Editorial: Monica Lewinsky’s Park City appearance is chance to confront important topics
Nearly every American old enough to remember the 1990s knows who she is.
The mention of her name is enough to elicit strong emotion. It’s been vilified in some quarters, scorned in many others and has served as a punchline to cliched jokes for going on 20 years. But her name has also given her a platform to spread an important message — and one we should listen to when she delivers it in Park City.
Monica Lewinsky, famous for her role in the Bill Clinton impeachment scandal, is scheduled to speak at the Eccles Center Saturday, Jan. 6, in large part about cyberbullying and internet shaming. It’s a topic she understands as acutely as anyone, and one she first addressed in an acclaimed TED Talk in 2015.
Lewinsky has described herself as “patient zero” of internet shaming, as the scandal dominated the public consciousness just as the new form of communication was becoming popular. Of course, she was far from the last victim. Internet shaming and cyberbullying have become a plague on our society that afflicts people both ordinary and well known every day. And, perhaps most concerningly, it’s one that’s become built into the culture for young people who’ve grown up in the internet era.
Any student or school counselor would be quick to tell you Park City is not immune. In fact, the community and school district have devoted significant resources to addressing a rising number of teenagers suffering from mental health issues, and cyberbullying and shaming have been widely cited as major factors in teen distress. Lewinsky was slated to also speak privately with students during her stay.
That Lewinsky’s arrival in Park City coincides with the Me Too movement makes her appearance even more relevant, though it was unclear whether she planned to address it in her remarks. It was always obvious that, while Lewinsky has maintained her relationship with Clinton was consensual, his involvement was inappropriate. But the reckoning in halls of power regarding sexual misconduct provides a different lens through which to view both Lewinsky’s story and the internet shaming that followed her emergence into the public sphere.
Lewinsky’s message is worthwhile, then, regardless of how some view her. And it’s laudable that she’s sharing it. The appearance may not change the minds of everyone who associates her name with disrepute, but it doesn’t have to. If her presentation makes a positive difference for anyone in the audience — whether a teenager being cyberbullied or, if she touches on the topic, someone affected by the Me Too movement — it will be valuable.
And if that happens, the part of Lewinsky’s story that matters most won’t be the details of what happened two decades ago. It’ll be the lives she changes by talking about it.
Editor’s note: The Park Record is a sponsor of Saturday’s event, put on by the Park City Institute.