CTRL+F (A Clinton-Era Vignette)


It’s been a long, hot summer in Michigan, I’m not teaching until fall, and I don’t have air conditioning–perfect conditions for long steamy afternoons spent curled up with the World Wide Web. I start with the Huffington Post and the New York Times, then slide into Jezebel and Politico. The Sartorialist and Garance Dore are always just a click away. I slip back into HuffPo Style Section. I go back to Jezebel. I troll the opinion pages of NYT for new blog posts by Mark Bittman and Charles Blow. If I’m really desperate, I check MediaTakeout for new pictures of Kanye and Kim. I watch all the videos on NewBlackMan. I read Alternet, Colorlines, even Grantland. I scour my Twitter feed for more articles. GOOD. TheGrio. Fast Company. The LA Times. The Chicago Reader. I watch old episodes of Melissa Harris Perry and Rachel Maddow. I watch the Politico Playback, clips of last night’s political standup. I feel a little dizzy. I drink water. I start all over again. On bad days I check the reflection on Fox News

How did it get like this? 

In 1998, when I was in seventh grade, I heard about the Kenneth Starr Report at school. At home that night, I climbed up to our third floor office and powered on the hulking green Acer computer my dad had brought home a few years earlier. I must have signed on to AOL, that penned-in area we used to think was the whole Internet. Somewhere beyond the News! and Gossip! and Chat! buttons, there was a search bar. I typed in what I needed and was presented with the results. I probably found myself on this same dated looking Washington Post page with its endless iterations of scandal. So, presented with the option of a full text search, I did what any burgeoning young researcher would do. I typed in “blowjob.” 

Repeating my search now, a decade and a half later, I see this query yields no results. I don’t know if my twelve year old self was wise to the relevant synonyms. If I did, I may have discovered these moments of titillating political reporting:

Ms. Lewinsky testified that her physical relationship with the President included oral sex but not sexual intercourse.(38) According to Ms. Lewinsky, she performed oral sex on the President; he never performed oral sex on her.(39) Initially, according to Ms. Lewinsky, the President would not let her perform oral sex to completion. In Ms. Lewinsky’s understanding, his refusal was related to “trust and not knowing me well enough.”(40) During their last two sexual encounters, both in 1997, he did ejaculate.(41) (Starr, The Starr Report) 


(A few weeks later I got in trouble at school for drawing and circulating a cartoon that featured our Jewish Studies teacher in the role of Monica Lewinsky, with the caption, “Tastes like roast chicken on Shabbos.”)


Is it any wonder, in the light of Kenneth Starr’s daring prose, that I spend my afternoons in search of the perfect mix of political maneuverings and celebrity gossip? Just as growing up under the reigning Chicago Bulls dulled future attempts at sports fandom — what, every team doesn’t win every game, every year, forever? — so coming of age under Bill Clinton’s most amorous years melded the realms of the tabloids and the Times. I should be grateful, perhaps, to have learned in such momentous fashion that politics are sleazy and smut is political. The president pulling the same ish as the eighth graders, undersupervised, on a field trip, on the front page of the Washington Post? More like Bill and Monica: 50 Shades of Seventh Grade

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