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Impeachment is rooted in the power and gender dynamics of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal

Season 3, Impeachment: the Clinton-Lewinsky affair which characterised the political landscape of the American 1990s

By Kalila Smith, Second Year, History

American Crime Story – the anthology series that put the magnifying glass on O. J. Simpson, Andrew Cunanan and now, Bill Clinton (notorious male predators) – is back. I will be taking you on the journey of Season 3, Impeachment: the Clinton-Lewinsky affair which characterised the political landscape of the American 1990s.

For viewers who recognise the scandal but never lived through it, strap yourselves in for the first episode. There is the predictable non-linear timeline, as well as the overwhelming abundance of partially recognisable names and political subtexts. In the first episode alone, Vince Foster, Deputy White House counsel, had committed suicide, there was an attempted coup d’état on the Clintons regarding the Whitewater investigation, and Linda Tripp was already called a “traitorous bitch”. However, what remained consistent is the female-focused plot as we were immersed into the lives of Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp.

Courtesy of AP Photo/Doug Mills/FX

The directors, Ryan Murphy (Episode 1) and Michael Uppendahl (Episode 2), present Paula Jones as a one-dimensional, ditsy, southern woman whose vulnerability is politicised. We venture back to January 1994 when Paula claims, to unfortunately a room of only men, that Clinton exposed himself to her. It is evident that Paula is reluctant in becoming a conservative public weapon, but her jealous husband seems to need his ego stroked, so her story is hurled into the limelight. God forbid a man is made a cuckold even when the wife has been sexually assaulted. You cannot help but feel sorry for her as we watch the media harass her with intrusive questions, only to laugh at her for not seeing it coming.

Throughout the first two episodes, I could not help but interpret the on-screen happenings through a #MeToo lens. A scene filled with modern-day parallels is when Monica ‘delivers’ pizza to Bill, and, as she wanders around his office, she prolongs her gaze at a wall-mounted collage of pro-Clinton badges. The moment seems indicative of the power dynamics in their relationship. Monica is under a submissive hypnosis with Clinton, which Beanie Feldstein performs convincingly. But there is nothing more to be said about her character. Indeed, both Paula and Monica are presented as these impressionable, foolish women who lack agency, which I struggle to believe was the reality.

Courtesy of IMDB

Murphy then swings to the other side of the spectrum with characters such as Linda and anti-Clinton media pundit, Ann Coulter. They are underestimated in their individual fields but thrive on personal politics to climb the ladder. Sarah Paulson, who plays Linda, successfully complicates her beyond the way she was pigeonholed by the media. We witness Linda’s tragic demise from an audacious secretary under Vince Foster to a participant in political and journalistic corruption. As you may know, Linda covertly recorded conversations of Monica discussing the affair, to dethrone Clinton.

Although these two episodes are certainly not a feminist hagiography for any of these characters, they do attempt to humanise the women that were subjugated to media harassment and white male politics. Is their attempt a success? I don’t want to jump the gun, but some characters are currently too limited, and others are metaphorically as well as literally plastic – Clive Owen’s make up, perhaps an intentional caricature of Bill Clinton, took a while to visually adjust to.

Courtesy of FX/GETTY

However, Episode 2 did tantalisingly finish with Linda hinting to an investigative journalist that there’s more to the story than the Paula Jones case. The plot thickens and the betrayal commences. Fingers crossed characters become increasingly multi-faceted and the feminine rage continues.

Featured Image: IMDB, Getty, FX

What did you think about the character portrayals in Impeachment?