‘Pam and Tommy’ Forces a Shameful Reckoning

In the work I do, I don’t frame pornography as a moral issue. It doesn’t matter where you were raised, which God you pray to or whatever else has formed your worldview on pornography; moralizing divides. It doesn’t unite. In fact, when you dig into one of my most overused presentation points, you’ll see that I don’t even like to define pornography. And yes, I’ll get to Pam and Tommy soon enough.

On one end of the spectrum, you’ve got people so close-minded that pornography is simply naked people or sexual thoughts. On the other end of the spectrum is a different close-minded group to whom pornography has no limits. You wouldn’t want to take a road trip with either of these assholes. The rest of us land somewhere in the middle as to what qualifies as pornography. When I use the word “porn” it forces the listener to define it for themselves. I like that.

There’s a second part to the pornography equation I try to address in a roundabout way, because I don’t want to seem judgmental, or hypocritical. That’s pornography’s place in a civilized society. We’re never banning porn, and even if it were possible, I don’t think the world would be any sexually healthier. Prohibition did nothing to stop drinking in the early 1900s in America. Imagine any country successfully banning pornography in our digital, wireless world.

But I think it’s time we accept that society’s influence on attitudes toward porn, and porn’s effect on societal attitudes, is worth exploring.

Let’s Get OnlyFans Out of the Way

I told you so.

Yup, no amount of recovery is ever going to sweat that out of my system. The thing I’m most proud of is I can date my predictions to the start of the pandemic because I made them on this website and the articles are still on here somewhere that you can read.

I’m talking about the proliferation of OnlyFans, the DIY porn site that serves as an Etsy shop for fans of sexually digital crafts. Sure, you can sell your birdhouse made of license plates for a few bucks, but there’s a lot more money in selling homemade porn made of yourself. Whether you want to sell lingerie pictures or hardcore sexual videos – well, it’s either or porn or not – depending on who’s consuming, and who’s producing.

I worry about the longterm mental health of the people producing this stuff. But as long as the producer is of legal age and making such material is legal where they live and they are not being coerced, I’m not going to judge them because I don’t know their story. If I don’t want to be the dickhead who tells the single father can’t shake his ass to feed his kids, I really can’t be the dickhead who tells the buff 22-year-old girl shaking his ass who already has everything she needs that he should stop. I’m just not comfortable judging people or being a hypocrite that way.

What About When It’s Not So Consensual?

In late 2021, PornHub was compelled to remove millions of videos to keep their payment gateways active. Specifically, the major credit card companies were going to stop accepting payments from the site unless they could verify the age and consent of people appearing in the porn videos the site hosted.

Overnight, more than 10 million videos were gone and a verification system was installed.

Since the pornography industry is all about money, Pornhub removed the vast majority of its content, but I guess it’s relative when you’re comparing several million videos to over 13 million. It’s still more than you could watch on 10 computers every second for the rest of your life. More importantly, what does it say that there were millions of videos where they could not confirm the participant’s ages or consent?

Let those numbers hit you. Out of roughly 13 million videos, 10 million had to be removed because age and/or consent could not be verified.

Sadly, It’s Where Our Culture Went

I say sadly, but holy shit, was I ever a part of the problem as a consumer.

Since the Girls Gone Wild franchise started filming women and girls using sketchy-at-best, illegal-at-worst tactics for consent on their amateur videos 25 years ago, images of people who don’t want their body exposed to the general public has been a constant problem. (Yeah, it’s been 25 years.)

We can’t go six months without a story of some poor high school boy or girl killing themselves because nude pictures they took were circulated around school, or someone put them on the Internet.

In many of those videos, even if the performer is of age, they were coerced with the threat of violence or other harm. We know this. It’s come up in so many court cases, suicide notes, personal anecdotes, etc., that even if only 1% of the pornography that Pornhub removed was underage or coerced… well, 1% of a million is 10,000. That’s a lot of illegal videos. How about 100,000? That’s 1% of what PornHub removed.

Making the Story Personal Makes it Real

How did the Girls Gone Wild creator know his VHS tape series of unknown young ladies flashing, stripping and engaging in sexual behavior with each other would sell? The biggest indicator was the success of the Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee celebrity sex tape that was making its rounds as a bootleg in 1996.

I saw that tape for the first time when I was 20. A friend had a copy and let me borrow it. Despite being explicitly sexual, there was a certain pathos to it. I wasn’t watching two famous people fuck. I was watching two humans make love. Yeah, it was graphic, but it also had what porn never does: real love and real intimacy.

Those ingredients are what made that sex tape different from every other sex tape prior and since. Most are calculated grabs at money or fame. There isn’t love or intimacy in any celebrity sex tape released prior to March 2014, when I stopped watching. Pam and Tommy’s tape stands alone. It wasn’t their public personas trying to spice up boring, meaningless sex. These were two people who created something not meant for my eyes.

My twisted mind thought the forbidden aspect made it hotter. Now it makes me feel gross.

A scene from “Pam and Tommy”

Pam and Tommy, All these Years Later

Hulu released a docudrama about the Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee sex tape recently. It made me realize how far I’ve come in my recovery not just from pornography addiction, but also from the mindset that makes pornography acceptable in my life. The first five episodes are nostalgically interesting and the filmmakers made unique choices, not all for the best. If you lived through it, or are curious about early Internet culture, it’s a good watch. Just don’t be an active porn addict or early in recovery if you watch. It’s potentially way, way too triggering.

Episodes six and seven of Pam and Tommy were the tough ones for me. They dealt directly with the emotional and mental fallout of Pamela Anderson when the tape was released. Despite the fact she jiggled on Baywatch and took her close off for Playboy repeatedly, those were consensual choices. Those were done as acting jobs. There was no acting on that sex tape. It was full of private, intimate moments. She never expected anyone to see them.

But then came the Internet, and pornography was never the same again.

What ‘Pam and Tommy’ Forced Me to Take Away

Me at 20 rationalized that it was OK to see the tape because Pamela Anderson was strictly a sex object. She wanted me to see it, or at worst, didn’t care. If I could see her breasts in Playboy videos, what was the difference if Tommy Lee was the cameraman? Those two episodes were hard to watch because it was Pamela Anderson telling 20-year-old Josh that he made a horrible choice and he always, deep down, knew why.

I left those episodes feeling ashamed for my earlier attitude and for being part of the problem back then. Sure, there are problems with those episodes. Hugh Hefner is made out to be a kindly grandfather-type, for instance. But I wonder… if it hadn’t been for the recovery process, would I still feel the same way I did in 1996? And more importantly, how many people still have that kind of twisted logic? How many believe if it’s a naked person on film, they must want to be there?

How much porn do we consume in this world that is not consensual? I don’t think the average porn watcher cares about the feelings of the model or actor. Even when they’re not a model or actor.

We can try to explain why this kind of porn is wrong, or we can just show episodes six and seven of Pam and Tommy to all humans. It did more to make me question every piece of pornography I ever watched that I assumed was OK than anything else I’ve ever seen, read or heard combined. It was fucking powerful.

Now if we can only create the world where right and wrong matters, because it should.


2 thoughts on “‘Pam and Tommy’ Forces a Shameful Reckoning

  1. Thank you for this. It’s validating to hear someone else say this. As I work with people who have had their images posted, shared and re-shared without their consent I’ve watched a horror I can’t describe as a therapist. Thoughts of suicide are typical along with a complete loss of self. They cut and color their hair, change the way they dress and do anything else they can think of to look different because they never know who has seen these pictures and could recognize them. It’s the worst kind of betrayal.

    1. I appreciate this comment coming from someone else in the field. I was just looking over my TikTok videos and the one I did about revenge porn is still among the lowest watched, which is disappointing. I guess all we can do is keeping talking…

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