Abc And Lewinsky On Seducing A Nation

Posted: March 09, 1999

OK, so I watched the whole Monica show. All two hours. But I hated myself in the morning.

There was Monica, Monica, Monica. Engaging and narcissistic. Uncowed and unrepentant. Adventurous and willful. Open and stubborn.

One minute, I was impressed by her refusal to rewrite her feelings to fit anyone else's sexual judgment. The dance of flirtation? ''I was enamored with him. I was excited and I was enjoying it.'' The next minute, I was appalled at her lack of self-reflection. Phone sex with the Prez: ''It's fun.''

One minute, the 25-year-old garnered sympathy for the massive intrusion of her privacy by the trio of Linda Tripp, Ken Starr and the media. The next minute, she shredded the last remnant of this privacy by telling all about another affair and an abortion. One minute she was basking in her own self-image: ''I'm very loving. I'm very loyal. I'm intelligent.'' The next minute she was telling us, ''I don't have the feelings of self-worth a woman should have.''

But at halftime, the Monica show began to feel like the Super Bowl, or at least my version of the Super Bowl. The game was boring, but the commercials were riveting. I began to get more meat from the ads than from the confessional.

There was Monica admitting to her weight problems. Then on came Metabolife offering diet supplements. ''Does dieting feel like a game you can't win?'' There was Monica explaining why the President went for her: ''Sometimes you just need a piece of normalcy.'' Then on came Julia Roberts in a movie promotion claiming that ''anytime I try anything normal it's a disaster.''

Did anybody else notice that ABC chose this show of all shows to advertise their upcoming special? ''When she was 20 she seduced the most powerful politician in the world: Cleopatra coming to ABC.'' Aw, just a coincidence.

For that matter, Acura seemed to be offering an advertorial when it intoned: ''If you chase after goals but forget your heart, you'll always be answering to someone else.'' And I don't even want to think about the advertising genius who decided to put their Maytag ad on after the blue dress segment: ''Stain . . . Stain . . . I'm going to live forever. I'm going to ruin your shirts.''

The truth is that the whole event was one long commercial tie-in between one set of brands and a new brand name: Monica. It was one endless commercial, a product-placement special for what we can only think of now as Monica Inc.

At the very outset, Barbara Walters assured us that ''she has done this interview with no payment of any kind.'' No paycheck journalism for ABC; their journalistic standards were pristine.

But the network made plenty. They jacked up the price for a 30-second commercial to five times its normal cost. As the ads went on and on - I counted nine in one break - they added up to an estimated $35 million. Only about $15 million short of the cost to taxpayers of Starr's investigation.

As for Monica herself: ABC may not have paid her, but there was a payoff. Monica: The Interview was an intro for Monica: The Book, to be followed by Monica Does Europe. At worst, she'll be raking in a couple million dollars. Monica is now a full-scale industry. The only thing she doesn't have is a registered trademark on her own image.

What was it the ad on the Monica Show said?: ''There are some things money can't buy. For everything else there's MasterCard.''

The bad news is that we have all become accomplices - all marketers and consumers in the Moni-conomy. The good news is that this spirited young thing has finally found the high-paying career for which she is most eminently qualified: talking about herself.

Who said Bill Clinton wouldn't help her get a great new job?

Ellen Goodman is a columnist for the Boston Globe.

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