Pam & Tommy’s Unconventional Look Into ’90s Misogyny

Pamela Anderson (Lily James) and Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan) hiding themselves on a plane.
Photo by: Erin Simkin/Hulu

I was just a kid when the whole Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee scandal broke about their sex tape. I remember hearing my parents talk about it, their friends talk about it, and even the entertainment shows talking about it. Through all that talk, it was always negative. “Well, they had it coming,” or “No surprise there.” At the time, this went over my head because, for the most part, Pamela Anderson was that woman I remember being on Baywatch. I hadn’t known her from anywhere else. Now thanks to Hulu’s new series Pam & Tommy we are given a chance to reexamine one of the earliest scandals to rock the World Wide Web, and how the misogynistic culture of the time played into how society ended up reacting to it.

Recently, when it comes to women in media, there has been a surge in telling stories that recount old events in a new light. American Crime Story and I, Tonya are a few that spring to mind. Thanks to the Me Too movement, women’s voices are becoming more dominant in cinema and television. A new generation of screenwriters and directors is breaking down the misogynistic barriers that have been put up for decades and bringing the feminine perspective to the front.

Even though Pam & Tommy is a creation from Robert Siegel, he has brought on many female voices to make sure Pamela’s story is being told correctly. Lake Bell, usually known for her voice work, directs a few episodes, while Brooke Baker and Sarah Gubbins (who also co-created I Love Dick) contributed to the writing team. Having these voices, along with the same visionary style that director Craig Gillespie brought to I, Tonya, creates a story that begins with our reflections on their lifestyle but then rips the curtains wide open to reveal the vulnerability underneath. 

A priest watches as Pam (Lily James) and Tommy (Sebastian Stan) kiss after they are married on a beach.
Photo by: Erin Simkin/Hulu

The reactions to Sebastian Stan and Lily James’s first photos in full-on costume have been rather mixed. Courtney Love has been extremely vocal in her dislike, calling the project “f**king outrageous.” I can understand where she is coming from after only seeing the promotional images the series had put out with its two leads recreating some of the couple’s well-known photos. At first glance, they come off as straight imitations that were put out for shock. I will also be the first to say that the trailer felt as though it could be pointing in the wrong direction, using comedy to portray these events.

There isn’t really an easy way to market Pam & Tommy. Making it a drama will have people rolling their eyes and saying “good grief,” and as we’ve seen, marketing it as a comedy has led to people assuming that all respect has been thrown out the window. That said, give it a chance. I understand that it’s a big ask, and the first few episodes are somewhat hard to get through. That’s the purpose of them, though. They feel as though they are meant to represent how media has created this version of who Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee are. 

The first few episodes do feel over-stylized and somewhat hard to watch. Once you get through them, though, you begin to see its rawness and how delicately it takes its source material. Pamela becomes the key viewpoint for the series, and it’s through her story that we truly see how misogynistic the culture was and the wrong it has done to her. 

Pam (Lily James) stands in front of bookshelves holding a book.
Photo by: Erin Simkin/Hulu

During the ’90s, Pamela Anderson was the quintessential pin-up girl with multiple spreads in Playboy. When someone thought of Baywatch, it was her image running on the beach that many can remember. It’s because of this “sex symbol” label that we, as a society, jumped to many conclusions when the sex tape scandal broke. It’s because of those conclusions that Pamela Anderson’s career was never able to recover. Lily James had made attempts to reach out to Anderson to no response. I do hope that Anderson and others are able to view this series and see the amount of respect James has given her.

Pam & Tommy serves as a tale for other generations on how society can change and grow. Some of the conversations we were having back in the ’90s are still around today, but we are only using different words. Someone can look at Pam & Tommy and see something they may have gone through but haven’t been able to express. With this series taking care, it does showcase the effects the tape had on all parties and allows for discussions to be had.

When it comes to Pam & Tommy there’s a lot to be said that can’t be just yet because it first needs to be experienced. Pam & Tommy premieres on Hulu with three episodes beginning February 2nd with one episode being released at a time following that.

Written by Katie Bienvenue

Katie is a writer, cosplayer, craftswoman, and Barista. When she isn't talking about Chainmaille she is usually found discussing some television series, film, or how to properly make one's latte.

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