Monica Lewinsky Says We Need to Rethink the Phrase ‘Cancel Culture': It ‘Doesn’t Work’

·2-min read

Monica Lewinsky has a lot to say about cancel culture, but key to the discussion, she says, is what that term actually means and how people use it.

During an interview on the New York Times’ “Sway” podcast, Lewinsky told host Kara Swisher that she thinks “cancel culture” has become a “catchall phrase” that needs to be more clearly defined on a case-by-case basis.

“We need to actually divide cancel culture up into what the pieces are,” Lewinsky said. “What are we talking about? Are we talking about a MeToo scenario, where someone has been a sexual predator, abused their power? Are we talking about a scenario where it’s a company? Or are we talking about something that’s a racial issue? Is it a misstep from somebody who actually rarely does anything like that? Is it something somebody said from a long time ago and they’ve evolved as a person?”

She added, “We’ve given this one term to all of these things. And it doesn’t work to have this same cycle of behavior for all those things.”

Lewinsky and Swisher agreed that a better way to think about cancel culture might be “accountability culture,” or as writer Roxanne Gay refers to it, “consequence culture.”

Lewinsky — who executive produces the upcoming HBO docuseries “15 Minutes of Shame” — also repeatedly brought up what she called “the monetization of shame” and called out the industry that profits off of victims of cancel culture.

“We’re in this culture of humiliation now,” she said. “And along with attention and outrage, public shaming piling on people, doxing, all of the different things that can happen to tear someone apart online, they all make people money.”

Elsewhere during the interview, Lewinsky reflected on her own experience as a victim of public shaming. When Swisher asked the former White House intern about her 1998 affair with then-President Bill Clinton and how things might have been different if social media existed at the time, Lewinsky replied, “The Clintons had the left, Linda Tripp and Paula Jones had the right. I had nobody. In terms of a public narrative, that’s one way where social media may have been helpful.”

She added, “The first thing that went out the door in 1998 was the truth, and the second was context. There’s no nuance. We were all women who were thrust into the spotlight underneath a political film or sheen. And we were all reduced. We were all reduced in different ways to serve purposes for other people, for either political points or to make money.”

Listen to Lewinsky’s interview on the “Sway” podcast here.

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