RETROGRADE

Why Pamela Anderson’s Bizarre Anti-Porn Crusade Does More Harm Than Good

The former sex symbol’s condemnation of porn as the source of men’s bad behavior—including Anthony Weiner’s—is based more on hysteria than facts.

It’s been a summer of strange bedfellows, from Jill Stein and Harambe to co-speechwriters Melania Trump and Michelle Obama. But no unexpected union says “the apocalypse is nigh” quite like actress Pamela Anderson and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s recently assembled anti-porn task force. The orthodox rabbi and former Baywatch star took their message to the masses on Wednesday with an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. If there’s ever been a time to email your grandparents and ask them for their WSJ log-in info, this is it.

The odd couple’s anti-porn argument is pegged to the disgraced Anthony Weiner’s most recent sexting scandal. In addition to disqualifying Weiner from any and all future babysitting gigs, the politician’s self-sabotage has made large, far-reaching waves, as illustrated by this surreal op-ed. Boteach and Anderson approach their incendiary subject matter “from our respective positions of rabbi-counselor and former Playboy model and actress.” From these traditionally disparate vantage points, the co-writers have managed to carve out a shared moral code. They write, “We have often warned about pornography’s corrosive effects on a man’s soul and on his ability to function as husband and, by extension, as father. This is a public hazard of unprecedented seriousness given how freely available, anonymously accessible and easily disseminated pornography is nowadays.”

Pamela Anderson is an icon of sex and screen—which makes her backward, unsubstantiated opinions on pornography even more disappointing. Let’s take on Boteach and Anderson’s diatribe point by point. The article is based on the assumption that Weiner’s multiple digital infidelities offer incontrovertible proof of the nefarious effects of porn addiction. First of all, this is a conflation of porn addiction and sex addiction. The former is the writers’ cause du jour, while the latter is a condition that media outlets have repeatedly used to diagnose Huma Abedin’s husband. It’s true that Weiner seems to exhibit some of the symptoms of a sex addict; however, sex addiction is scientifically controversial and infamously ill-defined. According to clinical psychologist David Ley, “sex addiction” has been used as a lazy umbrella term, a sort of catch-all diagnosis used to explain away men’s bad behavior. “Calling Anthony Weiner a sex addict is a distraction from the important issues of personal responsibility and mindful choice,” Ley explained. “It’s also a sad form of slut-shaming.”

Porn addiction is an increasingly trendy, oft-cited sex addiction spinoff. It’s most recent star turn came courtesy of the Republican Party’s official platform. According to the platform, which names pornography as a “public health crisis,” it “seems to be for young people, they do not have the discernment and so they become addicted before they have the maturity to understand the consequences.” However, researchers have found that easily accessible pornography isn’t the root of this “addiction”; rather, it’s the religiously charged repetition of the term itself that has manufactured a majority of its victims. According to sex researcher Nicole Prause, “The actual inherent ‘badness’ [of pornography] there’s very little evidence for. Those who identify with no religious orientation or are agnostic don’t have porn addiction. The label and shaming has grown out of religious values and beliefs in the culture.” In other words, the more we talk about porn addiction and condemn porn as inherently sinful, the more sinners will start self-diagnosing.

And while Pamela Anderson certainly isn’t approaching this topic from the same background as the GOP, her opinion piece is unexpectedly conservative, especially coming from a woman who has long been celebrated as an early symbol of sex positivity and female sexual empowerment. Anderson and her rabbinical consultant focus almost exclusively on men, condemning the nefarious effects of pornography on husbands and fathers. “How many families will suffer?” they ask. “How many marriages will implode? How many talented men will scrap their most important relationships and careers for a brief onanistic thrill?” It’s an outdated, gendered take on pornography consumption, and one that is rendered archaic by the article’s own cited statistics: “According to data provided by the American Psychological Association, porn consumption rates are between 50% and 99% among men and 30% to 86% among women.”

Anderson and Boteach even go on to argue, “The ubiquity of porn is an outgrowth of the sexual revolution that began a half-century ago and which, with gender rights and freedoms now having been established, has arguably run its course.” You heard it here first, ladies: The sexual revolution is over, and it was a huge success! The co-writers’ feminist-unfriendly, heteronormative opining is unabashedly focused on traditional family units and heterosexual men, a highly privileged demographic that they would like to convince us is at risk and under siege.

Apparently, these two are campaigning against pornography on behalf of “men who, by any objective measure, have succeeded yet regard themselves as failures… Men who feel marooned in lassitude because they enjoy physical security, who feel bereft and bored even if they are blessed to have the committed love of a wife or girlfriend… Men who believe that cruising the internet for explicit footage of other women or sharing such images of themselves over the remote communication offered by smartphones are risqué but risk-free distractions from the tedium.” This is ridiculous on multiple levels. It’s incredibly difficult to summon sympathy, let alone be moved to action, on behalf of financially solvent, married middle-aged dudes who are simply “bored.” Additionally, it seems like quite a stretch to cite pornography as the source of these men's unhappiness. Countless male writers have spent their entire lives writing about middle-class, masculine ennui—Pamela Anderson and her rabbinical partner in crime aren’t going to instantaneously diagnose it away. Lastly, it stands to reason that these suburban discontents won’t be on board with Anderson and Boteach’s plot to take away their PornHub.

Of course, Anderson and Boteach’s ultimately trump card is the staple of any family values based argument: the children. Or as the opinion writers call them, “The crack babies of porn.” “In a world where accessible pornography is increasingly ubiquitous,” they argue, “We must educate ourselves and our children to understand that porn is for losers—a boring, wasteful and dead-end outlet for people too lazy to reap the ample rewards of healthy sexuality.” Anderson and Boteach must be referring to the consumers of disgusting, explicit, online pornography—not the classy pinup spreads of yore. Anderson jumpstarted her career as one of Playboy’s most beloved Playmates through her 1989 cover; her Playboy career spanned 22 years, and she boasts more Playboy covers than any other model.

This is not to say that a former Playmate can’t condemn pornography. Past actions shouldn’t necessarily prescribe one’s political or moral positioning. Furthermore, as Anderson herself would likely argue, Playboy centerfolds are tame in comparison to hardcore pornography. Still, Anderson’s op-ed feels like the outdated moralizing of a former sex icon who’s just a little bit out of touch. Anderson has made a career out of selling sex in moderation, for personal profit. From Baywatch to Playboy and back to Baywatch again, Anderson was the iconic blonde bombshell, and an important prototype for deliberately marketed, unabashedly sexy stars like Kim Kardashian and Nicki Minaj. But with this male-centered, sex-shaming finger-wagging, Anderson has revealed an inability to rebrand. Her condemnation of widely accessible porn might be more internet-phobic than anti-sex; a fear of the unknown consequences of evolving technologies. It seems that the commodification and dissemination of sex, a machine that Pam Anderson was once so tapped into, has gone wireless and high speed, passing her by in the process.

Pamela Anderson’s campaign to make porn tame again isn’t totally out of left field. Anderson is known as someone who has profited off of her body and her sex appeal—however, she’s also an early victim of internet pornography, just one of countless women who have been non-consensually exposed on the world wide web. In 1995, a private sex tape of Anderson and her then-husband Tommy Lee was snatched from their home. Due to the legal issues inherent in the dissemination of stolen property, it took two years for the sex tape to go viral. It made an estimated $77 million in less than a year on legitimate sales alone. The public assumed, as one does in the wake of a celebrity sex tape, that the leak was a deliberate ploy for pocket change or publicity. But as Anderson confirmed years later, “I made not one dollar” off of the stolen footage.

In the wake of her infamous sex tape, Anderson and her explicit antics quickly became the butt of the joke. This was years before the mainstreaming of the notions that even a Playmate can be violated, and that posing as a nude model doesn’t mean that your body becomes public property. Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee were both victims of a crime, but Anderson undoubtedly paid the higher price, as her status plummeted from icon to punchline. The Baywatch star’s personal experience as an unintentional video vixen might clue us in to the origins of her controversial, anti-porn politics. Then again, as Anderson herself hypothesized in a March interview, “Maybe this was performance art all along.”