Impeachment Has Many Villains and One of Them Is Absolutely Linda Tripp
American Crime Story Impeachment aired on Tuesday (and is sadly not on Hulu—you’ll need access to FX on cable), retelling the infamous scandal of the Clinton Administration: The Clinton-Lewinsky affair. Co-produced by Monical Lewinsky, the Ryan Murphy feature spends its first episode introducing us to the main villain of the story, Linda Tripp.
Now, I realize that the “true villain” can certainly be a combination of Republican operatives, Bill Clinton for the abuse of power and betrayal of his marriage vows, and a media who tore all the women involved apart. Yet none of that should ignore that Linda Tripp was, by all accounts, kind of an asshole. As someone who was introduced to her through the Slate podcast Slow Burn, which aired before she died in 2020, I was already immersed in much of Tripp’s history.
In it, it was clear that she didn’t just disagree with the Clintons politically, but found their entire vibe, for lack of a better word, sus. Their youth, Hillary’s political ambitions, and the lack of solemn reverence for the White House itself. For her, bringing down the Clintons was a moral duty, even if it meant dragging down a young woman in the process.
Sarah Paulson’s Linda Tripp has an element of the uncanny valley to it simply because the costuming has been so discussed that it is impossible to not see the padding. Still, Paulson is a more than capable actress and engrosses you in this woman who has such a chip on her shoulder, which makes her unable to stop insulting people or seemingly capable of reading the room.
Maybe don’t brag about your Rush Limbaugh connections when trying to get a job in the Democratic-run White House. Just a thought. It is that ego that makes her so ripe for a good writer to adapt from.
“She was a background cartoon villain in the story. The actual truth is that as I researched her more she became deeply fascinating to me and I felt real affection for this person who did a terrible thing. And it doesn’t mean the thing is OK,” showrunner Sarah Burgess told Variety.
“The thing that made me feel like I had to take this job was actually when I started digging deep into research and I read a lot about Linda. The way she spoke suggested this character to me. The voice of Linda comes from the real Linda Tripp,” she continued. “There’s this great line in a New Yorker article in 1998 where she’s talking about the difference between the Bush White House and the Clinton White House because she revered the Bushes and thought the Clintons were too casual, and she said, ‘Mrs. Bush would have rather been catheterized than use a public bathroom’ because she saw Hillary do that, and I put that line in the show. That gave me a whole character. That word choice is so unnecessary.”
I have not been given screeners to Impeachment so I can’t speak to how Tripp has been portrayed in subsequent episodes, but I have seen this desire—from some—for her to be treated more sympathetically, especially when it comes to her weight. One of the few vulnerable moments we have on record of Tripp was her reacting on Larry King Live back in 1999 about seeing herself be portrayed by John Goodman on SNL.
“You know, the first few, I laughed hysterically. In fact, every time I see the flower one, I crack up. But this last one, it hurt my feelings,” Tripp said. “I saw that today on one of the cable news show, and that one hurt my feelings. To me, that was—that was not funny anymore to me.”
With the images of Linda in Impeachment eating and taking Slim Fast combined with the padding on Sarah Paulson, I can see how addressing the diet culture of the 90s through Tripp feels like a twisting of the knife.
We should be able to address who Tripp was without fatphobic images. Especially because that is already alive on the record.
“I felt a significant responsibility to do right by her and also give her full dimensions of humanity,” Burgess said of her creator of Tripp in the series. “Because I was making her so central, you’re giving a part of yourself to the character, and I feel accountable for how Linda is perceived. I did feel freedom in writing her because when a character is described internationally as a villain of course that gives you expansive freedom to explore other parts of them.”
Those other parts will no doubt be explored as the season continues. We hope.
Regardless, I think it is important that we highlight that women can hurt each other. Linda Tripp’s actions hurt Monica Lewinsky and it was done out of ego, even if she says it was out of friendship.
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