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Does Pam & Tommy Really Break The Cycle of Sexual Shame?

5 min read
Pamela Anderson (Lily James) and Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan)

Walt Disney Pictures

Hulu's take on ‘the greatest love story ever sold' is bound to raise more than a few eyebrows on objective merit alone. Charged with sexual escapades, nudity and a talking penis, the 8 part series chronicles the tumultuous public leaking of and 's sex tape in the mid 1990s. 


Praised by many critics for providing a humane lens to when the pair were mercifully crucified for something they couldn't control, 's decision to portray it at all sits uncomfortably against reports of Pamela's pleas against the release. While trying to provide a counter-argument to trauma that should validly exist in its own right, does truly help to shift the media stigma of a woman's sexuality?


Speaking about the initial backlash, Gillespie stated “The thing that gave me comfort was I felt like we really had an opportunity to change the narrative of this story, and to show it from a perspective that people can hopefully learn and grow from.” This immediate transfer of importance back to the male conscience sets an apt tone for the bottom line of the series' release—in spite of it all, guys feel within their rights to tell a woman's story for them. And not just any woman in this case, but the biggest sex symbol of the 90s. 


The Question of Consent 


There's no question that Pam & Tommy has nuanced conversation embedded within it. Viewers are treated to the impact of the porn industry in everyday life, the perspective of the socially imposed ‘slut' and operating within the framework of the rockstar complex. Yet in the bigger picture, there's no new information. 


What we learn about the leak itself could mostly be gleaned from news reports, and the narrative gaps are filled with dramatised imaginations that could potentially be dangerous. For a series that aims to add an empathetic edge to an already victimised crime, there's a sense of irony to involuntarily stating that a woman is only empathic if her trauma is publicly aired. If reports are believed (as there has been no direct comment), the act of directly going against the wishes of the person in question unquestionably counteracts the supposed intentions. In the words of countless social activists—the only form of consent is a direct “yes”. 


As rightly pointed out by Terri White, there's a lot of ambiguity surrounding who has ownership of this story. The excuse of the leak happening in the public domain will undoubtedly be used, especially as the protagonist of Pam & Tommy is neither of the two stars mentioned, but instead the amateur thief Rand Gauthier (played by Seth Rogan). With his t-shirt tan, porn addiction and unshakeable ego, he clearly defines the idea of environment moulding the man—and poses the question of whether Gillespie's supposed message could have been achieved completely fictitiously. 


The lack of relationship between star and Anderson herself is particularly telling. After reportedly trying and failing to reach out, the pair meld into one another seamlessly onscreen. At no point is James' acting ability questioned, as the focus remains solely on Pamela (or ‘Pam' as she's referred to in the over-familiar title). While such an incredible physical transformation takes the eye, it's not too far-fetched to assume that instances of full-frontal nudity were encased by a replica body suit. With recent reports that James and did watch the infamous sex tape, the act of being vulnerable once again defaults to the misfortune of the real Anderson, bearing the brunt of attention she didn't consent to. 

Rand Gautier (Seth Rogan) and Uncle Miltie (Nick Offerman)

Who's The Real Pamela Anderson? 


Much of the world knows Pamela Anderson for her work in Playboy, running down the beaches of Baywatch and later emphasis on animal activism. Like Pam & Tommy rightly points out, Anderson should never have been defined by her consensually developed image that teetered on the socially sexual. If it weren't for the vague lack of consent, there's a chance that Pamela could actually have approved of the series' supposed messaging. Alongside a second sex tape that never made it into public hands, she co-authored a Wall Street Journal article calling for a renewed education into pornography. Yet, Anderson's wellbeing falls back into the hands of men, who have defined every part of her life. 


The new societal standpoint is that no one is owed the details of someone else's trauma. Even so, through movies like Bombshell and shows such as Euphoria, female trauma never gets that same break on screens. In almost every scripted case, a character who isn't a cis-man will experience negative ramifications from expressions of sexuality—consensual or not. It's unlikely that a narrative won't follow the pitfalls of digital blackmail, cultural shaming or an imprinted legacy that won't shift (with the exception of Fleabag). 


Unsurprisingly, Pam & Tommy has all of the above traits. Off the back of money and male ego, exercising the “God given right to free expression” means the series ultimately falls into the trap it's trying to denounce. Through a lens of head vs. heart vs. dick, Pamela's image is playing into parts the script warns her Lily James-ed verison away from. The fictional portrayal of Anderson is certainly empathetic—uncomfortably heart-wrenching in moments of solitude she steals for herself. However, saying no to a room full of men is never fully realised under the hold of the patriarchy, the pain of which seeps through into real life consequences. 


Pamela Anderson (Lily James)


Cancelled or Correct? 


As social media calls for a boycott of the show altogether, its mere existence poses a number of questions. Does it teach us anything new? Not really. Does the show drive forward a singular, hard-hitting stance? Nothing that's too strong. Could there have been a fictionalised version of crafty pornheads leaking content that creates a social deterrent? Very possibly. What is certain, however, is that somewhere there is a woman watching the world reliving her trauma, and there's nothing she can do about it. 


Although the wider ramifications of Pam & Tommy are unknown, it's likely that a certain type of viewer will immediately question if the cursed tape is still available. Media outlets have already stirred up renewed interest in the celebrity sex tape, while the show's detailing of miscarriages and nods to other celebrity breakdowns feel like an incredibly low blow. While inadvertently becoming a “trainwreck by association”, Pamela Anderson is undoubtedly the only person who can truly tell her story—if she so chooses. Exploring nothing other than the sad, misogynistic reality we already know, Pam & Tommy is problematic conjecture at best. Almost surprising, for a series that heavily concentrates on the importance of release forms.