''The Starr Report'': A guide to American culture
It’s racier than Dawson’s Creek, more disturbing than Marilyn Manson, and grosser than There’s Something About Mary. It’s the entertainment sensation of the season: The Starr Report. Has any other project equaled its impact? On Sept. 11, the day the 445-page document detailing the ins and outs of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky’s relationship was released, MSNBC and the Fox News Channel both doubled their usual numbers, while CNN saw a triple jump. Within a week of its release, Pocket Books, Prima Publishing, and Public Affairs all had reprinted the report as quickie books, and Dove announced it would put out an audio version. Not even Titanic could match that level of buzz.
And like Scream, Bridget Jones’s Diary, or any other knowing work, The Starr Report brims with pop-cultural references. Its artful weaving of brand names into the narrative, in fact, offers an unparalleled lesson in product placement. Herewith, an index to the signposts.
ALTOIDS Curiously strong peppermints. Lewinsky suggests that they can enhance oral sex. Clinton declines to experiment.
AMERICAN EXPRESS Giant credit-card conglomerate (see ads by pitchman Jerry Seinfeld). Presidential adviser Vernon Jordan contacts the company about a job for Lewinsky.
BAKER, NICHOLSON Author of 1993 novel Vox. Lewinsky gives the book, which is about phone sex, as a gift to Clinton.
BANANA REPUBLIC Upscale clothing chain. Lewinsky buys a ”casual shirt” for Clinton there.
BLACK DOG Martha’s Vineyard eatery known for its popular tourist merchandise. Clinton visits the restaurant and buys a sundress, two T-shirts, a cap, a canvas bag, and a stuffed animal for Lewinsky.
BOSS, HUGO One of the few name-brand American designers mentioned in the report. Lewinsky gives Clinton a Hugo Boss tie.
CNN Cable news channel. Lewinsky puts the network on her ”dream list” of employers.
DARKNESS AT NOON Arthur Koestler’s classic 1940 novel of political persecution. Clinton tells an adviser: ”I feel like somebody…surrounded by an oppressive force that is creating a lie about me…. I feel like the character in the novel Darkness at Noon.”
GAP Omnipresent purveyor of casual wear, known for its peppy TV commercials. Lewinsky’s infamous stained navy blue dress is from the Gap.
GINGKO BILOBA Herbal remedy thought to help erectile dysfunction and memory loss associated with aging. Lewinsky sends it to Clinton.
HOLIDAY, BILLIE (right) Pioneering blues singer. Holiday’s version of ”I’ll Be Seeing You” brings Lewinsky to tears.
HUGS AND KISSES Presumably Hershey’s chocolates. Lewinsky gives a box of them to Clinton. His confectionary reply: generic chocolate-covered cherries.
HOLMES, SHERLOCK Protagonist of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective series. Holmes is featured in a game that Lewinsky gives to Clinton.
LEAVES OF GRASS A collection of poems by Walt Whitman. Clinton gives a special edition of Leaves to Lewinsky. She, in turn, notes, ”Whitman is so rich that one must read him like one tastes a fine wine or good cigar — take it in, roll it around in your mouth, and savor it.”