From Thong to Thesis: Monica Lewinsky Flashes Her Intellect

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By Libby Copeland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 24, 2006

There are moments that make you question your fundamental assumptions about the world. One of them took place a few days ago, when news emerged that Monica Lewinsky had just graduated from the London School of Economics.

She did not!!

Lewinsky, 33, is known more for her audacious coquetry than for her intellectual heft, and the notion of her earning a master of science degree in social psychology at the prestigious London university is jarring, akin to finding a rip in the time-space continuum, or discovering that Kim Jong Il is a natural blond.

Even more staggering, the same bubbly gal who once described the act of flashing her thong at the president as a "small, subtle, flirtatious gesture" has now written a lofty-sounding thesis. Its title, according to Reuters: "In Search of the Impartial Juror: An Exploration of the Third Person Effect and Pre-Trial Publicity."

Monica! We hardly knew ye!

A revelation on this order suggests Lewinsky belongs to a fascinating subspecies, dumb-but-smart. Dumb-but-smart folks defy our low expectations. They appear dull or ditzy but possess unpredictable pockets of intelligence.

For example, dumb-but-smart: Ashton Kutcher! Majored in biochemical engineering in college. (Huh?) And: Jessica Simpson, who famously didn't know the difference between tuna and chicken, and posited that buffalo wings are made from buffalo. Simpson's mother once told Vanity Fair that her daughter has "this, like, 160 IQ And, you know, that's, like, a genius level."

Like, no way.

We all know a dumb-but-smart person -- the airheaded clotheshorse who holds an Ivy league PhD; the mulleted townie who grows up to be a Wall Street tycoon. These people are smart in spite of themselves. At high school reunions, the pleasure of looking better than a former flame is completely undone by the mysterious success of the dumb-but-smarts, who seem too stupid even to appreciate their own unlikely journeys.

The dumb-but-smart type is especially common for women in the celebrity realm, where stupidity has historically been as much of an asset for women as double D's. Often it's a put-on -- smart comedians like Lucille Ball and Goldie Hawn have played up their ditsiness for humorous effect. As for men, figures like Flavor Flav, Steven Seagal and Ted Nugent come across as a few sandwiches short of a picnic; they qualify as dumb-but-smart only because we imagine they must possess some business acumen to have gotten as far as they have.

(The celebrity world is so diverse and accepting it also makes room for the just-plain-dumb. We are thinking now of Kevin Federline and Anna Nicole Smith. But that's a whole 'nother picnic.)

The dumb-but-smart type exists in politics, too. Some people might argue that our current president falls into the category of dumb-but-smart. We're going to gently sidestep that argument.

But Dan "potatoe" Quayle is a good example. It is easy to remember his dumb moments, but it's its also worth recalling that Quayle earned a law degree and was the youngest-ever senator from Indiana when he was elected. These are accomplishments that require -- at the very least -- emotional intelligence and some intellectual capacity, if not the genius of, say, Jessica Simpson.

President Clinton, meanwhile, seems more like a smart guy who does stupid things than a stupid guy who does smart things. We'll call this category smart-but-dumb. American history is replete with examples of people like him, bright people prone to idiotic behavior. The invasion of the Bay of Pigs is an example of what happens when smart people make dumb decisions. Also, "Ishtar."

As for Lewinsky, perhaps we should not be surprised by her spanking new degree. After all, she made a name for herself by accomplishing the unexpected. Back in the day, when she skyrocketed to notoriety as a young intern who'd had an affair with the president, people's reactions were the same as they are now.

She did not!!


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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