Girls to ‘Magic Mike’: Less Heart, More Flesh
The thong GIF hit my email inbox on the morning of July 4. In it, six men with chiseled chests pull off six pairs of tear-away army fatigues, revealing six packages wrapped in red, white, and blue thongs.An American flag falls from the sky. Repeat.
It was a scene from Magic Mike — the Steven Soderbergh film that crossed the $100 million box office mark last month — and when I copied the link to my Tumblr, it exploded with a kind of orgasmic fury. Within a matter of minutes, hundreds of women had reblogged the image, many of them too young to even buy tickets to the R-rated film. The puns on “America the Beautiful” were obligatory. (“From seam to shining seam!”) “Why has no one made the [GIF] of Channing Tatum walking away butt naked yet?” one girl cried. Another joked, “my ovaries passed away due to explosion from watching Magic Mike. R.I.P.”
It was no huge surprise that a movie set in a male strip club would find a fandom among young women on the Internet. Based on Tatum’s real-life stint as a 19-year-old Tampa, Fla., hardbody, the film promised to rain men for two hours — a caliber of cinematic blockbuster man candy young female viewers had been waiting for. And yet, for a film about strippers, Magic Mike is surprisingly anti-stripper. The men’s bulges and asses are wrangled into the trappings of a cheesy romance, sealed in a vibe so chaste that women were forced to flee to their Tumblr dashboards just to get their fill.
“Magic Mike is supposed to be 90 minutes of man bananas flopping around in hammocks,” gossip blog Dlisted said of the film, which was written, directed, and produced by an all-male crew. Instead, it gave hot-and-bothered female audiences gratuitous “shots of the ugly-ass junkyard furniture Channing Tatum’s stupid character made” (and precious few shots of Tatum’s own ass).
When details of Magic Mike leaked last year, buzz among women and gay men reached the point of hysteria. Then, the first trailer hit, and it was loaded with all of this … context. The teaser lingered only briefly on Tatum’s glistening core before slogging into the film’s plodding romantic plot points. The titular Magic Mike is an impressive, successful, and affable exotic dancer, but he “wants something more.” He yearns for the pretty, uptight physician’s assistant who does not approve of his lifestyle, and so he escorts her to private islands to prove he’s more than just a bulge. What he really wants to do is make custom driftwood furniture and marry the girl next door.
To those already lining up to see Tatum take it off, the narrative felt like a betrayal. It offered, quite simply, the same tripe that Hollywood has always pushed on women—that their sexual desires are only acceptable when they’re safely tethered to a narrative of true, monogamous love. Rather than giving the stripping lifestyle a fair shake, the film painted it as toxic: Magic Mike’s protégée, The Kid, played by British model Alex Pettyfer, escapes his grueling day laborer job when he’s pushed onto the strip club stage in his briefs and likes it. But the film frames this as a cautionary tale: removing his clothes on stage for tips ultimately leaves The Kid morally bankrupt and glaze-eyed on ecstasy, groping for his co-worker’s wife’s enormous breasts.
And watching men remove their clothes on stage? That’s bad, too. Just look at the characterization of Mike’s two romantic prospects. Joanna (played by Olivia Munn) is the bisexual psych student who has an academic interest in Mike’s work, comfortably walks around topless, and engineers playful threesomes with him and other women. But instead of ending up with Mike, she ends up teary-eyed in a bar with her secret fiancée, dismissed as a lying pariah. Left in her amoral wake is Brooke (Cody Horn), the physician’s assistant who spends the film giving male strippers the side-eye, flees Mike’s club in a moral panic, convinces him to give up stripping—and kisses Mike across the kitchen table as the credits roll, elevated as the film’s virtuous feminine figure.
The takeaway? Women who openly enjoy sex are bad. Women who don’t are good. (Oh, and gay men? They may be flocking to the film with their straight girlfriends in tow, but they don’t exist on screen. Demonized bisexual Joanna aside, there are no gay strippers, no gay besties at the club, not even an experimenting frat boy in the film’s sorority party scene.) “I did get that sense that it was a little anti-stripping,” says Ríkey Elíasd, a 19-year-old from Iceland (which banned strip clubs entirely in 2010). “I thought it was weird,” she says. “The only reason I saw the movie was for the stripping part.”
This is America, of course: arousal and shame are inextricably linked here. But it seemed an odd message to be sending to the fans who’ve ponied up $10 to see the men of Magic Mike strip to Ginuwine’s “Pony.” It was as if Magic Mike enticed women with gyrating abdominal regions, then told them to hate themselves for looking.
“The credits came up and I was actually angry,” says Cassady Ranford, a Vancouver 19-year-old. “We all gush about wanting any of the characters to kick down our door and give us a lap dance, but we don’t want to hear about their boring lives afterward.”
It’s clear what female viewers would have preferred: A live public streaming of Tatum tirelessly working a pole.
“I could be viewing much better uncensored action than this on the Internet, for free, at home,” one young woman complained on her blog.
“Just YouTube the good stripping parts and don’t even bother for the rest,” another commented.
But perhaps Ranford put it most succinctly: “Not enough ass… Not enough ass… Not enough ass.”
Women like Ranford may be willing to buy tickets for boozy afternoon screenings — the film’s returns have set plans for a sequel into overdrive — but they’re refusing to buy the Hollywood narrative. Instead, they’re picking the pieces of the film that they came to see—the sexy parts—and setting them on a permanent GIF loop, walls of coordinated groin-thrusting and chest-rubbing and butt-flashing, no moralizing necessary.
When the film was over, Ranford headed back to her tumblr and posted a GIF of Channing Tatum power-thrusting the floor.
“At least I saw some asses,” she says.