The internet and social media has been eagerly anticipating the release of Hulu’s fictional/non-fictional docuseries based around events in the lives of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee. For many of us who lived through the 1990s, the scandals surrounding the love and fall out of Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson and rockstar Tommy Lee was a huge turning point in conversations of how media is never truly private nor is it ever truly gone.
The 2022 Hulu series “Pam and Tommy” is centered around the real-life major scandal of Anderson and Lee. In 1995, their private video from their honeymoon, was stolen, copied, and mass marketed. It was highly explicit in its content and extremely graphic in documenting the relationship between the two celebrities. The key element here is that the video was STOLEN and produced against the consent and permission of both Pamela and Tommy. It was a violation and even illegal, yet thousands of people flocked to buying a copy, purchasing magazines and tabloids that showed pictures and content from the video. Which brings us to our first conversation about how we view consent. There is a fallacy that while people have chosen to take part in popular culture as public figures, actors, musicians etc., they have given up all aspects of privacy. While many of their lives does play out in the public sphere, they do still have rights to privacy and how much they are willing to share, expose, and broadcast. Body consent is permanent.
The saturation of the sex tape of Pamela and Tommy came during the increasing invasive tactics that paparazzi use. Releasing celebrity’s sex tapes is just part of the repertoire including hacking emails, drives, and cloud services for the next twenty years. The insidious nature of the paparazzi truly did reach a new height in the 90s (only look to how the press hounded Princess Diana – leading to her death, used telescopic lens to catch countless celebrities and public figures in the privacy of their own homes and hotels, and used illegal wire taping). We continuously have a problem in consent, boundaries, privacy, and disclosures when taking about what is acceptable for public consummation. As well as the reverse, going to extreme lengths to hide illegal behaviors of public figures and leaders. (The horrendous actions of religious leaders, politicians, and CEOs).
Now let’s talk about the Hulu series that has just came out in the beginning of February.
First and foremost, Hulu, the directors, writers, and actors DID NOT obtain NOR receive consent/permission from Pamela Anderson. It is reported that Tommy Lee has voiced his approval of the actor portraying him and the series. But its important to note, by the time Tommy Lee meets Pamela Anderson, he is already an established hard rock musician from the band Mötley Crüe, who led a life of ‘sex, drugs, and rock n roll” The release of the film did not damage Tommy’s career, nor blacklist him from booking gigs, and but added to his ‘bad boy’ image. He even settled with the company who produced the video for an undisclosed agreement which allowed the video to be accessed by paying customers.
For Pamela, the illegal releasing of the video, did hinder her career, did mark her, and would be only the beginning of being the target for tabloids and exposés. Pamela sued the entertainment company which held the video and while it was initially reported she took part in the settlement; her later memoirs have stated she did not agree nor receive the same amount of compensation that her then husband received. And there in lies the additional consent issues. Pamela did not consent to the initial distribution of the private video, nor has since given permission for her likeness and story to be told in this new series. Millions of people have already watched the first four episodes which are heavy in depicted the naked figure of the tv show’s ‘Pamela Anderson’, the sexual exploits of her and Tommy, the struggles of fertility, miscarries, and the illegal seizure of the video. Which brings us to our second discussion on consent.
So, consent is only relevant and required when the material is not salacious? Not explicit? Not involving public figures? A series that is meant to show the horrible things someone went to when their rights and privacy were violated, is at the same time performing their own violations.
There have been countless other Hollywood films and shows which have been produced that have been centered on real events, real figures that have also not received consent and permission from the real people involved. Many of those, have dealt with their lives and events which have played out in the public eye who are still living. These also should cause us to pause and contemplate levels of consent, levels of violation, and levels of artistic license. I’m largely thinking about the Netflix’s series “The Crown” which is a fictional retelling of the lives of the current British Monarchy or FX’s American Crime Story series on OJ Simpson, the murder of Gianni Versace, and the upcoming release of the Clinton Impeachment.
This latest Hulu series rings a little different and a little bit more problematic. While I do not disagree that the actors, they picked to portray Pamela and Tommy are spot on, or that their performances might be award quality. For me it is the very fact that what is being presented is a portrayal of real events which include invasion of privacy, the illegal behaviors of paparazzi, and without consent of all the parties mentioned. It is the fact that the person who suffered the most in 1995 is experiencing a new level of violation once again. In the last five years, conversations of consent and the exploitation of media have gained in popularity yet many of these same conversations have stayed silent. I have also seen how social media, especially fan communities have willingly refused to acknowledge issues of consent in light of drooling over Sebastian Stan, the actor playing Tommy Lee. Consuming and watching this series, is doing harm and a violation of consent period. One of the ways to end the media’s continuous methods of violating consent, is to stop the demand and to keep being vocal when there are clear violations.
Anjeanette LeBoeuf has recently traded in the sunny days of California for the ever changing seasons of the Midwest. Anjeanette is currently the World Religions Professor at Saint Louis University. She continues to be the Queer Advocate for the Western Region of the American Academy of Religion. She has also recently helped to set up and is the current Chair of the Disabilities Studies Unit for the Western Region. Her focuses are divided between South Asian religions and religion and popular culture. One of the main themes in Anjeanette’s work is seeking out representations of women and queer people in all forms of popular culture and how religion plays into them. She looks forward to exploring St. Louis in the coming months.
Categories: Popular Culture