Can You Fix a Reputation? Revelations From Hulu’s Pam and Tommy


Pam and Tommy had us asking a lot of questions; did he just have a conversation with his genitals? Should I tweeze my eyebrows? Most importantly, the series led audiences to question the way women in Hollywood are treated and acknowledge our own participation in a damaging system.

Hulu’s biographical miniseries Pam and Tommy chronicles the tumultuous marriage between actress and model Pamela Anderson and Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee during the mid 1990s when the couple’s private sex tape was stolen and illegally distributed to the public; the show aired its final episode on March 9. The series stars Sebastian Stan and Lily James as the famous couple and is based on the 2014 Rolling Stone article “Pam and Tommy: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Infamous Sex Tape” by Amanda Chicago Lewis.

While the series may seem perfectly timed to the height of 90s and 2000s nostalgia, the release of Pam and Tommy also perfectly coincides with the recent re-emergence of blacklisted celebrities synonymous with the era. Pam and Tommy has come at a time of societal reflection focused on what it means to be a celebrity, and how we treat those in the spotlight, particularly women. Britney Spears, Megan Fox, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, as well as Pamela Anderson were icons and sex symbols of the 90s and 2000s, and each of their stories are ones of trauma, pain, and resilience.

Though the public has always been enamored by the glamor of Hollywood, it was in the Y2K era that America became fixated with the concept of the celebrity, and our obsession with the famous  became ingrained into American culture. These women were stars unlike anyone had seen before—young, sexy, and rich; however, they lacked agency and respect.

Pamela Anderson was violated when her private property was made public. According to the series, which did not receive input from Anderson herself, her attempt for a lawsuit and restraining order against the men responsible for the leaked tape was allegedly rejected due to the fact Anderson and Lee were in a public relationship and Anderson had previously posed nude for an issue of Playboy, insinuating that Anderson’s position in Hollywood and sex symbol status made her body an object of which the public was rightfully entitled to; but Pamela Anderson’s fall from grace was only the beginning of a string of women whose lives would crumble due to the toxicity of celebrity culture. 

Though the beauty and luxury of fame was idolized by the youth of the era, the reality was of a twisted, abusive, and sexist industry. Paparazzi and tabloids reigned supreme, and celebrity gossip culture was poisonous and destructive. Addiction and mental health crises constituted headlines. Sex tapes and up-skirt photos were fair game, even for a teenage Miley Cyrus. We sneered at Paris Hilton and laughed at Lindsay Lohan while Britney Spears’s suffering was served to the public as cheap, melodramatic entertainment. The woman of Hollywood were valued solely for their sex appeal; their talent and ambitions were minimized, and their struggles mocked.

The culture and zeitgeist of the Y2K era was fueled by violent sexism, shaping the women growing up during that time just as much as the stars experiencing it first hand.

“The media made it clear: women were not allowed to be complex. We couldn’t be both intelligent and beautiful. We could party, but not too hard. If we were successful, the world owned us. If we were sexual, we were objects. If we struggled, we were crazy. If we were victims, it was our own fault. We were stripped of agency and respect. It was sexism dressed up in a Juicy Couture tracksuit,” said Amelia Joy for the Grattan Street Press.

Celebrity culture now appears to be changing, and the ostracized starlets of the 90s and 2000s have begun to take their shot at a comeback. Following the longstanding #FreeBritney movement, Pop star Britney Spears was freed from her conservatorship. In the recent YouTube documentary This is Paris, Paris Hilton sheds her ditzy party girl persona and discusses her traumatic childhood and the effects of being a victim of revenge porn and victim blaming. Megan Fox, whose career took a hit when Transformers director Micheal Bay made disparaging remarks about the actress after she spoke out about his on set behavior, has re-emerged into the public eye with the release of several new films and her public relationship with rapper turned pop punk superstar Machine Gun Kelly.

Pam and Tommy depicted Anderson’s experience through a sympathetic lense unlike what she received during or following the scandal, and the actress will soon be making her first big step back into public view with her upcoming performance as Roxie in Broadway’s Chicago.

As a population, we have recognized the error in our ways and made space for these women to live and thrive in their industries once again. But is it enough? Can one truly repair a shattered reputation?

Though these women have found themselves able to attempt a revival, the misogyny they’ve battled continues to linger. It’s exceptional that discussions about objectification, invasions of privacy and abuse of power have been sparked by glossy television shows, and that viewers are being prompted to question our own complicity.

Pam and Tommy left audiences with a feeling of discomfort, which acts as a reminder that times are changing. The youth of today are analyzing parasocial relationships and actively changing the way we treat those around us. Present-day stars such as pop sensation Demi Lovato, who has been open with the public about their struggles with identity, mental health and addiction, has widely been met with support and positivity. There is hope that future generations will heal much of the sexism that is systemic and in our society, and break down the stigma that women in Hollywood have endured for decades. Though only time will tell, it appears that we can expect to see exciting things from these past icons such as Pamela Anderson.