Libido. It’s a funny-sounding word, suited well for Steven Soderburgh’s latest waxed and gyrating money maker, Magic Mike. From appearances alone, you would think it’s opening night for Sex and the City. Lines of stylish females and giddy gay men, murmurs of expectation, flasks hiding in purses. Yet this time, there was something different simmering below the surface…
Mike (Channing Tatum) works construction by day and the stage by night, though he has dreams of living a simple life hand-crafting furniture. When he meets 19 year-old Adam (Alex Pettyfer), or “The Kid,” he takes him under his wing and creates a new stripteasing star, only to realize that his life is swivelling downward, like coke down a nasal cavity.
Did we gals want more to this ass-flexing film than a shot of Channing Tatum’s backside or a closeup of a penis pump — in use, you ask? Sigh. I’m not so sure. The film’s high points were provided in the variety of impressive dance sequences performed by Mike, Adam, emcee Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), “Big Dick” Ritchie (Joe Manganiello of True Blood), and Ken (Matt Bomer of White Collar), among others. In fact, the wily whooping of the audience rendered the theatre more of a club itself.
It would be capricious to dismiss the objectification of men as mundane. The only other place I can think of where this is found blatantly and regularly is on HBO’s True Blood, yet women are still just as scantily clad. It was refreshing to celebrate female heterosexuality in a public space — almost rather explosively, perhaps due to its very rarity. Mind you, it isn’t as if the film served as some major social transgression. There were no shots of sex acts, no female orgasms, and nothing highly out of the ordinary. While the film may have given some women the feeling that they were partaking in a “naughty hetero-bonding” experience together, in reality, everything stayed within the parameters of sexual policing.
Women were depicted as just as sexually ravenous as men, if not more so (an ode to reality, perhaps?), though unfortunately, were still relegated to a similar trite virgin/whore complex that is exhausting at this point. While Mike has regular sleepovers with sexually adventurous Joanna (Olivia Munn), she is, though perhaps more subtly, portrayed as an emotionless, sex-hungry bitch. It goes without saying that sometimes, women also only want one thing, but does that mean they’re bad people? His other love interest, Brooke (Cody Horn), Adam’s sister, is clearly more grounded and monogamous — and therefore, more desirable. Whereas Mike is tired of being objectified and wants to have a meaningful relationship, he is still permitted the same promiscuous behavior, without question.
This is accentuated further with the character of Nora (Riley Keough), introduced as your typical f*cked-up pixie girl, with a pet pig in tow. Adam becomes enamored with her, to which Mike warns him to stay away. Her character is not developed, so as to say, girls who run in these circles are not worth dating. Obviously, Nora is being used here as a prop to remind us how tempestuous Adam’s life is ultimately becoming.
While the film may be marketed as ‘”for women’s enjoyment,” it could be viewed as quite the contrary. Here, “You can look but you can’t touch,” is given a certain morality, reminding women that promiscuity is only okay when confined to context. From another angle, its narrative could merely swing both ways, for it also reiterated that regardless of one’s gender or sphere, it’s easy to get caught up in a life of illusion. It is easy to think that momentary pleasures, such as sex and money, will render happiness, yet they constantly leave us wanting more. Mike’s inner turmoil was in deciding if he wanted to keep living a surface life that yielded instant gain or to suck it up and work hard to create something of value.
Still, I find it hard not to wonder if this “refreshing” role reversal is what allows us to ask these questions in the first place. Had the stripper been female, would we just be wondering if she were a “broken” woman? Yawn, more dick shots please.