Opinion

Tommy Lee and Motley Crüe Are Proof That Cancel Culture Isn’t Real

Tommy Lee (left) and his ex-wife Pamela Anderson (right), pictured here at the 23rd Annual American Music Awards in 1996, are subjects of a new Hulu series.
Tommy Lee (left) and his ex-wife Pamela Anderson (right), pictured here at the 23rd Annual American Music Awards in 1996, are subjects of a new Hulu series. Michael Ochs/Getty
As pundits argue that cancel culture is sweeping across society like some nuclear shockwave, Motley Crüe is cozily sequestered in an impenetrable fallout shelter whose effectiveness should be the subject of careful study by Nobel Prize-winning physicists.

In 1997, Motley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx called a Black security guard the N-word during a Motley Crüe set. The following year, drummer Tommy Lee was sentenced to 180 days of jail time for a domestic battery charge involving his ex-wife Pamela Anderson, an incident that Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lawrence Mira described as part of “a very clear, disturbing (…) pattern of conduct in which otherwise resolvable issues are handled with violence.”

Lee’s brushes with the law continued that same year when a judge ordered him to pay $17,500 in restitution and undergo anger management courses after he allegedly roughed up a Jewish camera man. We’re, of course, only mentioning the camera man’s Judaism because Lee didn’t want jurors to see his swastika tattoo.

Y’know, because swastikas carry at least some connotations regarding Judaism.

If any other band’s biographer included an anecdote about one of the members tricking a woman into having sex with another band member in the dark (a story Sixx recanted in 2019), no producers would even think of shelling out money to turn it into a biopic. But because we’re conditioned to think of Motley Crüe’s unbridled hedonism as aspirational, Machine Gun Kelly and Ramsay Bolton from Game of Thrones get to portray them in an acclaimed Netflix original.

Not even three years later after the release of Netflix’s Motley Crüe biopic The Dirt, the entertainment industry once again proved itself eager to give Motley Crüe a fashionable portrayal, as Lee’s infamous sex tape with Anderson is the subject of an upcoming biographical series on Hulu titled Pam & Tommy. The series will star Lily James as Pam, Sebastian Stan as Tommy, and its cast includes Seth Rogen, Taylor Schilling and Nick Offerman.

Is this what cancel culture looks like?

If Lee had gotten even a fraction of the scrutiny that Ike Turner and Chris Brown got for their domestic abuse scandals, two of the largest streaming platforms wouldn’t be investing in portrayals of him. Lee and his bandmates also had the added benefit of being looked back on in a positive light despite thriving in a glam metal subculture where women were seen as groupies before anything else.

As Dan Stubbs of NME put it in his one-star review of The Dirt, “Women in The Dirt are either fun-ruining ‘Yoko’ characters, inconveniently getting pregnant, or happy to shag each and every member of the band at their whim.”

If cancel culture is truly on the unrelenting scourge critics say it’s on, Motley Crüe is somehow immune to its effects.

tweet this
Despite the unabashed sexism that threads itself so consistently in Motley Crüe’s identity and history, in 2019, just five months after the release of The Dirt, a shamelessly hypocritical Lee got to be Twitter’s liberal ally of the day following a post he made on the social media site.

“You Trumpsters better pray that liberals never gain control of the [White House] again because we are going to pay you back so fucking hard for all of this shit,” the post said. “Planned Parenthoods on every damn corner. We’re going to repaint Air Force One, pussy hat pink and fly it over your beloved Bible Belt 6 days a week.”

After making this post, the social media sphere’s collective memory of Lee and his band somehow became positive, with “reports” noting that Twitter was “going wild” for it. Right before this happened, Motley Crüe scored their first Top 10 album in more than a decade thanks to the flattering portrayal of them in The Dirt. Months later, they announced a gargantuan stadium tour with Def Leppard, and the only reason that tour got canceled was the pandemic.

Through revisions of the band's history, the greatest takeaway are its members' relationships to women, chaos and drugs. Lee is forever immortalized as a porn star with a colossal penis in a Sid-and-Nancy marriage to Anderson. Motley Crüe will hardly be celebrated as a significant contributor to the world of music, because, ultimately, the biggest thing about Tommy Lee's drumming has always been his dick.
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.