Monica Lewinsky was one of the keynote speakers at Cannes 2015 this week and B&T’s Nancy Hromin was on hand to hear her moving and often very painful speech…
A standing ovation for Monica Lewinsky’s deeply painful journey of public shaming and cyber humiliation left the entire Grand Audi stadium at Cannes Lion breathless.
Tham Khai Meng, world wide chief creative officer of Ogilvy and Mather who opened the talk said that 200 years ago in Europe, we mercilessly pilloried people. Adulterers were tied up in chains, and the passing crowd threw eggs, rotten fruit and dead dogs at them. Everyone laughed while the lovers experienced the shame of public humiliation.
Fast forward today and we have a new form of bloodsport where modern technology meets old fashioned cruelty and millions upon millions of strangers, most of them anonymous can judge us, and thrown stones at us. Monica Lewinsky bore each and every stone on the inside for 16 years, shamed, humiliated and broken. The escalating and destructive power of cyber mobs and outrage circles are a social issue that must be addressed urgently she said. “Consumers now have more power in their click finger than Nero had in his thumb.”
Lewinsky started her presentation taking a deep breath. She was nervous and brave in equal measure preparing to go on stage to relive her ordeal and not really knowing how she will be received by the audience. How could she know, after her experience and the depth of hatred and vilification she endured?
As I watched her, I felt a deep empathy for her. I saw the women, the daughter, the friend, and the sister. A stranger, yet someone who I felt I knew intimately. I felt her pain with every nerve-wracking breath she took as she started her talk and I felt for her deeply. I felt ashamed of my own participation in the blood sport of shaming Monica Lewinsky 16 years ago. And I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness for the lack of compassion and kindness she was denied.
Sixteen years ago a 22-year-old intern of the White House fell in love with her boss. This error of judgement cost Monica Lewinsky her job, her career and left her life in tatters. She started with a question: “Put your hand up if you have ever made a mistake or did something you regretted?” The entire auditorium raised their hands. Then she said, “Now keep your hand up if every single person in this auditorium knows what you did.”
She was left with her hand up. Alone.
Monica Lewinsky broke her self-imposed silence to help others. For all those decent people who have made a mistake, and have suffered at the hands of the judgment. According to the The National Communication Association (NCA), cyber-bullying is drawing increasing attention, with online activity soaring and a larger number of bullying cases resulting in tragedy.
Lewinsky then took us on her journey, peppered with some humour (“yes okay, I regret wearing the beret”) and reflecting on how every day, in every source of news, she was described as a “vixen, stalker, dimwit floozy, slut” and those were the kinder adjectives, she added, pan faced.
“Not a day goes by where I don’t regret the mistake I made,” she mused almost as though she was alone and the auditorium was empty. She was indeed a solitary figure on the stage and I started to wonder about her – did she have a partner? Children? Was she happy? How were her parents? How much did they suffer through this through no fault of their own? How must they have felt? Did we ever hear their story of pain and fear for the life of their daughter, a life which she felt for many years was not worth living? What could have been of her life had this thing not happened to her?
Despite the darkness of her tale, Monica Lewinsky has a remarkably unwavering belief in the kindness of people. “There may have been millions of haters,” she said “but it was the small minority of kindness and empathy I experienced, from my friends and family and from a small group of on line supporters that gave me the courage and strength to move on.”
Lewinsky went on to describe the marketplace that has emerged in our modern economy where shame and public humiliation is a commodity and a commodity that has unfortunately a profit attached to it. As people working in the media, she said, we all have a social responsibility to stop the bloodsport. A cultural revolution where public shaming as a bloodsport has to stop. She concluded with a reference to a longitudinal study conducted in the US from which it was concluded that bullying was more damaging than child abuse and those who experienced bullying were four times more likely to suffer from depression than those who suffered from child abuse. Do we want to live in this kind of society? In a world devoid of compassion and kindness? she asked.
And then I stood up along with several thousand others. And clapped and clapped and clapped till my hands hurt.
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