Last month, we interviewed former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis for Alphachat, and asked him about his new transnational “Democracy in Europe Movement” or “DiEM25″. During our research for the interview, we’d come across various pictures of Yanis schmoozing with other movers and shakers -- you know, the usual crowd: Noam Chomsky, Benoît Hamon, Ken Loach, Pamela Anderson...
Ah ha. Pamela -- Baywatch legend -- Anderson.
Suffice to say, we were intrigued by Anderson’s involvement. Yanis had gushed that she was “absolutely disarming and charming and wonderful”. And, having subsquently gathered that she was very publicly supporting Julian Assange, we were keen to understand how the politicisation of Pamela Anderson -- the world's original online influencer -- had actually taken place.
Back in the 90s, of course, Anderson's stand-out performance in what as the time the most-watched TV series in the world, Baywatch -- with an estimated 1.1bn weekly viewers in 148 countries -- established her as one of the most recognisable women in the world.
But what we possibly forget these days is that Anderson's profile was also elevated by expansive internet propagation, the sort of publicity more closely associated with social media stars today.
In that regard it's worth remembering that long before Kim Kardashian's sex tape ever went viral, Pamela Anderson's equivalent had already long ago broken the internet. (Pammy’s, though, was stolen from her home, while Kimmy’s was reportedly leaked not so accidentally.)
More pertinently still, before Kimmy was the most searched-for person on the internet in 2011, for a year, Pammy was the most searched-for person for a decade, between 1995 and 2005, as the internet took off.
(Relatedly, while Kimmy achieved the record for the most-liked Instagram picture ever -- now sadly displaced by an egg -- Pammy still holds the record for the most Playboy covers ever.)
Unsurprisingly, when you look at who's influencing the influencers, often times it's Anderson herself.
Not only did Kim Kardashian dress up as her last Halloween, when Anderson -- a longtime animal-rights activist -- sent her a faux mink coat and a letter asking her to give up wearing it, Kim indeed gave up fur a few months later.
Which is why when Anderson says she's looking to apply her influence to full-time activism, aka the promotion of political and social ideas more than brands, it's probably worth taking a closer look at how and why she's decided to get involved.
It was on that note that Anderson agreed to speak to us. At first, only by email (she said she could better express herself that way). But eventually -- providing we wouldn't ignore her carefully thought-out written replies, interspersed below -- by phone and face-to-face in her suite in a Mayfair hotel, in part justified by the fact the phone call had to be interrupted.
On Julian Assange
And so it was we inadvertently found ourselves speaking to Anderson the day before she was once again catapulted into global headlines, this time in connection to her close friendship with Julian Assange, when he was was arrested and dragged out of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. At the time we spoke, we had been oblivious to Assange's precarious state. But Anderson herself was already worrying about the risk of an “imminent expulsion”. Later, she told us:
To see him was so horrible. It was so sad not just because he looked the way he did — more emaciated since I’ve seen him, and a lot older, and scared -- but also because he hasn’t been out of his room for seven years and they just grabbed him and pulled him out and stuck him in a car. I can’t even imagine how he’s feeling right now in prison.... It’s difficult to see. He’s taking the heat for everybody and I wish people could be more sympathetic. But he knew what he was getting himself into. And he’s prepared for it.
This week, she became the first person to visit Assange in Belmarsh prison. Anderson told us that she visited him every time she was in London, bringing him vegan food even though unlike her, Assange is not a vegan. “He felt like that was something exotic”. She liked the fact that he didn’t seem to judge her:
It’s so funny because when I went to go and speak to him he would talk to me about my family, my life, what’s going on in the world. He really wanted to know about how I was thinking. He’s not this narcissistic self-serving person that people say he is. He’s really curious about other people, really curious about how the world works, and through my eyes what do I see. He treated me as an equal. Me!
She also told us about how she and Assange would sit in the embassy together watching videos of far-right YouTubers -- “young, spiky-haired guys” -- talking about how crazy the world had become. She would speak to Assange about bitcoin too, she said, because she has an adopted son who’s into it. But Assange, apparently, explained to her that blockchain was much more interesting than the cryptocurrency that WikiLeaks projected into the limelight when it chose to accept it as a funding currency for its operations in 2011.
Regular Alphaville readers know that we don’t buy the blockchain hype. And yeah, Assange is, let us say, a divisive figure. But Anderson doesn’t seem to mind if you don’t agree with her or her pals. She’s not into echo chambers:
I have a lot of really incredible friends... and not everybody I know agrees, which I really like. I love that there’s just so many people in my life with interesting perspectives, and points of view, and conversation. And then I get to go home to my soccer player. And not talk about politics... DiEM25 is something I’m really pouring my heart into and I’m learning every day. I can’t read enough books; I can’t read enough articles; I can’t meet enough people. I’m just really hungry for information, I’m really excited about what they’re doing.
I like to do the unexpected. And I don’t really feel the pressure because I really have nothing to live up to.
On the future of Europe
Pamela, who was born in Canada but is of Finnish, Russian and Romani descent, now lives in the South of France, splitting her between Marseille and Cassis. She goes out and lives with Adil Rami, who plays football for Marseille and the French national team, though she had moved to France before she met him and says she’s known for a long time that she would end up in these parts at this point in her life.
She might seem to people like an unlikely ambassador for DiEM25 and the idea of pan-Europeanism, and she’s aware of that. But she’s also clearly genuinely excited by it:
Sometimes I think: am I helping or am I hindering? What am I doing? Because it’s like I’m here, but then there are all these philosophers, and economists — all these people with all these degrees, and I’m sitting here going you know, I barely finished high school, I was on Baywatch, I’m an animal activist, I have a golden retriever, I dunno...
I don’t even know how I ended up in this world. Sometimes I feel I’m just throwing myself into things which is really exciting... Feel the Fear and do it Anyway is just every day of my life, and I’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s how you stay young. Keep on learning, keeping on being brave, keep on trying new things, and really I do feel the urgency of trying to do something interesting to grab people’s attention. I know I can reach people in funny places. Like maybe the people that aren’t reading the Financial Times are watching something else... I just want to help.
All the activists across Europe whom I met...are making politics sexy again. And the fact that a Greek economist, Yanis Varoufakis, and a Croatian philosopher, Srećko Horvat, are running in Germany show that these elections are not about national politics but about the future of Europe as such. I am glad to see that Europe finally has a movement with passion opposed both to the trooping rightwing populists and to the inept establishment that is leading Europe deeper into crisis, from austerity to debt economy, from shockingly low investment into green technology and infrastructure to ruining the planet by sticking to fossil fuels. Europe should be a leader in saving the Planet.
Anderson also defends the gilets jaunes:
I raised my voice in the very beginning, saying that we should also be speaking about state violence, and the real causes for the protests, namely the fact that the poor were supposed to pay for the so called “green transition” (carbon tax). Now, after months of continuous unrest, Emmanuel Macron, instead of offering a much needed Green New Deal that would ensure jobs and move towards 100 per cent clean energy (not a simple carbon tax), is adopting an “anti-riot” bill. Where is Europe’s democracy going?
On career activism and Notre-Dame donations
Anderson says that she’s set herself up financially so that she can now dedicate herself full-time to activism, but she realises that not everyone can do the same.
One of the problems with activism and protests, she makes us realise, is that people in full-time work don’t tend to have the time to engage very much in it. That means it’s often just an activity for the rich and privileged (the "Trustafarian" types), and that in turn means we don’t tend to get a very diverse range of issues being protested about.
Anderson is setting up a project called Tenure -- an offshoot of her charitable foundation, which is focused on animal rights -- to help broaden the range of people engaged in activism:
I’m going to find -- I think I can only afford right now, to get three activists a year. But my goal is to get ten activists a year, and pay their salary for ten years so they can be activists... It’s definitely hard to make a living as an activist. You have to feed your family so you have to have some job. But this is a job!
So that’s happening so I need to fund that. I need to find some money in my foundation which is so difficult, and so awful. I’m such a gala snob — I don’t like to go to these things because I always feel that it’s such a waste of money to throw these parties.
She did go to a gala auction event recently, though, put on by the Marseille football team in aid of local underprivileged kids. All was going well until the team owner suddenly announced that the 100,000 euros that had been raised for a signed Bruce Springsteen guitar was going to go to the reconstruction of Notre-Dame -- a project that had already received more than $1bn in donations -- instead of the children.
To base this whole night on children and then to do that? Basically he did it for applause. Because he could have donated privately, right? He didn’t have to say it at the end. It’s just so out of touch! ... I just think, even Notre-Dame the building would want you to give money to children! So it just struck me as a bit strange. And I thought 100,000 euros would go a long way in Marseille.
Pamela took to Twitter to vent her frustration and told us she's going to write to Bruce Springsteen, who she knows personally, to ask where he would prefer the money to go.
In December, Pamela wrote a series of tweets directed at Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, saying she was worried Italy was descending into fascism. Salvini responded chauvinistically, saying he preferred her in a swimming costume and posting a picture of her from her Baywatch days. What did she make of this kind of response?
It's not shocking. I’m sure he was very confused. But it revealed how much more work we need in smashing patriarchy.
Someone who talks about “smashing patriarchy”, you might imagine, would be a fully paid-up member of the #MeToo brigade, and would want to direct some of her activism towards that. Particularly as someone who spends so much time hanging out with the leftie elite. But she’s not. In the past, she’s referred to herself as an “anti-feminist”; but it seemed to us she was less an antifeminist, and more a critic of the particular brand of feminism that has swept across Western society in the past five years.
She told us about her upbringing by her mother and great-aunt:
I was really lucky to be raised by such amazing women — just so full of life and romantic, and loved men, and loved being women. Now there’s this third-way feminism which I think is kind of boring and this #MeToo movement, which I think is good but I also think it’s a little bit paralysing. I believe less in hashtags than actions. We have to make sure we do something too.
Although she's fond of Twitter as a platform for spreading ideas, it seems Anderson is wary of social media, and technology in general:
This culture of Instagram and Twitter - how followers determine your self worth... Young people don’t need this, not to mention the danger of letting people know where you are etc. It’s a predator's playground. This and Uber make me very nervous.
She's also sceptical about money:
It may sound a little Star Trekky, but I believe one day money won’t exist and your good deeds will be your capital.
Money is debt, and we need to have a different relationship with money and the economy...
But she's also, it turns out, an advocate for radical monogamy (emphasis ours):
We need a sensual revolution. Now, the radical thing to do is to fall in love. Get off your phone, your PlayStation and stop watching porn. Go f*** your wife. This alone could save the world. Love, sex, romance, empathy.
As the original influencer and something of a total legend, we asked if Anderson might be keen to get involved in our efforts to expose that the entire economy is Fyre Festival. To our delight she said yes. So if you're a closet Anderson fan with nostalgic attachments to the 90s, watch this space.
Alphachat: Yanis Varoufakis on “radical Europeanism”, erratic Marxism and... Pamela Anderson - FT Alphaville
Yanis Varoufakis: “Democracy is a very fragile flower” - FT Alphaville