Setting Aside Sociopolitical Concerns This Movie Objectifies the Male Body in Glorious Ways

This site should get you in the mood.

Today, I had only one thing on my agenda–to see Magic Mike or, as I have come to think of it: Showgirls 2: Showboys or, the most important cinematic event of

the year decade century. I went to the very first showing in this small corn-filled hamlet and the screening was packed with ladies. Lots of the ladies were grandma old and I was really impressed. GET IT, GRANDMAS! A few husbands were forced into the audience while the

previews rolled but for a time, I thought it was going to be Estrogenallooza 2012.

Now, I am not a prude BUT I am also, believe it or not, pretty private about my desires so suffice it to say, I am still blushing and I blushed alll the way through the movie and at times, had to hide my face in my t-shirt because I was blushing that hard at all the mansploitation sexploitation which was, sublime. I am not into male strippers because eh, whatever, but mmm, this movie, got me going. My cheeks literally ache. Lord. I needed to fan myself, and often.

I know, without a doubt, that several women in the audience orgasmed during the screening. This audience was… vocal. There was applause and gasping every time a bare

ass or snuggly thong encased cock appeared on screen. There was gasping and moaning and cheering when the strippers did things with their hips and arms and abdominals. Seeing Magic Mike was just an experience and I am really glad I didn’t go with a date who would ruin it by being a man about the movie. I sat there amongst the small town ladies and felt like in that sacred space, in that moment, we were a tribe–a female, empowered tribe. We were having this glorious experience, together. I suspect that the women in town are going have amazing sex this weekend. It got warm in the theater.

Steven Soderbergh is an interesting director. He has a generally intelligent point of view and an aesthetic but I find it repetitive these days. The highly stylized thing he does worked in his first few movies but now he keeps recycling that same style. I’d love to see him mix it up. Still, with Soderbergh, you get a certain kind of delivery from actors and a certain kind of score and a certain kind of cinematography and it all sort of works. Of his recent work, I loved Contagion and hated Haywire. I loved Magic Mike, not just for my boyfriend Channing (OSCAR FOR HIM IMMEDIATELY), but also because the movie was pretty good, cinematically speaking. There wasn’t much of a plot but so few movies these days bother with plot so it can be forgiven. There was something worth watching and engaging with. There were interesting subplots and character “development”.

Whatever.

First of all, the sweat spray budget for this movie must have been outrageous. The men were well slicked throughout the movie. The men glistened like well-defined man diamonds in the sky. They were cut and shiny is what I am saying. Bling bling.

Matthew McConnaughey (I cannot spell his name) had this hair do:

and he felt this confident about it:

And his skin took on this shade:

So, that was pretty fascinating. His body, though, A Plus. He had that muscle shelf thing going on just above his thighs, in his lower abdominal area and it was sharp. It was sharp and I wanted to cut my face on it. I mean, goddamn. Well done, sir. Well done.

When the movie began, the ladies applauded. Matthew was on stage blabbing into the microphone and ladies started to get antsy.

SHOW US YOUR PECS was the overall vibe. It got really silent. Cut away to a bedroom and a man getting out of bed and getting dressed and we get full rear nudity–thick, muscular thighs, perfect ass, strong smooth back, and it is our boyfriend Channing looking delectable. This was the first time, I said, aloud, “Mmmmmmm,” and was then mortified (like, girl, get it TOGETHER) but I was not alone in vocalizing my appreciation so there is comfort in that. Like I said, we were a tribe. There was a woman behind me who whispered, loudly, “Have mercy.”

Amen, sister. Amen.

A girl, Joanna, is getting dressed and they are trying to figure out the name of the other girl still asleep in the bed so we know Channing is a bad, bad boy but we want him to be bad. We want Channing to be bad with us. When I say we, of course, I do mean me. Channing could…. well, I mean… goddamn.

In the living room, Joanna is eating some kind of snack item and remarking on Channing’s really interesting table and we learn that he’s not just another pretty face. He designs furniture, too. Channing heads off to work in his Ford pick up truck and we see that he also has an auto detailing van. Entrepreneur.

The ladies around me rumbled quietly. Where were the strippers?! Channing pulls up to a construction site, gets out of his truck, and starts pulling on a tool belt. I died of happiness. I just died because all I could think was:

Also, I started humming this song in my head:

And then I thought, I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE STEVEN SODERBERGH!

Turns out, Channing is also a roofer. He is just a man for all seasons. He gets up on the roof with a new guy, Alex Pettyfer, who is looking super scruffy and unwashed. At the end of the work day, Alex’s car won’t start so Channing gives him a ride home and they become best friends, basically. BFF4EVA.

That night, Channing is at a nightclub in downtown Tampa and Alex is out with his sister who deadpans better than Kristen Stewart as if they are in a heated competition to underplay every cinematic moment in completely different films. Alex gets bored because his sister’s boyfriend is a total douchebag so he starts walking around and runs into Channing! Coincidence! He’s still looking scruffy but Channing gets him into the nightclub and then they do this little thing and get some girls to follow them around the way to XQUISITE, or where the Magic Mike happens. Women around me started exhaling heavy sighs of relief.

FINALLY, we were going to get to the stripping.

Channing shows Alex around and we meet the other men–Joe MangienelloICantSpellHisNameEither but he is on my beloved One Tree Hill and I guess is now on True Blood, Matt Bomer, the guy from White Collar, some huge old guy, and the Latino guy from CSI: Miami who is like always on and off the show in weird plot twists. There’s some dialogue and whatever.We see a guy pumping his cock but it’s all sort of implied. Nonetheless, the women in the audience loved it very very much. There’s more blab blah blah but really, it’s all prolonging the inevitable. Finally, the men get on stage to do a group number. It’s all very Fosse only they have umbrellas and they are dancing to It’s Raining Men (GET IT?).

I’m fucking with you. There was some of this:

And some of this:

And then Channing did this amazing, amazing rapid hip thrusting thing and he was shiny and muscular and perfect. Look at those arms? DAT NECK! Come on. I am human. I had palpitations. And this is when I started hiding in my shirt because it was a lot to handle all at once and also ten feet high.

As an aside, Channing Tatum has an outstanding agent and an outstanding personal trainer. Kudos to them both.

There are some other dance numbers and thus begins the longest cocktease in the history of movies because we see abs and arms and thighs and asses but ne’er do we see male frontal nudity. It made the ladies restless but we got through, together. At one point, it’s time for a Tarzan number but the big guy who is supposed to do it is passed out so they get scruffy Alex to go out on stage and that, my friends, is how a baby stripper is born.

Who cares about him, though, when this man has a big fire hose:

Channing takes Alex under his wing. He becomes his stripper sensei. They go shopping for thongs and Alex marvels at how the ass has no back and Channing, oh Channing, he says, “Yes, it is a thong.”

Real talk, this is, no bullshit, Channing’s finest acting. My baby is really growing! He really tried to push his facial muscles into new levels of face acting and he was extremely likable and watchable on the screen. This kind of movie is clearly his wheelhouse. He was acting what he knows, what with his brief past as a male exotic dancer. Every movie he does from here on out should involve very little clothing. It’s really what’s best for all of us. If he cares about women, he will make this happen. But here is an example of Channing showing us sensitivity.

Alex’s sister Brooke (played by the young woman who is the daughter of the head of Warner Brothers who LOL produced the movie) continues to be kind of…bitchy and emotionless but she starts to grow on you. They all go to a party on a sandbar and blah blah blah. Matthew McC waxes about how he won’t send his kids to school, he’ll just let them watch Mad Money and Brooke says something sassy and Joanna, the girl from the beginning of the movie is there and she tries to orchestrate a threesome but it doesn’t go anywhere. Brooke and Channing walk alone for a while and bond just like a personal ad and she continues to be a cool customer and it’s so ridiculous. It’s like, girl, please, You know you want it. Mostly she asks Channing to take care of her little brother.

Look, the plot is actually pretty interesting. We start to see that Channing just wants to be all he can be and make furniture and live a better life and Alex is becoming a stripper and getting into trouble and the club is going to move to Miami and Channing wants equity and Channing is lonely. There are many Sad Channing moments that just break your heart because Joanna only wants him for his body and Brooke only wants him for his mind only she doesn’t really think he has a mind because he is, a “stripper entrepreneur.”

Matthew McC has a fine moment where he gets real with Channing when Channing gets angry about this thing that happens and wants to know about his equity that tries to show the dark side of the objectification of the body. I think Soderbergh was going for that but it simply cannot work the way it would work if we were talking about female strippers and if there’s a problem with this movie that’s wherein said problem lies. Mostly when we see men stripping, we giggle, and sure, there might be some ogling, but the cultural baggage that comes with women stripping is simply not there. It never will be. So, to try and ground Channing’s existential crisis, to some extent, in the darkness or isolation of stripping is smart and potentially interesting but it will never truly work the way the director and writer want/need it to. By the end of the movie, we see that he’s just a guy and he can walk away from stripping and do something else and still make a lot more than a woman might given that equal pay for equal work is not a thing yet even though the year, at last check is 2012.

Still, setting aside the sociopolitical concerns, this movie objectifies the male body in glorious, glorious ways. The stripping montages are breathtaking. There is bare, shiny flesh thrusting and gyrating and grinding the air or women in the audience and it is all eminently watchable.

At one point, Channing starts to dance to Pony by Ginuwine and I wanted to tear my shirt off and throw it at the screen along with my bra and panties. Future husband, please note that song, will get the job done, every single time. I’m not proud of it, but this is the way it is. I restrained myself, but barely, and instead, hid further in my shirt, allowing only my eyes to peek out so I could not miss a single perfect moment of my boyfriend baring his flesh for me. I was really invested. My face was burning, burning hot.

There are many highlights but I think my favorite was in this scene, on the Fourth of July after the party on the sandbar. The men all strip down to their thongs and every woman in that theater was on the edge of her seat.

We were all hoping they would tear those thongs off and just….show us everything. Suddenly, a huge American flag falls down, and all we can see is the men in silhouette. From the back of the theater, bless her heart, a woman shouted, “OH COME ON,” loud and clear as day, her voice tinged with intense sexual frustration. Almost everyone laughed but we were thinking it, too. This movie was really excellent at keeping you on the edge. And for what? We all know what the penis looks like. It is, frankly, not the most aesthetic organ in the world. And still, Soderbergh managed to create this strange…anticipation, this tension, this desire to see something forbidden, something taboo and it made the viewing experience excellent.

Magic Mike got me thinking about female desire, the expression thereof, and the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey and this new hot summer book On the Island (which goddamnit, I read and I loved) and the intensity of the reactions women were having in the theater. People are deeply surprised that E.L. James is making a million dollars a week because FSOG is selling so well. They’re surprised not just because the book is derivative, badly written, and problematic, but also because, the success of the book speaks to the fact that women have sexual desires and enjoy having outlets for that sexual desire. I am not surprised the book is doing well, not really. It’s just a more socially acceptable kind of porn.

For whatever reason, our culture remains flabbergasted that women experience sexual desire and so every time there’s a FSOG or a Magic Mike or an On the Island, there is going to be all sorts of intellectual consternation. OMG! What is going on? Why are women flocking to these books? Why was the audience so breathless at the screening of Magic Mike? Why are women acknowledging that they get turned on? The heresy!

These same questions are not asked, at least not anymore, when men watch porn, read lad mags and nudie mags, heckle women on the street, and otherwise openly express their sexual desire. Men have always felt like openly expressing their sexual desire is one of their inalienable rights. Men, heterosexual men, have always had lots of options, too. The female body is blatantly exploited in almost every realm–advertising, television, movies. They can appreciate the female form even without accessing pornography or strip clubs. It is rare that the male body is exploited in the same way. I remember when Dennis Franz bared his ass on NYPD Blue. It was quite a thing and quite groundbreaking but it was also… Dennis Franz, not, you know, a young hot guy. Progress is slow in these matters.

There’s also the fact that so much of our cultural production caters to male desire and the male gaze. In FSOG, On the Island, and Magic Mike, setting aside for the moment the ridiculous problems of FSOG, female pleasure is the focus. Female desire is satisfied. The female gaze is encouraged. That happens so rarely.

I read this wonderful interview today where Jessica Francis Kane, for The Morning News, interviewed her mother, who worked as a secretary for Playboy during the 1960s. The whole interview is fascinating but when asked about the office environment, Kane’s mother says, ” Sexual overtones were in the air, like breathing. It was the culture, not just at Playboy. Women were objects of desire, period.” She also talked about how it was a generally pleasant working atmosphere–the sexual tension was there and openly expressed by men but not in a way that was burdensome.

Magic Mike and FSOG and On the Island allow women to openly express desire in ways that are not burdensome, in ways that are culturally sanctioned. There is none of the culturally assigned seaminess of going to a porn store or actually sitting in a strip club (things I do not personally find seamy). These are mainstream texts so women can hide in plain sight doing what men have always done–satisfying their desires. FSOG is going to keep selling like crazy and I suspect Magic Mike is going to make a fortune because, well, women have been waiting a really long time. Magic Mike is going to be critically recognized for being more than just a fun movie about male strippers because in its way, it is really kind of revolutionary. It is a movie that actively courts the female gaze in ways we so rarely see. There’s a lot of unexpressed desire that has been building and building and building and these kinds of texts tap into that desire and they tap it really, really well.

 

 

 

 

11 comments on “Setting Aside Sociopolitical Concerns This Movie Objectifies the Male Body in Glorious Ways

  1. So, as a guy unsure of how to take this article, would you recommend that I go see this movie and um, cough, bring a notebook? Or are the attractions mostly derivative of the fact that the actors are mega mega hot? Is there something for a straight guy to take away from Magic Mike, or should I Just Not Worry About It…?

  2. My sister and I recently discovered you through your WSJ recaps of The Bachelorette. She and I have watched that show together for the last few seasons and have enjoyed our own conversation but your voice is absolutely hilarious and has raised our commentary to a new level. Right now there is a lot of back and forth facebook posting amongst our circle of friends quoting our favorite parts of your posts. Your commentary on Magic Mike has solidified my fandom. Looking forward to reading more of your pieces and sharing with friends.

    Also, a question: in your opinion how many viewers watch The Bachelorette with a similarly situated point-of-view as yours and how many genuinely watch the show from a view more similar to Chris Harrison’s host character? Or in other words, to what extent do most people not understand how utterly insane the show is if taken seriously? http://popwatch.ew.com/2012/07/03/chris-harrison-the-bachelorette-episode-8-blog-2/

    1. Hi Franklin! Your comment totally made my day. I am glad you and your sister are enjoying my recaps. I am pretty excited to be writing them. I suspect its about a 35/65 split in terms of people who watch the show and think OH PLEASE (DONT STOP) and people who truly believe that it is possible to find love in such manufactured circumstances.

      Chris Harrison is intriguing, though. Sometimes, I think he truly believes and other times, I feel like he’s smirking right alongside us. In his blogs, though, he’s being a salesman. This gig is his bread and butter so of course he’s going to be very, very earnest. It’s adorable.

  3. I think this is more than “just another movie”. It’s actually one of several movies tailored for the female gaze, so I think it’s hard to just shut if off like a “one timer” as some of my friends, it’s a sign that catering to women’s desires in terms of entertainment is finally getting recognized.

    As a guy who recently started to do some erotic modeling, I think the demand and desire for female friendly entertainment and erotica have gone up. I just started modeling for small company, and our manager says she didn’t think she could venture into this business with male models just 5-10 years ago, and that there have been some development in terms of demand.

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