Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

Pam and Tommy: How to Exploit the Exploited

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

TW – discussion of abusive relationships and revenge porn

Like pretty much everyone else I know, for the past two months, every Wednesday has been dedicated to the hit show Pam and Tommy (2022) on Disney+. The show is (loosely) based on the Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson’s sex tape scandal, featuring Lily James and Sebastian Stan, who have an uncanny resemblance to the 90s couple.

The start of the show is set from the perspective of electrician and ex “adult-film” star Randy Gauthier (Seth Rogan), who is remodelling Tommy Lee’s bedroom. Although Tommy isn’t meant to be the “villain” of the show, right from the offset, it is so clear that he is a very narcissistic and abusive person and that was only reinforced as the show went on. Irritatingly, by having the first narrative arc follow Randy, I felt myself almost rooting for him because of how badly he was treated by Tommy, and I almost wanted him to get his revenge, until of course I remembered what he was actually doing and the real-life consequences it had on Pam and Tommy.

Through one of its only redeeming qualities, I was hooked because of how it made me empathise with Pam and realise exactly how much trauma she went through. It not only highlights how the press hounded and flat-out slut shamed her for a video leaked without her consent, but how it also showed Tommy’s abusive tendencies and the show didn’t shy away from them either. The scene which resonated with me the most is in episode 4 when Pam and Tommy are arguing about the impact of the tape going public. After gaslighting Pamela about the significance of the tape being sold to anyone who wants it, Tommy says that it’s just as much of an issue for him as it is for her as “he’s on the tape too” and that “it’s nothing they haven’t seen before.” Pam replies that its different for her “because she’s a woman”. The gravitas in which Lily James performs this whole sequence really resonated with me because I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve had to try and explain how being a woman impacts how what is and isn’t socially acceptable in comparison to men. Thankfully (touch wood) I’ve never had to go through something as traumatic as her, but in that moment, I felt so connected and so heard it actually brought me to tears!

Then, Tommy is still completely oblivious to the fact that whilst he was praised for the sex tape, Pamela was being bullied on television chat shows and even had to face a deposition, where they suggested that she leaked the tape for attention. The worst part for me was at the end of the show. Someone at a bar is complimenting the size of Tommy’s penis and he doesn’t like it (and gets very hostile to the person), so he obviously understands the issues Pamela is facing, but still slut shames her for her career.

The real Pamela Anderson hasn’t been very vocal about her opinions on the show, and you can understand why! Having one (if not more) of the most traumatic experiences of your life dramatized for a television show can’t have exactly been a pleasant experience for her. But to have the show made into a comedy with a talking penis, well to say I’d have been furious is an understatement, so hats off to her for taking the moral high ground and staying as far away from it as she can. In an interview with Variety, Lily James says that Pamela’s exploitation’s “just made me want to work even harder to try and portray her not only authentically, but to do her the justice she deserves”. Whilst I’m sure she meant no harm by this (and I mean no disrespect to her for taking the role because she did such an amazing job) there’s no way she can “do her justice” without once again exploiting her by retelling her experiences, especially without her blessing.

I think the thing that got to me the most is the fact that Hulu didn’t even need consent from either Pam or Tommy to produce Pam and Tommy because instead they just brought the rights to adapt a 2014 Rolling Stone’s article, which detailed an interview with Randy, and as they describe ‘This is the story of a man who staked his livelihood on a video in the hopes that it would save him’. Let’s just bear in mind this man broke into someone’s house and stole their private property and although he didn’t know he’d stolen their sex tape, he then consciously sold it for a profit! The whole article glorifies him and almost paints him as a victim, which is heavily replicated in the show. This really shows how even 30 years later Pamela is still being exploited by having her voice taken away and her life still being sold for profits. It’s disgusting.

Hi! My name's India and I'm a second-year Film and Television student studying at the University of Exeter. I'm a plus-sized and sex-positive feminist who loves listening to Harry Styles and Taylor Swift (Taylor's version ofc) :)
Similar Reads👯‍♀️