Last summer, women flocked in droves to see members of a bridal party dramatically desecrate a flashy wedding gown, take out their crazy on a chocolate fountain and fart joke their way to the top of the box office. This summer’s runaway film hit with female audiences goes for a complete different type of girl bonding experience that involves watching buff, bare-chested heartthrobs perform a series of coordinated pelvic thrusts before brazenly ripping off their tear-away pants. Welcome to the seedy underbelly of the Florida stripping scene, filtered through the lens of Stephen Soderburgh.
You can practically smell the ball sweat coming off the screen as Channing Tatum, one of Hollywood’s rising stars, reprises a role that he played in real life. He sure has come a long way since flaunting his fancy footwork in Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs” video and the “Step Up” franchise. As the titular character, Tatum takes the fresh-faced youngster Alex Pettyfer, affectionately referred to as “The Kid”, under his wing and thrusts him into the spotlight, pun intended. The plot proceeds exactly as you’re predicting it might – before strip club owner (and scene-stealer) Matthew McConaughey can eke out another Wooderson-inspired “alright alright alright”, the Kid gets corrupted and Magic Mike’s whole world goes up in smoke.
While the screening of “Magic Mike” that I attended wasn’t exactly packed with rowdy, ravenous ladies, there were many moments that elicited hoots and hollers from the crowd. Unsurprisingly, there were quite a lot more chuckles at the dance sequences than ooohs and ahhhhs. The film confirmed one of my suspicions about male stripping – it’s clearly a lot more ridiculous than it is sexy.
It’s difficult to pin down exactly what about male stripping is so silly. All the elements for arousal are there on paper – subjectively attractive bodies, glistening skin, simulated sex… ok, there’s no way I can even write this without it venturing into Harlequin romance territory. And while there are some women out there whose panties get a little wet at the aforementioned scenario – approximately one third, if you believe in anthropologist Carole S. Vance’s “One-Third Rule”, which supposes that when an erotic image is presented to a group of women, one-third of them will find it disgusting, one-third will find it ridiculous, and one-third will find it hot – but I regrettably am not one of them.
Another reason why audiences might turn to laughter at the trying-to-be sexy moments is that engaging this seemingly naughty act with a group of friends instills an elementary school level of giddiness attained when skipping school together for the first time. Male strip clubs provide a relatively safe environment for women to play the role of the desirer, whether that makes them uncomfortable or not.
In her interesting review of the film, Tracy Clark-Flory of Salon.com pondered whether male strippers were a bit too in need of being desired, rather than doing the desiring that supposedly turns straight women on. “Men objectifying themselves is feminizing,” she notes, quoting journalist Susannah Breslin, especially when they choose to do so in a traditionally female-dominated industry.