Kim Kardashian’s sex tape scandal is just the Pam Anderson story all over again
As one woman’s trauma is unearthed for a second time without her consent, another tries to regain control of hers. We thought celeb sex tape scandals started and ended with Pamela Anderson, but Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, and the Playboy Bunnies show that it’s very much a modern problem – one that has only been exacerbated by the internet and the men around them.
News that Pamela Anderson’s very personal story would be revisited in a new Hulu documentary first broke last year, with interest in the project mounting after Lily James’ transformation photos were leaked online. People were positively shocked by the likeness between the two women, and media coverage was dominated by conversations about just how “good” the series was going to be.
No one seemed to be aware of the fact that Hulu was making this eight-part mini-series without Pam’s consent. Or maybe people knew, but didn’t care? Either way, the focus was on how excited we all were to watch James and her co-star Sebastian Stan (who plays Tommy Lee) in action.
Soon after those first photos were circulated, Pam’s close friend Courtney Love publicly condemned the project, describing it as “so f*cking outrageous”. How could they make her friend relive one of the most distressing times in her life? That tape effectively “destroyed” Pam, she continued, later adding that the series would only cause Anderson “further complex trauma”. Love’s comments did nothing to quell interest in the project… you could argue that they actually had the opposite effect. The internet is a nosy bunch and celeb gossip is its currency – the rationale being, anything Team Pamela doesn’t want us to see must be worth seeing. It’s perverse, but it’s often the resounding mindset in certain corners of the world wide web at least.
Hulu didn’t need permission to exploit Pam’s story. She’s just about as famous as they come and her sex tape (and the tale of how it came to be) already existed in the public realm. So, the whole thing was kind of fair game as far as they were concerned. It may be legal, but it’s also morally corrupt. Her sex tape was stolen from her once before, what makes rehashing it for the silver screen any different? Everyone but Pam will be profiting off it, but money talks as they say, and there’s unlikely to be any existential ethical crises within the Hulu offices once those dollar signs start flashing. Safe to say, Pamela “won’t be watching” a source confirmed to US Weekly, while another told Entertainment Tonight that revisiting the past has been “very painful” for her. “Pamela has no regrets about her life,” the source continued, “but the only thing she would probably erase is this burglary. She feels so violated to this day. It brings back a very painful time for her.”
While some fans have vowed to boycott the series in solidarity with the Baywatch star, we have to recognise that this doesn’t start and end with just Anderson. Some will have you believe that privacy hacks and leaked sex tapes are old news, but they’re very much a modern issue. Take Kim Kardashian, for example.
Ask anyone how Kim rose to fame, and they’ll reference her sex tape with ex-boyfriend rapper Ray J. Rumour has it that momager Kris Jenner somehow convinced her daughter to leak the tape – though there’s no solid evidence of that – and thus Kim and her family slowly infiltrated every aspect of pop culture. Already with quite a well-known dad (Robert Kardashian, who defended OJ Simpson at trial), stepdad (the Olympian formerly known as Bruce Jenner) and a number of famous friends (Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie amongst others), there were many reasons to want to keep up with the second-eldest Kardashian, but it wasn’t until her sex tape came along that people really took notice.
Almost two decades later and Kim is currently embroiled in a heated divorce battle with husband Kanye West… who alleges that a second sex tape exists and that he helped save it from being made public. Claiming that he went to retrieve a laptop from Ray J himself, West said that he “met this man at the airport then got on a red-eye, came back [and] delivered it to [Kim] at 8 am”.
“She cried when she saw it,” he said during an interview on Hollywood Unlocked With Jason Lee. “You know why she cried when she seen it on the laptop? Because it represents how much she’s been used,” he continued. “It represents how much people didn’t love her and they just saw her as a commodity.” According to a Kardashian spokesperson, the laptop hardrive Ye referred to does exist but it doesn’t contain any sexual footage whatsoever.
“The computer and hard drive collected were supposed to contain the original video and any unseen footage. After review, there was nothing sexual unseen, only footage on the plane on the way to Mexico and footage at a club and restaurant on the same trip,” a statement read. “Kim remains firm in her belief that there is no new second tape that exists. After 20 years, she truly wishes to move on from this chapter [and] focus instead on the positive things she continues to do as a mother, entrepreneur and advocate for justice reform.”
Which raises an interesting point; despite her many achievements and accomplishments, people only want to focus on Kim K’s downfalls. She became a mother, passed the bar, set up her own shapewear company, established an empire she could really be proud of… but conversation always comes back to the one thing she’d rather forget. Forcing Kim to talk about her sex tape again and again (and again) is essentially the same as forcing Anderson to relive her experience on-screen in real-time.
That’s not hot
Then there’s Paris Hilton, whose sex tape should very much be considered as revenge porn. “People have tried to revisit Hilton’s image since her days of ubiquity in the 2000s. Over the past few years, she has participated in two post-Me Too documentaries, both of which featured compelling new material about Hilton and both of which vanished without making much of an impact,” Vox notes.
In 2018’s The American Meme, Hilton revisited the experience of having her sex tape leaked to the public without her consent. Admitting that she couldn’t even walk down the street after it was released, Paris compared it to having been raped. “I felt like every single person had watched it and seen me naked and was talking behind my back,” she said at the time. Two years later she revealed that she had been abused as a teenager while at boarding school. The life she’s created is a cartoon of her making, she confessed.
Paris’ plight hasn’t garnered the same response as say, that of Britney’s, probably for a number of reasons, but are any of them really enough to justify someone taking something as private as a sex tape and releasing it to the world? In a word, no. As Vox later points out, a person doesn’t have to be good or moral or even likeable for them not to deserve bad things happening to them. Hilton was just 19-years-old when her trust was violated and her then-boyfriend, Rick Salomon, began distributing the film they made together to a porn company called Red Light District.
This was an extremely calculated move by Salomon, who leaked it just before the premiere of Paris’s reality show The Simple Life. He saw an opportunity to get his two minutes of fame and jumped at it… but everyone presumed that Paris was responsible and so she was dubbed a media wh*re. This is exactly what she wanted, people concluded. So, the decade of bad Paris sex jokes that ensued were not only warranted, but deserved? “Though Hilton said publicly, again and again, that she did not want her sex tape to be made public, the press treated her claims with amused condescension,” the Vox article continues.
“It just seemed so obvious to everyone that she must have wanted everyone to watch her having sex, and must secretly be delighted by the fact that so many people had. (It’s not clear exactly how many people did see the tape, but Salomon reported $10 million in revenue in 2004, most of it allegedly from the sex tape.) Why else would she have agreed to be recorded in the first place?”
Down the rabbit hole
More recently, Holly Madison has spoken out about what really went on within the walls of the infamous Playboy Mansion. Spoiler: it’s even more horrific than any of us realised. In fact, Hugh Hefner was using revenge porn to manipulate women long before we even really knew what it was. According to the now mum-of-two, Hefner would ply women with copious amounts of alcohol and drugs he called “thigh-openers” as a way to make them more compliant. Hefner was also known to always have a disposable camera on him at parties and would regularly take photos of girls in an array of compromising positions. “These women were almost always intoxicated. I know I was – heavily intoxicated,” Madison noted on the Power: Hugh Hefner podcast.
Hefner would then get the photos developed, make copies and give them to everyone that was out that night – all without the women’s consent or knowledge. “He’s constantly taking all these pictures, and he would make copies of all the pictures and hand them out to everyone who had gone out that night,” Madison explained.
“So, if you were messed up and if you were in his bathtub with your top off and some other girl is doing some sexually explicit pose on you and he took a picture of that on his disposable camera, he’d make a copy and give it to everyone that night and put it in a scrapbook. I found out years later [that] he wanted to donate his scrapbooks to a public library.”
It’s only after years of reflection that Madison is able to see the behaviour for what it really was though. “When I lived at the mansion, I was afraid to leave,” she said in the docuseries Secrets of Playboy, which premiered over in the US this week. “Something that was always living in the back of my mind [was] if I left, there was just this mountain of revenge porn just waiting to come out.”
Even Crystal Hefner, the late Playboy mogul’s widow, has since spoken out in support of Madison, confirming that she found “thousands of those disposable camera photos” Holly mentioned. “I immediately ripped them up and destroyed every single one of them for you and the countless other women in them,” Crystal tweeted, before adding, “they’re gone”.
Reassuring as that probably is for Madison – and all of the other women who found themselves the unfortunate subjects of Hef’s camera lens – those photos should never have existed in the first place.
It’s also worth noting that there is another layer to all of this; the men who use these women’s sexuality to manipulate them for their own gain. In the trailer for the new Pam & Tommy series, Lily James can be heard saying, “you don’t seem to understand what a big deal this is”. “I’m on that tape just the same as you,” her co-star Stan responds before James points out that it’s much worse for her. Where Tommy Lee was celebrated, Pam was ridiculed and sl*t shamed. Unsurprisingly, it was also a man who leaked the tape in the first place and electrician Rand Gauthier stole the safe (containing the video) in a “fit of rage” after he confronted Lee and was told to get off the property. Probably planning to belittle Lee by leaking the private tape, he ended up doing quite the opposite and actually turned him into some sort of celeb sex demigod.
In Kim’s case, Kanye has painted himself the saviour. He rushed to his estranged wife’s side in her time of need – supposedly to save her the embarrassment of having another personal video being made public. But then he made it public by talking about it on national television, forcing her to address the situation to the press… again. He even had the audacity to talk about how the tape made her feel used. Surely Ye sees the irony in such a statement when he’s now doing the exact same thing and using Kim as a “commodity” to further his PR agenda?
Similarly can be said of the situation between Paris and her ex-boyfriend who released the tape to ride on her coattails. He had no regard for how such a video would impact her and was blinded by the prospect of cashing in on a vulnerable situation. Hugh Hefner took advantage of just about every woman he came into contact with, though Holly Madison has been the most vocal.
While there has been a very notable shift in the cultural consciousness of how women in the public eye have been treated over the past decade or so, there’s still so much work left to do. One slightly “feminist” retelling of Pamela Anderson’s story isn’t enough to wipe our hands clean of the damage that’s been done and creating “art” or perpetuating conversations about the trauma of old sex tapes – against the wishes of those actually in them, and always to the detriment of the women – doesn’t exactly seem like a step in the right direction.