The Ultimate Sex Tape Scandal: How Pam and Tommy’s Stolen Video Rocked the World | Television

BBy Christmas 1995, it was common knowledge that there was a “sex tape” of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, filmed privately during their honeymoon that year, following a 96-hour whirlwind romance. As the star of Baywatch, Anderson was so famous in the world that other equally famous TV shows had stories about him. Mötley Crüe’s drummer Lee was also extremely well known, primarily as a poster boy for sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, partly for making fun of the moon whenever he took the stage.

Their union, and its impact, was a kind of molecular chemistry affair; like oxygen and hydrogen, each on their own was a powerful element, but combined they were quite more culturally powerful – her eroticism slightly neutralized by marriage, her search for trouble made it a bit safer next to his all-American (actually Canadian) smile.

Let me unpack this a bit: it was the 90s. Women, even if they were gay, and certainly not if they weren’t, ogling or approving the eyeglass of other women’s breasts. . Men who took drugs and got tattoos were not asked to support sports brands. Disney + ‘s highly anticipated next bio-series Pam & Tommy shows Lee in a much more unflattering light than he was in his prime, but he was never considered a peach.

The show is a lavish affair, dwelling on every luxurious detail of their Malibu mansion, Lee’s tattoos, Anderson’s cartoon beauty, but don’t confuse it with rich porn (which is , of course, TV gold at the moment). His personality, his rather winning denial and his progressive disillusion, tell a tense story. It’s ostensibly a hug on the sex tape and its fallout, but the simmering volatility – from Lee but also from almost everyone – creates a deeper suspense than the presence of all these celebs would suggest.

The sex tape, along with a bunch of guns and jewelry, was stolen from Lee’s home safe just before Halloween 1995. At Christmas it was in an annual Daily Mail review, so everything everyone knew about it, but no one had seen it. Fair play – it wasn’t until 1996 that the couple even realized the tape was missing – but there was more going on. In a way that will only become clear much later, this was a time of tectonic change: from old media to new; from old to new versions of fame, privacy, image and brand; and from old norms around sex, porn, exhibitionism and voyeurism to new ones that are still unresolved.

Much of what made sex fishy was in the details. The lines between normal and kinky, clean and dirty, have been drawn by consumer conventions; if that thing you were buying was nice, you would be able to buy it in a nice place. Likewise, to watch this sex tape you would have had to send $ 59.95 to a Canadian t-shirt company in New York City, who would then send you a VHS via Amsterdam. Or if you were in the US you had to know a guy who knew the guy who scammed the original thief, who would sell a copy straight to your hands for $ 175.

Lily James as Pam and Sebastian Stan as Tommy in Pam & Tommy. Photography: Erin Simkin / HULU

None of this was the sort of thing respectable people did. You would look grim if you hadn’t heard of the sex tape, but to say you saw it, well, you’d need a reason at least. The same can’t be said of the sex tapes that exploded five or ten years later – Kim Kardashian’s leaked in 2007, Paris Hilton’s in 2003. There are so many circumstances you got to see them. : someone could have ironically joined in. on a discussion board, where you were just browsing. The point is, you wouldn’t need a reason. You can buy anything, anywhere, and often not even for money.

In terms of sex, the fundamental collapse brought about by the internet age is not so much about privacy or the right to be forgotten (as European law says), but in a shared consensus on this. than sexual decency is, who is allowed to have it, who is allowed to watch it, who is exploited by it, who benefits from it. What is truly amazing is how many years have passed without getting closer to a new resolution.

Pam and Tommy’s story is amazing in part because of their naivety. The series, starring Lily James and Sebastian Stan, is based on a 2014 Rolling Stone article, Pam and Tommy: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Infamous Sex Tape, which details how, once they found out that the tape was missing, they sought to contain the leak. They sent big guys to harass people they suspected of theft and took doomed lawsuits against distributors, as if the old rules were still in place and no one could distribute your movie unless you signed up. a release form. It’s not some stupid celebrity story; their naivety echoed across culture, subculture, and the law – a sincere belief even among pornographers that if you hadn’t signed a movie, you might prevent it from being seen.

Lily James as Pamela Anderson in Pam & Tommy.
Lily James as Pamela Anderson in Pam & Tommy. Photograph: Erica Parise / HULU

It was a first world problem, sure, but there was a real crisis in the years that followed about the value of fame: if you couldn’t control your own content, you couldn’t control it. monetize, and if you couldn’t monetize that, what in fact has been this? Enter Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, with a thought experiment. They did not personally release their tapes and threatened legal action to prevent distribution, but both ultimately took advantage of the notoriety, realizing that the rules had definitely changed. If you don’t own the content but still own the identity, reverse the equation so that the content is not rationed and the identity becomes overwhelming: rather than protecting your privacy, show it all.

The funny thing about these sex tapes is that they don’t really work like porn – Hilton’s is very fairytale, Kardashian’s is made of random camera angles. But they’re not supposed to do it; it is not really about sex but about the body as a means of production: what can it sell? There was considerable debate in the early 2000s as to whether Hilton and Kardashian were the puppets or the puppeteers of the new age: in retrospect, I think it was misogynistic. If Mark Zuckerberg had done it, no one would have asked if someone else was pulling his strings; although no doubt there would have been no mileage for it to be naked. So there is that.

Anderson and Lee’s video had a special vibe, in that it seemed private; it was made by two people, one for the other, at a time when accidental mass distribution was not on the horizon. Later, when sex tapes became more common, the question was always whether they had been spread cynically by the subject or whether they had been rigged by dishonest means. There was a subset of the manosphere that still sought out the original Anderson / Lee experience, who didn’t want to be consumers but voyeurs.

The real Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee.
The real Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee. Photograph: Steve.Granitz / WireImage

When the Big 10s nude dumps hit, first in Celebgate in 2014, then in Fappening in 2017, it wasn’t by chance that they were posted on 4chan, the premier image panel for incel and other far-right misogynistic movements. These were nude images, mostly of actresses, obtained without consent via an iCloud security breach, and the point was, they were stars you usually wouldn’t see naked: Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton. Many of the women depicted denied the authenticity of the images. The whole thing was more than naked bodies – which, let’s face it, in the middle of the last decade you could find anywhere – it was to stick it to women who didn’t want to get worked up. The Fappening was essentially a metaphor for incel identity; men who experience sex not as participants but as thieving, despised, marginalized, illegitimate observers.

Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee had two sons before divorcing in 1998. One detail that sounds like a pub quiz curiosity is that Anderson married Rick Salomon – the other party in Paris Hilton’s sex video – in 2007 They got a cancellation. a year later, but remarried in 2014, divorce again the year after. (Arguably, Anderson is very fond of nuptials; she had a successful marriage, annulment, and another with someone different in 2020, which I think puts your sourdough successes to shame.)

As far as her and Solomon are concerned, however, it seems likely that their sex tapes were an absolutely seismic, defining event for the two of them, which gave them so much in common. As interesting as it may be, seeing private life turn into exposure, self into branding, sex into infomercial, it’s monumental asymmetric: for the majority, a curiosity; to two people, essentially the rest of their lives. This is a remedy the World Wide Web will never be able to do: rectify or even recognize the magnitude of this impact, when a billion eyes are all looking at the same thing at once.

Pam & Tommy is on Disney + from February 2.

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