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What do Morissette and Lewinsky have in common?

What do Morissette and Lewinsky have in common? Each claims to have been emotionally abused in a relationship, says Ken Tucker, but only one is making art from her experience

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Alanis Morissette
Alanis Morissette: Axel Seidemann/AP/Wide World

What do Morissette and Lewinsky have in common?

By coincidence, two accounts of sexual misconduct, told from the points of view of the women who feel exploited, are prominent in entertainment this week. ”Hands Clean,” the first single and video from Alanis Morissette’s new album ”Under Rug Swept,” are getting blanket airplay on the radio and on MTV. The song is a veiled tale of the singer’s relationship some years ago with an older man, probably a music-biz mentor of some sort, probably involving a coerced affair or worse; as the refrain says, ”No one knows except the both of us.”

This Sunday at 10:00 p.m., HBO will premiere ”Monica in Black and White,” a documentary in which Monica Lewinsky sits on the lip of a stage at Manhattan’s Cooper Union college and answers questions from students about her relationship with President Bill Clinton. The film, shot in the spring of 2001 over three days of Q&As, reverses Morissette’s line: In Lewinsky’s case, it would seem that everyone knows except the two people involved in the scandal. This is to say, Clinton is shown in intercut news footage declaring he never had sex with ”that woman,” while Lewinsky says again and again to her Cooper Union interlocutors that she doesn’t understand why the guy she loved would ruin her reputation rather than be honest.

The audience appears to divide evenly between (mostly female) questioners who sympathize with Lewinsky as a victim and others (mostly male) who express skepticism at her naivete. Then there’s the guy who asks what it ”feels like to be the blow-job queen of America.” From the look of smug fatuity on his face, he deserves the refrain of an earlier Alanis Morissette hit: ”You Oughta Know.”

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