Mapping Freedom - East to West and West to East

´Winter 2019. I had an argument with an old man in the street yesterday. He was sitting on the sidewalk and wanted some money, so I gave him 2 dollars, and he took them and made a sour face, and then got real angry. He said that back in the day, one could do a lot of things with 2 dollars, like go to the horse races and make at least 2 bets, or buy a medium size bouquet of flowers to apologise to your girlfriend for being a complete asshole the other night, or get a 5 scoop ice-cream cone with enough spare change to get a bubblegum to wash out the horrible taste of factory made vanilla cream. But today 2 dollars can’t get you anywhere. The economy, he said, has pushed us all to the brink of disaster, and whilst the rich are getting richer, the poor and middle class are losing wealth and thus stability. Oh, yes, all those rich kids could get a 5 scoop ice-cream ANY TIME they want it, whilst we, the majority, need to call our bank before such an endeavour. And calling your bank before getting a 5 scoop ice-cream just shows us how we had fallen as a society… He left with a sulky face, and all I was thinking about is going to get some ice-cream right here, right now. Before the world ends.´

It was an afternoon, in August, when I open up my email and dragged out of it an acceptance letter to Cassis Artists Residency.

“Dear Alina,

We are happy to host you at Cassis AIR 2018-2019!
We have finalized our calendar and would like to confirm the period of your stay from 1 of March until 14 of March 2019.
Please note: we don't have any special studio space. We will try to organize the working space according to artist's needs together, upon an artist's arrival. If you have some demands for your working space, please, send us before your arrival.
Best regards,”

The artists residency was located at 4 Avenue du Picouveau. An only 2 hours flight, half an hour bus, half an hour train ride and another 10 minutes bus from where I live, in Amsterdam. The town of Cassis is situated on the Mediterranean coast, east of Marseille. My stay would last 14 days, 2 weeks, no more. I applied for this residency on a whim, knowing others that shared the space. The location was beautiful, the living accommodation cozy, and by cozy I mean shared, and by shared I mean bunk beds, with a common room, a divided kitchen, a terrace and a swimming pool to which everyone had access. I didn’t know the city and I couldn’t locate it on a map until I made my application and browsed the alleyways of Google, dipping my eyes into the virtual sea. But I followed the news. In November of last year, 2018, that meant being aware that there was such a thing as the Gilets Jaunes, or Yellow vests, a movement which lead to months of riots on the streets of Paris and which dominated mainstream European media as an example of bottom up organisation, fluid in terms of composition, blamed for having right wing tendencies, but also signaling a new way of looking at class discontent.

The New York Times columnist Vanessa Friedman wrote about them:

“Someday the “gilet jaune,” the fluorescent yellow hazard vest that has become synonymous with the French outcry over fuel prices, growing income inequities and much more, will end up in a museum as one of the most effective protest garments in history. “

David Graeber, the renowned anarchist and Occupy Wallstreet organiser, wrote about them:

“If one feature of any truly revolutionary moment is the complete failure of conventional categories to describe what’s happening around us, then that’s a pretty good sign we’re living in revolutionary times.”

But more importantly, or what sounded like a truly revolutionary moment in itself, Pamela Anderson wrote about them:

“Yellow Vests are calling for a new social justice order, for the right to live in dignity based on fair wages and a fair tax system. The only solution is to create such a system. A system that will stand for respect of community life: for redistribution of the wealth to the benefit of the people and the nation. Because the people have been excluded from the distribution of wealth thus far and have been left destitute.”

And it just so happened that Pamela lived in Cassis.

So, rather than follow up on Friedman, or Graeber, or marvel at the initial utter lack of framing of the movement from any sort of intellectual standpoint outside of anarchistic or mainstream media ones, I decided to follow Pamela down the coast. Knowing I would arrive in Cassis in March, after having received the approval for my stay, I dug into how to find her.

I tracked the news, and worked my way back, 2018, 2017, hoping that if I got to talk to her, I´d better understand her need to contribute to a political standpoint which went beyond the protection of animal rights, for which I already was aware of her track record.

What had made Pamela a dedicated social commentator in her adoptive country, France?
Had the ground really moved beneath our feet?
Was all of this new?

Closer to the date of my arrival I pulled up a new tab in my browser and navigated to her foundation´s website. On the contact page I filled out the form, making sure to leave my personal details behind. I started off:

“Dear Ms. Anderson, wondering if you might still be in Cassis anytime between the 2nd and 21st of March. I’ll have the chance to spend some time there in a local artist residency and noticed you also live in the area. It would be a pleasure to meet if your schedule would in any way allow it. Greetings from, for now, Amsterdam. Alina”

I hopscotched across the field of digital news sources, tracing her move to Marseille, in the Corniche-Kennedy neighbourhood, her opening of a vegan restaurant in Saint Tropez and subsequent closing, the dissolution of her latest relationship and following move to Cassis.

Each article, each small time framing begging me to go further back, to better understand. And how did I know she lived in Cassis? After having read the entirety of her opinion piece entitled “Yellow Vests and I” on her foundations page I navigated seamlessly to a video interview, always the sucker for moving image:

“5 nov. 2018

Twenty-five years ago, a skimpy red swimsuit, a slow-motion camera and a Californian beach rocketed Pamela Anderson to worldwide fame. While most people couldn’t keep their eyes off her on the TV show Baywatch, there was something they didn’t see – her extraordinary commitment to animal rights and social justice. These days Anderson is a genuinely powerful political “mover and shaker”, with leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin happy to take her calls. She is also having an unusual love affair with the Australian founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange.”

And in this video, a 60 minute Australia interview, she just so casually happened to take the reporter for a walk down main street Cassis, Quai Jean Jaques Barthélémy, revealing how she now lives in Southern France. They walked, the reporter and her, holding on to the leash of her large and unrestrained dog Zuzu next to La Vieille Auberge, Marius et Fanny, Poissonerie Laurent, restaurant Nino, Monsieur Brun, La Maison and ended up on the beach where Pamela dipped herself in with a splash.

“Politics wasn´t always a priority for Pamela Anderson. She started out as a small time girl who was trying to make it as a model. At age 24 she landed the lead female role on Baywatch.”

I dug deeper. I remembered Baywatch. Or, at least, the memory of Baywatch was ingrained in my understanding of my childhood. It played for years on national television and since me and my sister were rather free range children with no age restriction on our visual intake we took it all in. To truly understand and actualise the image of Baywatch though I realized that I´d need to go back to when the tables had been turned, the moment in which eastern socialist structures had seen their demise begin, 1989, and when capitalism is said to have won the ideological struggle.

I was reminded Derrida´s contribution to our understanding of present day in the form of the concept of hauntology:

“Derrida used the concept to refer to the way in which we never encounter things as fully present, as fully there. In all of our experiences the present is always mixed up with the past and the future. That which is present is always mixed up with that which is absent. We can only make sense of any present moment by comparing it with the past and anticipating the future.“
Cuck Philosophy

September 22nd, 1989, Los Angeles County, California.

Baywatch thrust itself into the world. Live action. Slow motion beach shots. Toned bodies. Helicopter rescues. The thought of being kept safe and sound from a mighty yet hard to pin down force - ocean water. Baywatch was the place where harm came from basic and resolvable human misunderstandings and rather playful natural forces, which rarely showed their true dark side.

“Its amazing when you look back. At one point it was the most watched show on the globe. 150 countries.” Pamela quips.

In Baywatch we witnessed the pinnacle of modern day achievement, the wish to do good of a group of aesthetically pleasing men and women, humans with complex social status (as one of the characters in Baywatch, Lieutenant Mitch, played by David Hasselhof points out in Baywatch´s pilot episode: “Lifeguards are teachers and doctors… and attorneys.” They seem to have achieved the realization premised in communist thought, but within the boundaries of capitalism. As Marx pointed out, the ideal of human realization lay in flexibility of time and purpose, an easy glide between occupations and leisure:

“For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.”
Karl Marx, The German Ideology

To my great surprise, since I also imagined in retrospect Baywatch to be an exercise in shallowness, its initial opening song talks of individual struggle, of capitalism proper, and in some strange way it echos back into present day political realities, the struggles which engulfed the streets of Paris, the Yellow Vests. The opening song hints at the wish for personal achievement and financial stability, the individual doesn’t act out for the group, but for themselves alone, though he does acknowledge the existence of a group, trapped in a similar set of struggles. There are misunderstandings, there is escapism, issues which may seem small (in this case the possibility to pay rent), but that hint at larger structural problems, and it goes something like this:

Strong Enough
Evan Olson

“All of my life, I've been waiting in vain,
To get to the point, the point of anything,
Even without, all these things I can't feel,
I'm running away, from what I know is real.
So do what you do, if you never had the time,
I've been hanging around, trying to be myself tonight,
And all of these things, that we take for granted,
We will rise and will show we can pay the rent.
To me, Am I strong enough, to put up a fight,
Am I strong enough to make it through the night,
Am I brave enough, to be who you see,
Am I rich enough to feed my family.
These warnings inside, have been wanting to show,
But I can't be sure, of what I just don't know,
Though I believe, I can handle the stress,
I still don't know how, I got into this mess.
So don't be afraid, when the walls come tumbling down,
Keep standing tall and keep your feet flat on the ground,
When news travel fast, but you're the last to take it in,
We'll run to the top and we'll ride it again.”

Let’s take that in one more time:

“So don't be afraid, when the walls come tumbling down,
Keep standing tall and keep your feet flat on the ground,
When news travel fast, but you're the last to take it in,
We'll run to the top and we'll ride it again.”

In November 1989, close to the structure which divided East from West Germany, David Hasselhoff, Lieutenant Mitch from Baywatch, took it upon himself to bring down the Berlin wall. He did this by blurting out the lyrics of his now famous musical contribution, entitled “Looking for Freedom”, once again, a tale about individual struggle.

´In a recent talk Jimmy Durham cited two people he had met in Italy as saying: “We are liberated. What we need now is a better life.”´

Jan Verwoert, Exhaustion & Exhuberance

Baywatch´s first season was filmed before Hasselhof´s climb on top of the Wall, but as revolution spread across Eastern Europe the first season was still ongoing. It lasted until April 6th 1990. Away from torment of a political nature, Baywatch chronicled an alternative world, replicating ours, but one in which the main topics of conversation were, at best, earthquakes, shark attacks, saving people from drowning, emotional entanglements and serial killers. In spite of this, its underlying hidden struggle was real, while it imagined an idealized version of capitalism that we aimed to achieve worldwide almost 30 years ago.

On March 2nd, 2019 I arrived in Cassis.
By that time Pamela had already crossed the Atlantic:

Two hours before my arrival, her Twitter feed, always active, read:

“Good Morning Vancouver”

As she left, my search to better understand the structure of the show that catapulted her to fame was only just beginning.

To be continued...

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