The most striking visual element of Pam: Girl on the Loose (E!, Sundays at 10 p.m. ET)—setting aside the pinup figure of Pamela Anderson, itself a major work of contemporary popular art—is the texture of the light. The creators of this eight-part “docu-series” made a decision to employ some particular film stock or trick of postproduction and relay Anderson’s doings in shocking tones of pale. The images first grab the eye, then try to strain it. Though the look happens to be richly evocative—of Malibu glare, platinum-blond bling, stargazing gauziness, New Age celestial radiance, and flashbulb blaze—one suspects the real intent is to wash out whatever lines and blemishes exist on the face and frame of the star, who just turned 41. Or else it’s a visual pun on the idea of overexposure.
Like many reality shows, Girl on the Loose feels compelled to defend itself against being called a reality show. “This is not a reality show,” reads some text drawn on the screen in a hot-pink scrawl, like lipstick on a mirror, in the series’ opening moments. Yeah, yeah, and this is not a pipe, either, but let’s give the girl—also an executive producer here—a chance to explain herself. “You will not see my kids,” says Pam. “You may see their feet.” Great. The mission of the series, the animal activist continues, is “showing a conscious lifestyle” that is, further, “wild and fun.” Swell and, further, rock on. Pam contributes much not-quite-divalike introductory grousing—”If I see a cord and a boom, I’m gonna leave”—about the mic overhead and the cameramen underfoot, and then she shortly confesses, “Some people are afraid of being filmed. I think I’m afraid of not being filmed.”
So maybe this isn’t so much a reality show as a PETA promotion melded with a maintenance dose of exhibitionism. Long an institution—Baywatch babe, Playboy centerfold, and progenitrix of the celebrity sex tape—Pam has all the fame she wants. What she needs is that white light of attention, and she’s smart enough to know the difference.
This is not a bimbo: Wherever else the woman’s tongue may have been, it is often found in her cheek. Thus did she play along with Sascha Baron Cohen, satirizing herself and the atmosphere that makes her possible, opposite his Borat, jiggling for American glory. Thus does she warmly embrace her own banality on this show—a rather charming attitude for a low-culture icon to have but not really a recipe for high drama. Thus, the viewer of Girl on the Loose also must embrace the star’s banality, lest he get the feeling that he’s watching, like, footage of a rather charming soup can.
Because Pam abjures hysterics and trumped-up drama, the show is mostly a collage of errands, red-carpet moments, and casual chatter. She puts on something suitably inappropriate to wear to the White House Correspondents Dinner. She watches her mother makes pirogi. She vacuums the floor. To add tension, the members of Pam’s modest entourage fret about small hassles with a powerful sense of duty: Will Pam be able to do the walk-through of the storage unit before her philanthropic yard sale?!
She will, you’ll be relieved to know. The best worrying gets done by David LaChapelle, the photographer famous for his conflicted glorifications of saturated sleaze. (Will this photo shoot get done on time?? It will!) Photo shoots are Pam’s favorite thing, and LaChapelle is her favorite person, “my soulmate,” as she says, and I believe. He’s been the best interpreter of her sex symbolism, placing her in freak fantasies that address the druggy pleasures of extreme artifice and also spotlight the violence of eroticism in a country where it’s a competitive sport. I’ll let you find most of these on your own, as it isn’t advisable to view them in the workplace, unless you happen to work at an edgy magazine, a breast-enhancement salon, or an avant-garde auto-body shop.
However, all of you should be able to check out this superbly ghastly 1998 shot without having to pay a visit to H.R. Here’s a vision of the famous babe as a foxy crash victim, killed in the wreck of a Benz and, worse, stripped of golden mane. Note the debt to J.G. Ballard. Marvel at its anticipation of Britney Spears’ head-shaving, car-smashing meltdown. Compare and contrast with the moment in Girl on the Loose where one of LaChapelle’s assistant’s uses Pam (the spray-on cooking oil) on Pam (the prefab bombshell) in order to achieve perfect lubricity for the lens. The assistant’s voice glides with mirth in observing this coincidence of product names. This is not mundane; this is mundanity, and sometimes that’s worth a giggle.