Porno for politicians
September 20, 1998
by Katherine Enos

It is the eve of the release of the tapes of President Clinton's grand jury testimony. Today's Sunday New York Times philosophized about what the release of these videotapes would mean about the significance of the Internet in American social and political life. But experienced Internet users are unlikely to download and view much of the testimony over the Net. On the eve of its release, the $9.95 videotape is already the all-time Amazon.com bestseller though the Internet bookstore does not expect to ship on orders before Friday.

According to local news sources in Seattle, untold numbers of Americans will order these tapes to have and hold — after all, they will be "historical documents." The people hawking the tapes with such statements apparently don't realize that videotape is not an archival medium. No matter, in the age of digital reproduction we can always make more; there's profit in that too. And ordering the tapes may be necessary for those who believe that it will provide some essential glimpse into President Clinton's character or for those who just want to see the testimony for themselves. Maybe we can even devise a sideline business out of it — baseball players sign balls, maybe Starr or Hyde would consider signing a tape or two for posterity.

Many news programs will not be showing much of the testimony due to its sexually explicit nature. I can only wonder if it will be available in Cincinnati, stronghold of the censorship efforts of people like Jessie Helms and a town where anything dubbed "pornography" has been made illegal. And how will the tapes will play in Oklahoma County, where Volker Schlondorff's 1979 Academy Award winner, The Tin Drum, was seized last year because of charges that it was child pornography. I suppose that if there's a chance of those tapes contributing to President Clinton's impeachment, their dissemination will be justified one way or the other. After all, among the religous right are some of very people who are arguing that those tapes should in fact be released. Just this weekend Judiciary Committee members assured concerned members of the so-called "Christian Coalition" that they would continue to "investigate" the President.

But, one wonders, what is there left to "investigate"? Not much. We know about the presidential penis, we know about where he cast his seed, we have a good idea about some of his predilictions — at least, we know these things if we accept the Starr report as fact. We know these things if we don't care that much of this testimony wouldn't be enough to convict a person for anything under the "reasonable doubt" test applied in a "fair" trial. We also have heard, again and again in the last few days, that impeachment is an inherently political process. And with assurances of continued scrutiny into the Presidential mind and body such as those given this weekend to the Christian Coalition, we might have a pretty good idea exactly how political and partisan that process is.

The videotape testimony is bound to be unflattering, at least at particular moments. And I'm sure that seeing Clinton mouthing even an unwilling admission about the sexual nature of his relationship with Lewinsky will only heighten the trauma of the Oedipal moment that this country seemed to experience when confronted with the knowledge that not only does the Father of the country fuck, he's not necessarily politically correct in his props and positions. It's apparently one thing to defend tobacco like Starr does; it's quite another to insert it vaginally, even if only as proxy.

No, we're not learning much about Clinton. And I don't think we're going to learn that much more about him through this. At least, we won't learn anything that's any of our business. People don't have their better moments when they're being humiliated with questions that would be rude to ask in just about any circumstances. Clinton lied about something that was his private business, a common act of adultery that most husbands and wives would want to hide, especially if any admission would be published in publication after publication, around the world. The fact of his lie has simply become convenient grounds to get rid of a President whose agenda is problematic for Republicans and religous right alike. The French newspaper Le Monde characterized the Starr Report as "an inquisition."

What we're really learning about is the hypocrisy of the American people. For example:

  • Americans expect their leaders to uphold higher standards than they do.

  • Americans expect their leaders to apologize to the entire nation for their personal failings when they themselves remain shielded by their status as "private citizens" (emphasis on the private here).

  • Americans grant privacy rights when it's convenient for them. They fail to extend these rights to those whose downfall they seek.

Early this year I published on this Web site a long critical piece called Crash and Pornography Culture. One thread of this article examined how information becomes pornography, how its dissemination can be every bit transgressive as pornography. At the time I applied these points to the life and death of Princess Diana. Now, however, it's evident that these points apply only too well to the quagmire of leaks and invasion of privacy where President Clinton must now make his bed. Throughout these last few months numerous comparisons have been made between Starr and pornography. In The Seattle Weekly, he is the "Special Pornographer," in Salon Magazine, he's the pimp graphically depicted in a ditigally manipulated photograph. In the Clinton matter the information relates to sex, its violative dissemination is every bit as sensational as a confessional book. In fact, today's New York Times includes a spoof on the type of rejection letter that a publisher might have sent aspiring author Ken Starr upon reading his pulp fiction story of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. But it's not just the tawdy sexual nature of the assertions that make for such ripe comparisons of Starr to a pimp and his documents to pornography. It is the fact that the inquiry is transgressive of the President's private life that begs such comparisons.

In the months to come the texts related to the Clinton/Lewinsky affair will mark the American consciousness. We'll read them and analyze them, their subject matter will find its way into the work of artists, images from the video will likely be seen again and again in art and film. We've made it clear that we own Clinton, plump body and damaged soul. We've analyzed his blood, sampled his sperm. We've opened the bedroom door on the Oedipal moment. But while we claim trauma we stare gaping at the exposed Presidential body. While we screamed about the media after the death of Princess Diana, it's now even more evident that we've created a Frankenstein who now acts without us, who creates realities and then covers them. The stage is filled with pushy journalists shoving microphones into Clinton's face forcing issues that don't concern us, issues that have nothing to do with what's happening in Bangladesh, the failing Russian economy, the increasing inability of the American people to get decent health care from a corporate health industry.

Yes, groups of people carrying signs demanding Clinton's head are routinely showing up at every opportunity. But I would wager that these people always hated Clinton — and with the investigations into Whitewater and democratic election spending having come up empty all they are left is the chance to brand Clinton with the scarlet letter of illicit sexual behavior, and the more legally viable "crime" of having lied about it under oath.

Again and again Clinton foes and Republican pundits are arguing that this is not about sex, it is about perjury. That's all well and good, and just to prove that they're right, every person who comes forward with that thinly veiled justification should be asked directly and publicly to talk about his or her sex life in great detail. My own belief that it is very much about using sex to try to outst a politician whose agenda you do not care for will be quickly changed if all those who say this is about perjury and not about sex (and hypocrisy, don't forget) are willing to confess their own indiscretions, kinky acts, and impulses to the American public as well. Chances are that most of these people, like Clinton, know well enough that this American public doesn't really want the truth. Chances are that they'll realize that by making these revelations they could ruin their own lives. Chances are that they'll lie too.

We need to figure out a way to stop this. What does it take? Everyone staying home for a day to protest it? Taking to the streets en masse, even just for a quiet half-hour during lunch? Most immediately, we need to contact our representatives. We need to tell them that we do not support this and we expect them to let the matter drop, to let Clinton get on with business, to quit the political profiling and represent us. It doesn't matter that numerous polls have shown for months now that most Americans wish this whole thing would just go away. For the sake of political expediency, Clinton foes argue that the President can no longer lead. He can if we let him. Most other nations are not laughing at us because our President slept around; they're laughing because we choose to gawk at the presidential penis while the country goes to pot. They are laughing because soap operas interest us more than our economy. Clinton foes argue that the only way to make this all go away is for Clinton to step down. No, the only way to make it go away is to finally make our representatives and the media see what the single-minded interest that Clinton's dalliance with Lewinsky has received is on their part, not most of ours.

So, what's the message that your kids will get from this affair?

  • Protect your private life at all costs so that nothing will be used against you.

  • Nothing is private. Everything will be used against you.

  • The people who use information about your private life against you are quite likely to have committed the same acts as you did.

  • If they can, they'll discourage your revealing their hypocrisy with the heavy hand of law, government, or just plain intimidation. FBI investigations are always useful for this.

  • It is your business what your friends, your neighbors and your enemies do in bed.

  • We only forgive people we like.

  • It's okay to defend tobacco, but just don't use it as a sexual "prop," whatever that means. (Perhaps the word that Starr was looking for was "aid"?)

  • It's okay for the Special Prosecutor to spend $40 million on an investigation that goes nowhere. But if Clinton doesn't willingly give up the dirt on an investigation that violates his privacy he should have to pay for the cost of our continued efforts to get at the "truth."

  • Might makes right. If you have the votes, you can always find a way to justify subverting the Constitution by disseminating grand jury testimony or attempting to remove a President because he lied about an illicit, though consensual, relationship.

  • Intragenerational relationships may be legal but they're wrong, no matter whether both parties consent.

  • Sex sells. Presidential sex sells more.

What does it all mean? Contact your representatives now. It's time. And come back later this week to pick up an anti-impeachment banner you can put on your Web site.end


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