inability to get a job even after grad school and Lewinsky says some potential employers even asked her to obtain a letter of indemnification from the Clintons.
Lewinsky says she didn’t change her name because she didn’t think it would work (“I didn’t want to start a professional relationship on a lie”) but also on principle. “Bill Clinton didn’t have to change his name, nobody’s ever asked him did he think he should change his name, and so I thought that was an important statement.
“I’m not proud of all my choices in life but I’m proud of the person I am,” she says.