Monica Lewinsky and the Origins of Cyberbullying

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Monica Lewinsky presenting at TED (photo courtesy of Creative Commons)

We currently live in a world where almost everything is documented, permanent and open to the public. The invention of the internet and the widespread use of social media has changed how news is covered, circulated and viewed. The Monica Lewinsky scandal proliferated on the cusp of the digital media revolution when territory was uncharted and anything could happen. In 1998, President Bill Clinton was reportedly having an ongoing affair with Lewinsky, a then 22-year-old woman with an internship position at the White House. This shocking event caused a massive ripple effect in the news, creating a turning point in the media industry. Journalists saw a direct opportunity to make easy profits through exposure of the affair. They accessed and broadcast private phone calls made by Lewinsky without her consent. They branded her with labels that stick with her to the present day. Monica Lewinsky soon became one of the first and largest cases of cyberbullying enabled by media coverage.

Monica Lewinsky gave a TED talk in March 2015 discussing how she is still recovering from the drastic turn of events in her life from almost two decades ago. She deeply regrets her past poor judgment of her youth yet is adamant that the media must adapt to become more compassionate. Since the scandal, the internet has become a primary platform for cyberbullying, perpetuating the shame of victims to an unprecedented massive audience. Despite the public citizen’s large role in internet content, the media is the primary facilitator of these damaging practices.

Yes, what Monica Lewinsky did was wrong. However, I find it interesting that Bill Clinton’s reputation has hardly been scathed, meanwhile Lewinsky has been forced to hide from the public ever since the broadcasted affair. Her overnight celebrity establishment and instant public scrutiny immediately held her on a pedestal for public humiliation that would permanently follow her for the rest of her life. Journalistic ethical standards were cast aside in order to cover the story to the fullest and receive the highest view-count possible. Journalists played a fundamental role in the creation of cyberbullying.

Lewinsky reportedly suffered from severe depression and suicidal contemplations after her public skewering in the public eye. As social media became a part of everyone’s lives in 2010, this became less of a case study than a common reality. There is an alarming increase in suicide fatalities provoked by cyberbullying. Lewinsky was part of the initial wave of public humiliation and commoditization by the media. Although Lewinsky represents an acute case that was partially a consequence of her own actions, it does not excuse targeted brutality by professional media providers. Now that the public, in some way, becomes a media contributor, it is essential that there be a level of compassion and mindfulness behind every post, tweet, Instagram or Snapchat because of the possible consequences of these actions. Everyone has the potential to either be the perpetrator or the victim. It is up to us to bring human decency back into the media. This practice would be much more successful if the media providers, the powerful mediators behind the global conversation, set an ethical example to follow.

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Sofia Coppola and the Art of Emotion

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Sofia Coppola – Image from theredlist.com

As a double major in journalism and film, the written word and moving pictures have sculpted who I am today and where I see myself in the future. I grew up as an avid reader and movie-goer. The values of each art form collectively resonate with me; I feel a deeper connection with the art I am exposed to. One such artist I increasingly appreciate is Sofia Coppola. Her films communicate an abundance of emotions that are nearly impossible to imagine understanding through any other medium and from any other filmmaker. Her distinct style summons feelings that have long been buried inside me or I never knew existed until viewing her work. Her films go beyond the restrictions of traditional cinema, evoking a nearly experimental quality that is still relatable and moving.

Coppola’s representations of youthful transition and growth capture an authenticity that no other filmmaker can match. Her film The Virgin Suicides perfectly distills the hidden pain of everyday teenagers growing alongside the oppressiveness of adult restrictions and expectations. Her films Somewhere and The Bling Ring captivatingly explore the loneliness and recklessness of growing up in the shallow and toxic culture of Hollywood. Coppola transcends this theme in a completely unconventional format with her film Marie Antoinette. This period piece does not aim for historic accuracy, but instead achieves emotional relevance by interpreting the young Austrian queen of France who struggled to live her teenage years under the harsh spotlight of her constituents.

A similarly threaded theme that is consistent among her work is the idea of loneliness. Almost all of her central characters struggle with isolation in an environment where they are often misunderstood. In her film Lost in Translation, two dissimilar outcasts form an unlikely bond while abroad in Tokyo. The setting of the film is essential in emphasizing that, despite their location, the two leads are constantly feeling lost and misinterpreted in a world of confusion. In the short film A Very Murray Christmas, Bill Murray wallows in loneliness and self-despair after a blizzard disrupts his televised Christmas special.

Coppola’s strong aptitude for conveying emotion is achieved through her powerful grasp of art cinema. Sofia Coppola is one of the few successful female directors being recognized in Hollywood today. She serves as an inspiration and a success story in a changing world where female directors are finally beginning to penetrate the strong sexist barriers of the film industry. Watching her films is practically like reading her diary; they feel so authentic that it must come from her own experiences. She grew up in Hollywood under her father and legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, growing in an irregular environment compared to the typical teenager. Her gift for storytelling is enriched by her incomparable perspective of life.

There are many films that do not have a proper sense of authorship by their creator. Movies have evolved to become less personal and more marginal with the only end goal in sight being profit. If I were lucky enough to create films in the future, I would attempt to invoke the genuineness and intimacy that Sofia Coppola so successfully encapsulates. Filmmakers must emotionally invest in their films in order for the end result to truly resonate with their audience. Coppola’s films are raw and beautiful; a craft that was developed using sincerity and most importantly, emotion.

Emily Nussbaum and the Journalistic Apocalypse

I recently tweeted at Emily Nussbaum, the television critic for the New Yorker, for advice regarding aspiring journalists. I was hoping to hear her unique perspective as a successful writer in the field, especially since I am the television critic at my college newspaper, The Daily Cardinal. I was not expecting a reply but thought I would take a chance. Not only did I received an unexpected reply, but also carried out a brief Twitter dialogue with her. Here is what I learned:

Emily Nussbaum’s perspective is more pessimistic than I would have expected. Initially, she accused me of spamming her account. Once she realized I was legitimate in my conquest for information, she sent me a link to an interview she had last year with a journalist. In the journalism world, you often here two sides. There is the side that defends journalism, believing that it is not dying due to technology and competition, only changing with the times. In contrast, there is the side that states journalism is doomed and everyone attempting to get a degree in the field is wasting their time and energy. In the interview, Nussbaum seemed to lean towards the latter side.

The interview piece is entitled “Why Can’t I Be You: Emily Nussbaum – The New Yorker’s TV critic tells us how to get her job—or not.” Nussbaum speaks to the young journalist (from Tavi Gevinson’s Rookie Magazine) about how she was in the right place at the right time for her dream job to come about. This is often a common theme of many achievement stories, serving as a reminder that there are many factors involved in success. Yet, she goes on to say that the journalistic economy is “collapsing,” and that young journalists should expect the worst when it comes to the many closed doors in the journalism field. This is a perfectly reasonable side to take, yet I found it somewhat disappointing to hear that from someone with my dream job, especially after the not-so-welcoming opening interaction.

I could have left the interaction feeling cold-shouldered and uninspired, yet as I reflected on it further, I viewed it as a reality check. It is easy to encourage people with a passion for writing who want to have their voices heard. However, it is harder to be candid and real. Nussbaum’s cautionary commentary serves as a reminder that nothing comes easy, especially in the constantly evolving world of journalism.

Despite the hardships Nussbaum warns, I still believe it is important to pursue your dreams even though there may be barriers. I do not expect to waltz into my first interview at the New Yorker with a handful of writing samples in one hand, a resume in the other, and land my dream job. However, I will continue my passions, work hard, and conquer obstacles. This, perhaps, will eventually result in a career I enjoy and am proud of. Emily Nussbaum may be advising to prepare for the journalistic apocalypse, however, I am adamant there is still hope for young journalists despite change in our climate.

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Tavi Gevinson – An Inspirational Communicator

Tavi Gevinson is a communicative figure that offers plenty of inspiration for any aspiring writer. I only recently discovered who she is, yet as I delve deeper into her work and musings I am continually finding more to be motivated by. Gevinson has many characteristics that are similar to me and my upbringing: she was born only a few days after me, she is Jewish and she has an endless fascination with pop culture. It is extraordinary to me that she has already made a name for herself in the media.

Gevinson entered the public eye at the young age of 12 after critics praised her fashion blog Style Rookie. Now she has her own magazine, Rookie, has an established acting and singing career, is an influential feminist and is a motivational speaker at the age of 19 years old. She does not confine herself to one career tract or goal in life. She simply works hard to produce products that she enjoys and cares fervently about without constricting herself to societal norms.

Gevinson’s refreshing beliefs and outlooks enforce her genuine persona. She only allows for media and society to influence her in positive ways. She is unabashedly herself. She has defined a new standard of “cool” that celebrates being “nerdy” and not hiding what you are passionate about. I recently watched a short video that tours her apartment and exposes all of its quirks. It was fascinating that she surrounds herself in a space full of belongings that inspire her. Her home embodies a beautiful mess made of posters and knick-knacks. Each little object or decoration holds some importance or deeper value to her. In a speech she gave at University of Wisconsin-Madison last year, she emphasized that artists too often pressure themselves to be unique. She has always built upon previous cultural icons and qualities that have excited her. She explains that this practice is not unoriginal, bad, or unworthy at all. It is healthy and vitalizing and great source for inspiration.

Gevinson’s unconventional voice holds within its context a vast array of blossoming ideas and inspirations that motivate her every day. She actively uses her power as a prominent feminist and creative icon in the media to inspire others. She relishes and celebrates her bizarre qualities that make her distinctive. Tavi Gevinson captures authenticity in its purist form.

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Tavi Gevinson (image courtesy of Creative Commons)