Magic Mike: Complete (lack of) Bollocks

I am writing this review from my personal perspective as a gay man. Others will surely have a different view - this is offered as a spur to discussion, not as a definitive statement of the merits of the movie.

Apparently, gay men are “flocking” (is that truly the preferred collective noun for gay men? A “flock”?) to see Magic Mike, Channing Tatum’s naked ass beckoning us to the theatre. I’ll warrant many will be disappointed by what they find there. Magic Mike is a deeply unsexy movie: one that does more to reveal America’s weird relationship with gender, sex and sexuality than it does to reveal the bodies of the strippers.

Let’s start with the obvious: there are no gay people in this movie. There are gay actors in the movie, but in the world of Magic Mike gay people do not exist. The audiences are made up exclusively of straight women. The movie makes it very clear that all the strippers are straight. And, from the look of the profoundly humdrum dance routines, the choreographers are hetero as they come (some of the world’s greatest choreographer’s are, in fact, straight. None were hired for this movie).

This is…odd. A movie which revolves around the sexual objectification of the male physique might be expected to have some swish about it. But Magic Mike is really, really straight. I don’t mean “straight” simply as in “not queer”, but also “straight” as in safe, unadventurous, routine. The movie seeks to eroticize its (admittedly gorgeous) group of strippers without seeming to understand much about what makes male bodies erotic.

Consider the following videos, the first the “redband trailer” for Magic Mike (apparently this is supposed to be the super-sexy one), the second the most recent video from men’s underwear designer Andrew Christian (Lick):

I submit to you that the second video is much more erotically charged than the first, even if you need to overlook the fact that the second is clearly aimed at a gay audience. The close-up focus on erogenous zones and areas of sexual appeal which might not immediately spring to mind is particularly expert: the eyes, the lips, and the tongue all receive attention. These areas are pretty much ignored by the Magic Mike trailer, and by the whole film. Many of the stale dance routines featured in the trailer have the strippers wearing hats which almost completely cover their shade-gloomed faces, and prevent us from engaging with them via their eyes. This combination of dull routines and cluelessness about the erotic potential of the male body almost succeeds in making Channing Tatum unsexy, which is quite some feat.

What about power? Much of the interest of really good sex, at least for me, comes from the psychological aspect inherent in any relationship between people, the subtle communications and exchanges of power which occur when two or more people are intimate with each other. A movie about male strippers – men who are paid, mainly by women, to take their clothes off, and are therefore not fully in control of their own sexual display – could have explored such tensions, showing women in a position of sexual power which is rarely portrayed with much insight or sensitivity, and investigating male sexual vulnerability. Lick gets this: there are clear dynamics of dominance and submission, one partner being blindfolded, another sensuously undressed while laying on his front, the power dynamics adding to the sexual tension.

In contrast, Magic Mike misses this psychological aspect of eroticism almost completely. The strippers take on deeply cliched, stereotyped “male” roles – firefighters, policemen, infantrymen, terminators, and Tarzans – and they seem perpetually in control of the situation. Despite the claim by Matthew McConaughey’s character that he sees “a lot of lawbreakers up in this house”, the women are deeply passive throughout, nary a grab, a grope, or stage invasion in sight. The men may be the objects of sexual desire, but they remain the subject of sexual activity: they initiate all sexual encounters, and are ultimately in the driving seat.

Even Alex Pettyfer’s first dance, after being thrust onstage in the least surprising plot-twist of a highly predictable (and pointless) plot, displays hardly any vulnerability. The prospect of a crowd of sexually empowered women devouring a 19-year-old stripping “virgin” nicknamed “The Kid” is initially exciting, but apparently these women are satisfied – even delighted – by a crappy routine and some saggy boxers, and his first foray into stripping ends in his immediate triumphant conquering of a beautiful audience member (and he doesn’t even has to show his). Boring. Boring and reprehensible, reinforcing as it does stereotypes of women as passive objects waiting to be claimed by men – men who can neither dance nor purchase properly-sized underpants.

Not content with stereotyping women,Magic Mike also does a disfavor to the gay community, through its obsessively bro-ish portrayal of the relationships between the strippers. “The Kid” is welcomed to the troupe with an invitation to spray the legs of another stripper with oil, and then to rub it in. So insecure is he with his sexuality that even the spraying of the oil discomforts him, and the rubbing seems to cause him physical pain. Luckily, the stripper conducting the “hazing” soon let’s him off the hook: it was all a joke! “No homo!”, he doesn’t cry but might as well have. Later, “The Kid”‘s sister catches him shaving his legs with her razor, and draws to the obvious conclusion – he’s a fag.

This cack-handed approach to gender and sexuality is perhaps less surprising when you consider the fact that, according to the New York Times, “The [gay male] demographic wasn’t part of the studio’s initial marketing push, but that quickly changed…once it became clear there was interest among gay men.” Once it became clear? How could it ever be unclear that a movie centered around Channing Tatum taking his clothes off would garner “interest among gay men”? What century are these people living in? And on what planet?

And nothing in Magic Mike approaches the gleefully exuberant sexual metaphor with which Lick ends, the model covered in white goo which completely fills his mouth (I surely need not draw the obvious parallel). The suggestion that men might ejaculate seems far too risqué for this deeply safe movie which, as Mark Simpson notes in an exquisite critique of the film, wishes to skip over the fact that men, yes, have penises.

The idea that this movie is “gleefully homoerotic”, perhaps “the greatest gay movie ever made”, as suggested in BlackBook, is garbage. This is a profoundly unadventurous movie, which does nothing to advance the American discussion over sex and sexuality, stereotyping women, gay men, and straight guys to boot. It is complete bollocks, with not a bollock in sight.

About James Croft

James Croft is the Leader in Training at the Ethical Culture Society of St. Louis - one of the largest Humanist congregations in the world. He is a graduate of the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard, and is currently writing his Doctoral dissertation as a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is an in-demand public speaker, an engaging teacher, and a passionate activist for human rights. James was raised on Shakespeare, Sagan and Star Trek, and is a proud, gay Humanist. His upcoming book "The Godless Congregation", co-authored with New York Times bestselling author Greg Epstein, is being published by Simon & Schuster.


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