All Monica wanted was a shortcut

Kneepads and Chapstick are as valid as high heels and breast implants in the LA survival kit
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The Independent Culture
LOS ANGELES seemed awfully quiet after the OJ Simpson trial. Seven years of living here had shown a pattern. Another year, another aberration of human behaviour. And while OJ would be a hard act to follow, the city that had also produced the Rodney King riots and the Menendez Brothers, and Heidi Fleiss was due for another psychological mutation.

So it's only fitting that Monica Lewinsky came from here. Another example of excess gone awry. And while the world absorbs the reverberations of Bill Clinton's testimony in Washington, it may help to see how the affair looks from the other coast of America.

Sadly, Monica is business as usual in LA, where divorce is too often the norm and parental guilt is assuaged by material abundance. Thousands of girls here trade sexual favours with the rich and famous for attention, access and acting jobs. And often, it works. Man, does it work.

Hell, it almost worked for Monica, too. She was set for a job at Revlon, had the scandal not broken. She just had the misfortune to get caught. While people chastise her for poor judgement, the view from the trenches suggests that she never had a chance.

In LA, once you have money and power, pretty much any behaviour can be forgiven; character is regarded as a sign of weakness. Therefore, all efforts are spent trying to achieve that state. Here in LA, the end doesn't justify the means, because there is no end. There's always more money, more fame, more power, a better looking babe to bag.

The message is insinuated by the culture here at the most subliminal level. Sunset Strip is an assault of towering billboards featuring lithe, pubescent bodies hawking TV shows, movies and underwear. Drive down Hollywood Boulevard at dusk and chances are you'll see a line of paparazzi along a red carpet for some movie premiere. Your best friend in high school probably has an agent, and will drop you once she gets her series.

Industry functions are a study of pecking orders. You haven't lived till you've seen Bill Gates enter a VIP reception and part a gaggle of network and studio chiefs like the Red Sea - like all the demigods bowing to Zeus. It's a town where privilege breeds entitlement. After all, this is the place where Robert Downey Jr got a day pass from prison, where he had been sentenced for drug abuse, to work on a film.

So when Monica was looking for a professional short cut, knee-pads and Chapstick had as valid a place in the LA survival kit as high heels and breast implants. (And for anyone who points out that this happened in Washington, not LA, get a clue: politics is show business.)

It's the same reason why no one seems to be getting too bent out of shape about President Clinton. As long as you're doing your job and not murdering anybody (although in this town, even that's relative) who cares what your hobbies are? His behaviour isn't any more outrageous than the studio executives' here.

A loving family doesn't preclude a man having a mistress, preferably a luscious young one to ease that sting of grey hair sneaking into your sideburns. The fact that Adrian Lyne's new movie, Lolita, couldn't get a theatrical release here had nothing to do with political correctness. It was just hitting too close to home.

Besides, ever since Watergate Americans have come to expect a dash of crookedness in their politicians. No healthy, centred individual is going to subject himself willingly to the media scrutiny that accompanies a presidential campaign. And only the most power-hungry will withstand it. Anyway, nobody here got upset about Bosnia. You think they're going to care about a politician lying?

Even the feminists have been noticeably noncommittal. Recently, Maxine Waters, a Democratic congresswoman, told BBC Radio's The World This Weekend that interest in Clinton's personal life was more press- than people-driven, apparently forgetting who propels circulations and ratings. "Of course," she said, "people will talk about it and they will watch it. on TV. But the fact of the matter is that they are not obsessed by it. The media has more of an obsession than the people."

The last time I saw Waters was when she was giving a rousing speech at an International Women's Day celebration. In fact, she authored a Bill to make it a national holiday. Ladies and gentlemen, the voice of the Sisterhood. The party line trouncing the feminist line.

When all this dies down, what do you want to bet that Clinton will be remembered as a good president with a wandering eye (see Kennedy, John F) and Lewinsky gets her own talk show? Then the thing people should question is not their behaviour, but why it's rewarded. That's what parents are going to have to explain to their kids. Not what "oral sex" means.