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“Our Monica, Ourselves: The Clinton Affair and the National Interest”

Our Monica, Ourselves: The Clinton Affair and the National Interest (edited by Lauren Berlanl and Lisa Duggan, New York University Press, $18.95) is an anthology of essays looking back on the Clinton/Lewinsky affair with a new set of crucial questions. Scholars and journalists discuss how coverage of the event reflected our cultural notions of democracy and sexuality, ethnicity and feminism.

Of particular interest to Lilith readers is “Moniker,” an essay by Marjorie Garber addressing Monica’s Jewishness, and the impact that this has had on her representation in American culture. Garber’s essay traces popular portrayals of Monica, from the bad jokes (“A Jewish girl with oral sex? I don’t believe it,” said Jackie Mason) to the popular fixation on Lewinsky’s mouth (she was dubbed “Hot Lips” by a BBC newscaster, tubes of Monica’s lipstick shade were completely sold out after her interview with Barbara Walters). Garber shows us how stereotypes of Jewish women—such as the Jewish American Princess, the seductive Jewess, and the Jewish female “bigmouth”— were the undercurrents behind the popular fascination with Monica. One delightful observation that Garber makes is the parallel between this affair and the Purim story. “The play casts itself,” writes Garber: Bill Clinton plays King Ahasverosh, while “Hillary is Vashti, the headstrong proto-feminist queen…and Monica, needless to say, is Esther, the beautiful Jewess.”