Public Affairs

Politics in the Age of Sex Scandals

Public Affairs

Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: Published: February 2004

American Studies, History > U.S. History, Politics > Political Science

Public affairs—or sex scandals—involving prominent politicians are as revealing of American culture as they are of individual peccadillos. Implicated in their unfolding are a broad range of institutions, trends, questions, and struggles, including political parties, Hollywood, the Christian right, new communications technologies, the restructuring of corporate media, feminist and civil rights debates, and the meaning of public life in the “society of the spectacle.” The contributors to Public Affairs examine, from a variety of perspectives, how political sex scandals take shape, gain momentum, and alter the U.S. political and cultural landscape.

The essays in Public Affairs reflect on a number of sex scandals while emphasizing the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, certainly the most avidly followed and momentous sex scandal in American political history. Leading scholars situate contemporary public affairs in the context not only of earlier sex scandals in American politics (such as Thomas Jefferson’s and Sally Hemings’s affair), but also of more purely political scandals (including Teapot Dome and Watergate) and sex scandals centered around public figures other than politicians (such as the actor Hugh Grant and the minister Jimmy Swaggart). Some essays consider the Clinton affair in light of feminist and anti-racist politics, while others discuss the dynamics of scandals as major media events. By charting a critical path through the muck of scandal rather than around it, Public Affairs illuminates why sex scandals have become such a prominent feature of American public life.

Contributors. Paul Apostolidis, Jodi Dean, Joshua Gamson, Theodore J. Lowi, Joshua D. Rothman, George Shulman, Anna Marie Smith, Jeremy Varon, Juliet A. Williams


"[E]clectic works invite readers to a cross-disciplinary dialogue, and here the volume does not disappoint. . . . Recommended." — B.E. Marston, Choice

“People interested in political theory, political culture, mass media, and civil liberties will find this a most interesting and provocative volume. Informed by a diversity of theoretical frames, Public Affairs also offers several unifying themes, including the difficulty of drawing bright-line boundaries between the ‘public’ and ‘private’ realms.” — Norman L. Rosenberg, author of Protecting the Best Men: An Interpretive History of the Law of Libel

“Public Affairs is a lively, timely exploration of sex scandals and their significance to a democratic public. A provocative joining of cultural studies to political science, this collection is especially important to feminist scholars for its examination of the ways that scandals redefine the public/private distinction. It will also challenge scholars of democracy for its stimulating treatment of scandal and citizen agency.” — Lisa Disch, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Paul Apostolidis is Associate Professor of Politics at Whitman College. He is the author of Stations of the Cross: Adorno and Christian Right Radio, published by Duke University Press.

Juliet A. Williams is Assistant Professor in the Law and Society and Women’s Studies Programs at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: Sex Scandals and Discourses of Power / Paul Apostolidis and Juliet A. Williams 1

1. Sex Scandals in U.S. Politics: Theoretical, Social, and Historical Contexts

Normal Sins: Sex Scandal Narratives as Institutional Morality Tales / Joshua Gamson 39

Power and Corruption: Political Competition and the Scandal Market / Theodore J. Lowi 69

Hardly Sallygate: Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and the Sex Scandal That Wasn't / Joshua D. Rothman 101

2. Class, Race, and Gender in the Clinton Scandal

On "The Dalliances of the Commander in Chief": Christian Right Scandal Narratives in Post-Fordist America / Paul Apostolidis 137

Narrating Clinton's Impeachment: Race, the Right, and Allegories of the Sixties / George Shulman 167

Sexual Risk Management in the Clinton White House / Anna Marie Smith 185

3. Privacy and Publicity, and the Conditions of Democratic Citizenship

Privacy in the (Too Much) Information Age / Juliet A. Williams 213

It Was the Spectacle, Stupid: The Clinton-Lewinsky-Starr Affair and the Politics of the Gaze / Jeremy Varon 232

Making (It) Public / Jodi Dean 259

Notes on Contributors 273

Index 275
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3265-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3276-3
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