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Opinion: ‘90s Tabloid Culture Returns with Hulu’s Pam and Tommy

By: Danielle Modica

Is it 1995 again? Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s whirlwind relationship is back on television screens with the release of the Hulu series “Pam and Tommy” on February 2.

Pam and Tommy Logo (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Hulu series is based on a 2014 Rolling Stone Article by Amanda Chicago Lewis. “Pam and Tommy: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Infamous Sex Tape” details the whirlwind relationship and how their private honeymoon tape was stolen from a safe in their Malibu mansion by a short-changed electrician.

The electrician’s name is Rand Gautier, portrayed by Seth Rogen. Gautier single-handedly stole the tape, then worked with an adult industry producer and mafia-affiliated investors to sell the tape for $175 each online. This interrupted Pamela Anderson’s budding career as a respected Hollywood actress and added more troubles for Tommy Lee, who was already coping with the downfall of his ‘80s glam rock band Motley Crue.

No, Gautier never went to jail. Yes, he’s still around and lives a completely normal life.

The filming of “Pam and Tommy” was announced in December 2020, through promotional images of actors Lily James and Sebastian Stan dressed as the notorious pair.

The announcement sent big-name publications like Rolling Stone, Deadline, and the New York Times in a frenzy to revive the decades-old drama.

Neither Lee nor Anderson provided public support or permission for the show at the time. Shortly after the filming announcement, in January 2021 Pamela Anderson shared that she would be leaving social media through an Instagram post.

“Try not to be seduced by wasted time… That’s what they [tabloids] want and can use to make money… Control,” Anderson said in her Instagram post.

Screenshot of Pamela Anderson’s January 2021 Instagram post (Credit: Instagram)

Entertainment Tonight caught up with Lee during a red carpet interview in September 2021, where he revealed Sebastian Stan personally contacted him to discuss the show and expressed support.

“From what he’s told me, it’s a really beautiful story,” Lee said in the ET interview. “I think a lot of people would think it’s one thing, but it’s really about privacy and how things got crazy then. There’s different laws now.”

Anderson has continually been unresponsive about the series, yet to speak publicly even after Lily James and showrunners attempted to contact her. Although, sources have shared her discontent with multiple outlets.

“Pamela has no regrets about her life, but the only thing she would probably erase is this burglary,” an unnamed source said in an interview with ET. “She feels so violated to this day, it brings back a very painful time for her.”

My take - remember that Anderson did not provide public permission for this release in exactly the same way they did not provide permission for the tape to be distributed. I’d love to know the thought process behind producing this series. Did the writers think they were doing something life-changing?

An excerpt from The Guardian’s coverage of the show’s release has this same sentiment.

“The much-hyped show about the theft of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s sex tape offers a screwball meditation on consent – without the consent of one of its subjects,” reporter Adiran Horton wrote in the article.

I get it, they’re celebrities, who cares about their feelings? Tommy Lee was a self-absorbed party animal, Pamela Anderson an untouchable beauty queen. Lee ripped off his electrician. Didn’t they deserve it?

This is far more than a celebrity tabloid drama for me, I see this as a human decency issue. The film led to Anderson being portrayed as even more of a sex object, rather than the activist-icon-respected actress, Jane Fonda-like silhouette that she aspired to be. The drama took years away from her promising career and probably didn’t help Lee escape his “bad boy” addict persona.

At face value, this production is inconsiderate and unnecessary, even untimely. The series can’t ride on the success of the Motley Crue biopic “The Dirt” (2019), as it’s three years too late. What has Pamela Anderson done lately? I couldn’t tell you.

The main question I have - why? Why now? Almost 30 years after their marriage, Anderson has been married four times and Lee has married ex-Vine star Brittany Furlan since. Both have moved on from their youth. Lee is sober, Anderson focusing on family, what is the goal of this series?

There are so many celebrity biopics coming out recently, from“Straight Outta Compton” (2015) to “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018) and “Rocketman” (2019). Critics and fans alike eat these up for good reason. It’s interesting to get insight into private details of celebrity lives, except that in the films I mentioned the subjects are involved in production. “Pam and Tommy” is the recounting of a drama that has already been aired out by media outlets and has no direct interaction with the subjects of the situation.

I don’t want to be too hasty with criticism, as I caught up with the series and must admit that I enjoy some details so far. Overall, I think celebrity privacy, especially in the age of social media, is something that needs reconsideration. Although fans love seeing their characters on screen, there must be a line between character personality and real-life people.

There are five episodes currently released, the next scheduled to air at midnight on February 23. I will be back to review the series when it ends!

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