Pam Anderson's Barb Wire Is Awesome, You All Just Hate Fun

The turn of the century was an absolutely atrocious time to be a woman in the public eye. In the wake of the #FreeBritney movement and the public reckoning with how the world treated Monica Lewinsky, now is the prime time for reassessments of some of pop culture's biggest scandals. Netflix is currently set to make a documentary on Anna Nicole Smith, and Hulu's ongoing limited series "Pam & Tommy" have many rethinking their views on how we treated beautiful, blonde, women in the 1990s. Let's get one thing clear: there is an ethical line being crossed with "Pam & Tommy," regardless of how humanizing the portrayal of Pamela Anderson is. This is a show dramatizing the trauma caused by the theft and non-consensual distribution of a sex tape, without the still living subject's consent to have the story retold.

The year after Rand Gauthier stole and distributed the private video, Pamela Anderson was set to star in the superhero film based on the Dark Horse comic book series of the same name, "Barb Wire." Set in the at-the-time futuristic 2017, Anderson in the titular role plays a sexy nightclub owner who moonlights as a mercenary in one of the last remaining free zones in the now fascist United States following the second civil war. The film was critically panned upon release, and only made $3.7 million at the box office against a $9 million budget. It's largely considered one of the worst films ever made even to this day, but I'm here to deliver some harsh truth — "Barb Wire" is awesome, you all just hate fun ... or you hate intentionally sexy women in power.

All '90s superhero movies were some level of not good™

The way "Barb Wire" has been turned into a punching bag has always reeked of misogyny, especially when you look at the roster of similar films released around this time. "Batman & Robin," "Blankman," "Darkman II & III," "Judge Dread," "The Phantom," "The Shadow," "Spawn," "Steel," and "Tank Girl" were all released to mixed-to-negative reviews and few of them performed well at the box office. In the decades since, defenders for '90s superhero films have come out of the woodwork to sing their praises ... except for "Barb Wire." With a budget of only $9 million, "Barb Wire" was given the least amount of money to work with compared to its contemporaries, and yes, that includes the Shaquille O'Neal starring "Steel," which was given $16 million by Warner Bros.

Despite its low budget, "Barb Wire" makes the most of it, creating a post-apocalyptic world that looks as if "Mad Max" were set in the city and took their clothing inspirations from industrial music and cyber goth fashion. The futuristic world of 2017 looks less like "The Matrix" and more like "Lawnmower Man," or as if the cover art for Billy Idol's "Shock the System" came to life and started kicking ass. Mocking "Barb Wire," a film that starred one of the most recognizable women in the world but was only given $9 million to pull off a comic-book world, just feels like punching down.

Barb Wire weirdly predicted the current state of things

Rewatching "Barb Wire" in 2022 is legitimately wild, knowing that it's set in a 2017 world where the second civil war has broken out and the United States is now being run by fascists. The fascist regime in power look a hell of a lot like Nazis from World War II with futuristic flair, something that probably seemed absurd in the '90s but feels ridiculously close to our impending future if s*** doesn't change, fast. The cruel irony obviously being that the second civil war took place in 2016 in the world of "Barb Wire," and America absolutely became more divided than it had been in decades the same year due to the election of Mango Mussolini himself, Donald Trump. The movie also shows the police force being in cahoots with the fascist regime, refusing to protect and serve only the citizens that keep fascists in power.

On a less existentially terrifying note, "Barb Wire" also correctly predicted that '90s fashion and makeup would come back in a big way, and that we'd start normalizing fetishwear as genuine articles of clothing. Breast harnesses, submission collars, and vinyl thigh-high boots have all become go-to looks for celebrities and influencers, and the BDSM wear typically relegated to alternative communities have gone mainstream. Hell, if I wanted, I could have a black bustier like the one Barb wears delivered to my house tomorrow if I felt so compelled. In fact, Kendall Jenner dressed like Barb for Halloween in 2020.

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Society hates hot women

"Barb Wire" and "Tank Girl" were the only two superhero films starring women to come out at this time, and while Tank Girl has since been reclaimed as a feminist icon, "Barb Wire" is still treated like the slutty bad influence that men should degrade and women should judge mercilessly. Barb Wire as a character is still one of the only intentionally and unapologetically sexy characters in the comic book movie universe. A character like Harley Quinn in Ayer's "Suicide Squad" was stylized with sex appeal, but her character isn't centered on sexuality. "Barb Wire" opens with our main character performing at a nightclub while being sprayed with a hose while a legion of men leer on, completely mesmerized by her. "Flashdance," eat your heart out.

In a later scene, Barb kills a man who believes he has hired her for a dominatrix session, willingly wearing a full gimp suit and awaiting his punishment for being a bad boy. Barb is truly one of the only mainstream examples we have where a woman's strength and power is not diminished because of her conventional beauty. Ignoring the weirdos who were upset because they're misogynist pervs, it was genuinely disappointing when Malcolm D. Lee defended the redesign of Lola Bunny in "Space Jam 2" because he felt he was making her look "stronger." The notion that women cannot be sexy and strong at the same time or that sexy women are incapable of being strong is ridiculously anti-femme. To compound things even more, viewers couldn't take "Barb Wire" seriously in 1996 due to what was going on with Pamela Anderson's personal life at the time, because society had universally decided that she was not only worthy of contempt, but deserved it because of what she looked like and what she had done in her past.

The response to Barb Wire echoes the response to Pam Anderson existing

The very same misogyny explored in "Pam & Tommy" is the exact reason why "Barb Wire" was, and continues to be, discredited. Owen Gleiberman describes Anderson in a horrifically offensive manner, but it's quite possibly the most accurate cultural time capsule of how people were freely allowed to criticize women.

Now that we're seeing her under the hot voyeuristic glare of the movie camera, it's more apparent than ever that Pamela Anderson Lee is a constructed goddess, a creature of synthetic hair, synthetic attitude, synthetic God knows what else — cheesecake served up straight from the lab.

At the same time, the film came under fire for not showing enough sexuality, with Mike Clark of USA Today bashing the film saying, "The movie is predominantly a sexual tease, albeit one without appreciably more nudity than you can see in 1968's 'Barbarella.'"

There was no winning for "Barb Wire." The film was either too sexy to take seriously, or not sexy enough to appease the horny male gaze. "Barb Wire" is the blueprint for future cinematic misunderstandings centered on "It Girl" sex symbols that would lead to situations like the notoriously unfairly maligned "Jennifer's Body." Pam Anderson is doing exactly what she's supposed to in "Barb Wire," and it's not her fault that a majority of critics were incapable of watching the film without immediately thinking of her stolen sex tape, which had been circulated EVERYWHERE by the time of the film's release.

Let's be honest -- Barb Wire is just plain fun

Ignoring for a moment that the failure of "Barb Wire" is more cultural than it is cinematic, "Barb Wire" is a legitimately fun movie. I'm sorry, but how are you going to tell me that a movie based on "Casablanca" featuring Pamela Anderson, Clint Howard, Udo Kier, Xander Berkeley, and Boba Fett himself, Temuera Morrison, about the hottest woman on the planet fighting for human rights isn't a fun time? My god, the woman wears an all leather ensemble with impeccable smokey eye makeup, rides a motorcycle that shoots rockets, and guns down fascists! There is literally nothing else in the entire world that sounds like a better time!

It's clear that every single person involved in the film is giving it their all, and their commitment to bring to life this comic-book world is worthy of praise. Hell, Anderson was so dedicated to the leading role that she got the character's signature barbed wire tattoo around her arm. Talk about dedication to the craft. "Barb Wire" was made to highlight the rising star of Pamela Anderson but was instead torn apart for daring to allow a woman who looks like her to be the hero of a story. Don't call her babe, call her for what she is — awesome.