I Want My PamTV
I was never much of a Baywatch fan, and not only because of the ridiculous comeback it marked for David Hasselhof (if he could be said to have “come back” from Knight Rider). It was just a little too aggressively heterosexual for me. Plus, it seemed always to be referenced elsewhere, for instance, airing on Joey and Chandler’s TV on Friends—that didn’t help matters. You know, it was sooo overexposed (pardon the pun). But perhaps I never gave the show enough credit. There was certainly an almost equal amount of pretty-boy as buxom-babe flesh on display, often presented oiled-up and glistening like some Physique Pictorial gay beefcake model. And of course, Joey and Chandler’s ogling of Yasmeen and Pamela barely covered over the obvious homoerotics of their own relationship, which Friends toyed around with until Chandler and Monica hooked up. The Baywatch babes were the vehicle through which the boys could express their common desires, without acknowledging that those desires were for each other.
Still, I never got into the show. Nonetheless, I have always been fascinated by the floozy routine performed to such perfection by Pamela Anderson. To wit, here is a brief laundry list of some of the highlights of her career thus far. She was the only reason to watch Tim Allen’s Home Improvement and then Baywatch, and after she left both shows, why did anyone bother watching them (or producing them, for that matter)? Barb Wire was a brilliantly awful film, and Pammy looked totally hot in her fetish-y black rubber bodysuits. Moreover, Pam’s life doesn’t end on the big or small screen, but has rather far-flung influences and is always grist for tabloid news and speculation. She holds the record for the most Playboy covers (eight), and Richard Branson ordered that the bottles of Virgin Cola be modeled after her pneumatic curves. And naturally, like millions of others, I have always been interested in the men to whom she’s attached. Tommy Lee was a nice bit of rough trade, and Marcus Schenkenberg, positively Apollonian. But Kid Rock? I guess we all go slumming from time to time.
If it seems a little odd (at least it did to me occasionally) that an openly gay man would be so, like, totally into Pammy (but not that way), all my fascination has been clarified for me by her new show, which the ever-so-savvy business gal also executive produces. I can say, without a doubt, that VIP is the gayest show on television. Forget the sanctimonious moralizing of Queer as Folk (the Showtime version). It’s not “edgy,” but dull—oooh, scantily clad boys kissing and having sex, tres scandalous! And even the Jack and Karen show on Will & Grace has gotten a bit tired. For pure bitch-slappin’, campy diva fun, there’s naught as queer as VIP.
On the show, Pammy plays Valery Irons, the public face of Valery Irons Protection, an “elite Los Angeles bodyguard agency.” Val was “plucked from obscurity” to be something like the agency’s logo, leaving the “real” bodyguards to do their work behind the scenes. So, Val is the ditzy blonde who is supposed to be more interested in shopping with her best friend Maxine de la Cruz (Angelle Brooks) than attending to the agency’s work. Except, of course, that it turns out Val is much more dedicated to the work than her friends and co-workers expect. She has an unerring sense of morality and justice, and always manages to save the day in her clumsy, inadvertent manner. Kind of a thin premise, admittedly. But this also gives the show’s writers lots of room to go over the top with each week’s storyline (a recent one had Val vanquishing an evil doctor babe who planned to sell a biological weapon that would turn the world’s oceans into “green Jell-o” to the highest terrorist bidder). Every episode is full of bad-ass car chases, kung-fu flick-style fight scenes, and campy dialogue. “You go, girl,” “Girlfriend,” and “Miss Thing” are several of Val’s favorite expressions—if I close my eyes while watching, it’s like I’m overhearing snippets of conversation at my local gay bar on a Saturday night.
And oh, yeah, there are lots and lots of costumes.
Really, it’s largely the clothes that make the show. For any given segment between commercial breaks, Val will go through at least three, often many more, costume changes—even if the time elapsed in VIP world is only a few minutes, she is constantly changing outfits. And these are costumes to make any drag queen weep tears of jealousy. Wigs, feather boas, rhinestone jewelry, mini-skirts, lingerie, leather, sequins: Val has them all, in seemingly infinite and fabulous combinations.
And the fabulosity doesn’t end with Val. Every character on VIP is in drag of one-sort or another. Explosives expert Nikki Franco (Natalie Raitano) is a butch little number, always wearing sleeveless t-shirts with big guns strapped under her arms: she’s like that ragin’ dyke Hothead Paisan, without the politics. Martial Arts guy Johnny Loh (Dustin Nguyen, long ago part of 21 Jump Street, if any of you remember) is, of course, quiet and “mysterious,” and he is always clad in black leather pants and tight, long-sleeved, dark t-shirts that show off his perked up tits and are emblazoned with some sort of fiery, calligraphic dragon. And on one recent episode, computer whiz/nerd Kay Simmons (Leah Lail) sported a cyber-sexer’s wet dream, a black microplastic bustier, complete with mini-keyboard and computer interface, loaded, naturally, with all the latest software.
All of this couture camp is the primary reason that VIP is the gayest show on television. It’s like Drag-a-palooza, all vamping and performing, parody and self-display, just like all the best drag queens know how to do. This was attested to in an episode a few weeks back guest-starring RuPaul, who restrained himself to femme gay-boy drag. Pammy’s similarities to RuPaul were all the more obvious in the absence of his own “Supermodel” persona. It was as if their images and identities were sliding into one another. You’d catch a glimpse of that towering blonde wig, those stack Lucite heels, that strut, and think, “It’s RuPaul! Oh wait, he’s over there in boy drag. It’s Pam!” The two definitely share a similar sense of style and self-performance.
By taking on this new drag persona, Pam has undoubtedly endeared herself to legions of gay men, just as she has similarly moved legions of straight men, in areas somewhat lower than in their hearts. Even better, she’s not just a “dumb blonde” or a “bitchy diva.” Both in playing Val and in her real-life creative control over her image and career, Ms. Anderson shows herself to be much smarter than conventional prejudices against sex-pot women would initially allow. She’s resourceful, has a head for business, and can kick ass when she needs to. Might she be something of a role model for women? She may be exploiting herself and her body for monetary gain, and some might think her just a high-falutin’ working girl, but at least she’s in control—in executive producing of VIP and in marketing oh so many Pam peripherals (check out her website pamtv.com for a catalogue). She’s even released an “official” version of that infamous Tommy Lee and Pam sex tape, on which she is credited as both Actress and Cinematographer. And speaking of in-control businesswomen/entertainers, is she really so different from Janet and Madonna? While La Madonna will always have a special place in my heart, I have to say that Pamela Anderson just might be my new lucky star.