Culture / People

‘Pam & Tommy’ poses questions about who is allowed to retell a story of exploitation

Pam & Tommy pamela anderson

In 1994, Pamela Anderson met founding member of Mötley Crüe, Tommy Lee. Six weeks later, they were in Cancun together, and just 96 hours in, they were married on a beach. One year later, they were at the centre of a traumatic and exploitative scandal when a safe containing a sex tape between the couple, which had been filmed during their honeymoon, was stolen by a disgruntled former employee who leaked the tape to the public.

This moment, a public scandal and arguably one of Anderson’s most traumatic chapters in public life, is the focus of the new series, Pam & Tommy, one that is being pushed as "the greatest love story ever sold" – except that, maybe it shouldn't be retold when the very subject of the series is against its production.

When Rand Gauthier (played in the series by producer Seth Rogan), the vengeful electrician who, according to him, was not paid for $20,000 worth of home improvements, made the decision to steal their intimate home movie, he essentially committed an act of revenge porn against Anderson. And while the purpose of the crime was to get back at Lee, the fallout from the tape was always going to exploit Anderson, who was widely known as a sex symbol and, during a time where sexism was rife in the media, an easy target for ridicule and complete lack of care.

The same lack of care seems to have been reenacted in the making of the new series, which is a retelling of just some of the events that traumatised Anderson for years in the 90s. Unlike Gauthier's character in the series, who is met with a level of sympathy, Anderson is not afforded the context of being sexually assaulted as a child and teenager, nor is the abuse Lee allegedly subjected her to (save for a title card) during their marriage. And while Pam & Tommy is amongst the many movies and TV shows created with the intention to shine a light on misogynistic backlash that famous women of the 90s (and celebrity women today) endured, it feels rather counterproductive to attempt to do so without the approval of the very woman who was traumatised by it in the first place.

According to Vanity Fair, “She made a distinct decision, which took no time at all to make, to not be a part of this.” While, a source told Entertainment Tonight, "The upcoming Pam & Tommy Hulu series has been very painful for Pamela Anderson and for anyone that loves her...It is shocking that this series is allowed to happen without her approval."

Both executive producer and creator Robert Siegel, and Lily James (who plays Anderson) have maintained that they reached out to Anderson with an offering to be on board for the series. “I wish it had been different,” James told Porter, “My sole intention was to take care of the story and to play Pamela authentically.” She explained. However, it does beg the question: is it worth retelling a story that will potentially re-exploit and re-traumatise Anderson to make the very point the series is attempting to reframe?

"There's a sense that the show is re-exploiting Pamela," a source reportedly told People, following the premiere of the show."After the tape was made public, it was a very traumatising situation and it's unfair that she is being re-subjected to this trauma, like re-opening a wound," the source said.

"Pamela deserves a level of respect. She's a human being and a mom. There's a sense of hypocrisy about it. It's her life and she should have the decision [as to] whether it's turned into a commodity for public consumption," they continued.

“I was thinking it was affecting the pregnancy [with] the stress, and I said, “I’m not going to court anymore,’” Anderson told Andy Cohen in 2015, recalling the reason she and Lee decided to eventually sign over their copyright to the video. “I’m not being deposed anymore by these horny, weird lawyer men. I don’t want to talk about my vagina anymore.” This moment, when the stress of the legal fallout was negatively affecting Anderson while pregnant with her son, Dylan, was one of the moments that Pam & Tommy has showed.

According to Rolling Stone, the video went on to make $77 million in sales within a span of 12 months. "I made not one dollar. It was stolen property,” Anderson told Cohen in the same interview, maintaining since that she has never profited off the tape.

Ultimately, even if the show attempts to expose Anderson's pain and the years of unfair backlash that was launched against her as a result of the leaked tape, it still plays a part in trivialising the experience of people who have been subjected to image-based abuse, as well as ignoring the abuse she suffered at the hands of Lee, and positioning the series – which, in reality, tells the story of the victim of a sex crime and domestic abuse – as a comedy and love story.


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