The age of social media has made public shaming easier than ever.
"In fact," says Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, "it's now one of America's favorite pastimes."
Oliver said he and the show's writers do engage in public shaming of their own; he says, however, that Last Week Tonight's targets are carefully considered:
"Look, let's be honest. We make fun of people constantly on this show. It's a comedy show. Although for what it is worth, we do think, probably more carefully than you might imagine, about who we're making fun of, why we're doing it and how. We ask ourselves questions all the time, like should we use their name, how much power do they have and do they have a soul patch? That last one can be a real deal breaker."
For some perspective, Oliver interviewed Monica Lewinsky, who became an international punchline in the late 1990s after it was revealed that she had had an affair with her boss, former President Bill Clinton. Lewinsky is now a social activist who speaks out against cyberbullying, which she personally experienced as a result of the Clinton-Lewinsky sex scandal. She has delivered a TED talk, contributes regular editorials to such publications as Vanity Fair, and is an ambassador and strategic advisor for anti-bullying organization Bystander Revolution.
Lewinsky says that while the presence of social media would have made the scandal's repercussions worse, it would have helped her see some words of support, too:
One of the things that happens with these kinds of experiences is that you start to disappear — you start to feel like you don't matter — and I think that when somebody sees you and just acknowledges your humanity in the smallest way, it really can make a world of a difference. And you don't know — it could help save someone's life.
She also provided valuable advice for anyone going through a public shaming:
"The first thing I'd probably say is that you can get through it. You can move past it. I know it feels like in this one moment that your life will forever be defined by this, but it won't. And it may be hard, it may take more time than you ever could've imagined, but you can move past something like this."
Lewinsky also recalled her experience once her relationship with Clinton became public:
It was so bizarre. I mean it was just, it was, I say, extraordinary, not with any positive connotation. And I think it was not only just the slut shaming, not only you know having had an intimate relationship with someone who is now describing me in a way that was like no young woman would want to be described. There was just also my looks. ... Part of my vanity now comes from just the wound of having been made fun of for my weight, for, you know, people saying I was unattractive. And it was terrifying. ... Not to say that I wasn't flawed and you know that I didn't make terrible mistakes or do stupid things or say stupid things, because of course I did.
You can watch Oliver's segment––and the interview––in the video below:
Public Shaming: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) youtu.be
The interview has already struck a chord with many viewers.
Just watched the latest John Oliver show where he spoke on public shaming, interviewing the incredibly articulate… https://t.co/GcbvisVdtS— Gabriela D Houston (@Gabriela D Houston)1552906576.0
Monica Lewinsky now is basically the best case scenario for how somebody could have come out the other side of what… https://t.co/KRdOhC9b2x— Daniel Fienberg (@Daniel Fienberg)1552882784.0
While Talking to @iamjohnoliver about getting suggestions to change her name on CVs @MonicaLewinsky : It was about… https://t.co/YNHEJhoDJE— Victim Flopnihotri (@Victim Flopnihotri)1552891791.0
That was an amazing interview with Monica Lewinsky on bullying and public shaming. So many important observations… https://t.co/gET34AJk2d— Mike Gibbs 🏳️🌈 (@Mike Gibbs 🏳️🌈)1552881044.0
John Oliver’s interview with @MonicaLewinsky about public shaming was superb: informative, personal, serious, witty… https://t.co/XmGyKrnVGM— Harold Itzkowitz (@Harold Itzkowitz)1552881201.0
I would highly recommend if you do not have HBO to take a look at this fascinating interview with Monica Lewinsky f… https://t.co/t8Hn6BWHxL— Joseph Haygood (@Joseph Haygood)1552923151.0
Lewinsky later thanked Oliver for welcoming her onto his show.
gratitude to @iamjohnoliver + the amazing team @LastWeekTonight for making me feel welcomed + safe and for highligh… https://t.co/9rbdkFwt4V— Monica Lewinsky (@Monica Lewinsky)1552913430.0
Progress. One step at a time.