Morris: Our Crumbling Sense of Privacy
by Leo Morris
I did some really stupid things when I was young and dumb. Who didn’t?
Some of them were embarrassing, and some of them made me feel downright ashamed. But I recognized my failings and tried to learn from my mistakes, which is all any of us can do. I think I became a better person in the process.
But how would it have gone, I wonder today, if, at the depth of my self-loathing, one of my foolish actions made me the object of public humiliation and near universal vilification?
Not very well, I think. I’m not sure I would have come through such an ordeal as emotionally healthy as Monica Lewinsky apparently did.
Now 48, she should have spent her 20s and 30s exploring her limits and fine-tuning her life goals. Instead, she had to hide from worldwide infamy as the trailer park trash who nearly toppled a presidency. It took her into her 40s to reclaim her own narrative.
Lewinsky is scheduled to appear Jan. 25 at Fort Wayne Purdue’s Omnibus Lecture Series, with a version of the “Price of Shame” speech she’s been giving for the last few years, and it’s anybody’s guess what the students attending will get from it.
Most of them either hadn’t been born at the time of her fling with President Bill Clinton or were not old enough to understand what it was about. They wouldn’t have known about the power dynamics that put her through the grinder as the right roared to get Clinton and left moved heaven and earth to defend him.
They will understand, though, how a sexual predator like Clinton could have escaped his impeachment relatively unscathed. They have watched many such scandals come and go and seen how victim advocates like the #MeToo movement shout or stay silent depending on the status of the predator.
And they might have a glimmer of insight if Lewinsky calls herself, as she has in some iterations of the speech, “Patient Zero” for the kind of public shaming our social media have become notorious for lately. But I wonder of they will really get it.
“It was before the days of the internet sex tape,” said an article in The Week in 2015, “but barely. Princess Diana had been photographed with a hidden camera while working out at the gym; Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s honeymoon sex tape was stolen from their home and bootlegged out of car trunks. ‘It was at the tip of the spear of this invasive culture,’ said David Friend.”
We were on the cusp then. The walls between public and private were crumbling, and we wondered what it would mean. I remember as an active journalist at the time debating whether our public figures deserved private lives or whether every intimate detail of their existence was a legitimate part of the electorate’s right to know.
How naïve that debate seems now. The walls are all but gone, and no private life – that of the highest official or the lowliest laborer – is safe from scrutiny. The social media mob is there, always ready to pounce, always hungry for more.
It has become commonplace to see a news story about how much data on ordinary people is being collected and how widely it is being shared. Is there any place we can go where we are not monitored in one way or another?
Furthermore, the generation that includes the Purdue students has not only celebrated the walls tumbling down, it has collaborated in their destruction. Many of them have happily lived their entire lives online, broadcasting without embarrassment or shame every sordid little tidbit.
How many of them, like Monica Lewinsky in her young and dumb, days will do something stupid, broadcast it to the world and live to regret it?
This is not meant to excuse Lewinsky. She was an adult, responsible for her actions and their consequences. But so are we all,
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at email@example.com.