Some Magic in that Mike?

So I thought I would write something a little different (but hopefully popular!) and turn my critical attention to Magic Mike XXL. Now I know I am seriously late with my thoughts on this, but seeing as I wanted something fun and also feminist to write about, I thought this would be a win win!

So two of my dear girlfriends invited me out to the cinema while my husband was away on a training course. They suggested Magic Mike and I immediately cringed. Having not seen the first film but knowing the subject matter, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it. But they assured me I wouldn’t regret it. Having dinner beforehand my friend’s boyfriend remarked that there would be outcry if the gender roles were reversed and instead this was a film about female strippers. He made a very excellent point-I certainly wouldn’t support a film of a similar ilk with female counterparts, citing exploitation, sexism and a whole host of other reasons why I wouldn’t go to see it. So why was I seeing Magic Mike? I kept an open mind as we took our seats and unwrapped our sweets!

One of my first thoughts arrived when Channing Tatum started dancing in his workshop. My friend had to explain to me this was formerly ‘his jam’. Now, I don’t have a special place in my heart for him (sorry ladies!) nor do I particularly find very muscular men attractive, but what I was enamoured with was his skill. I certainly didn’t expect him to move with such precision and energy and make it look entirely effortless. So I was quite impressed. I wonder if Channing Tatum does yoga…!

Then, once the gang are all back together on their way to the stripper convention, the ensemble actually achieve a certain level of depth and emotional intelligence, talking about their various careers, how they are growing old and the insecurities they have about losing their mojo during their last hurrah. They are surprisingly likeable and even gained brownie points with me for bigging up my all-time favourite boyband, the Backstreet Boys. As Joe Manganiello’s character, Richie, states:

“…Backstreet is the only legitimate boyband that ever came out of Florida.”

So far, I am having a good time. They’ve danced with drag queens and have got a little undressed in a way I find inoffensive so I roll with it. I even smile when Richie dances to I Want it That Way in a petrol station in order to conquer his demons and feel good about himself again. In a way this is really empowering.

My concerns begin to surface when Jada Pinkett Smith’s character, Rome, and her club is introduced. I love the idea of celebrating women’s sexuality and freedom in an open way and the way Rome addresses all the ladies in her club as ‘queens’. However, it is not as clear cut as it seems. At one point she asks, ‘Do you know what people value more than freedom, Mike?’ Her answer? ‘Beauty.’  I find this notion disturbing, and even Mike seems surprised and clarifies that she’s offering ‘subscription based pleasure.’ Mike joins Rome on a tour of the club and they watch a couple of dances. The male entertainers man handle women into positions where they can simulate sex with them, while other women around them throw money.

So what’s wrong with this? These are after all consenting women enjoying spending their money in a way that is entirely of their own choosing. Some might even go so far to say that women have been objectified in the same way for years, so why not enjoy a little role reversal? However, it is more complex than this. At one point, Rome looks for a woman who ‘must be reminded how beautiful she is’.  It is the male entertainer’s job to remind her, suggesting, in this case, that a woman’s self-worth comes about as a result of attention given to her by a man. Furthermore, she is not even entitled to this self-worth and pleasure in her own right; she has to pay for it, with her money and with her dignity as she is used simply as a medium for male spectacle. What is more depressing than this is that these women would rather indulge in a relatively ‘harmless’ simulation than go out and risk experiencing real intimacy.

Also, the argument that the allure of these men is sexual fantasy only is naïve. They also sell the fantasy of romance and commitment. This is demonstrated in the way certain female characters have romantic songs sung to them, and even Richie’s last dance involves proposing to and marrying a woman.

Not that the men fare much better. Their own value and worth is determined by their looks, their charm and sexual prowess. In this way, the women and the men are not in dissimilar situations. Their existence is equally as shallow. Mike and the others can only feel masculine when women are celebrating their physicality and throwing money at their mostly naked bodies. The women do not care if they own furniture businesses or not; all they care about is what they can use them for. This notion is also pretty depressing.

I couldn’t ignore these observations, but I did enjoy the music, the creativity of the routines, hanging out with my girlfriends and having a bit of a giggle! Perhaps this film was solely intended to provide pure, furthest-from-reality-as-possible, fun. In a way I champion this film-it’s not sorry for anything it portrays and is very entertaining. But at the same time, I wonder why men must take their clothes off and women must be humiliated in order to achieve this?

Note: I do not own any of these images or clips, they are courtesy of the interweb! 🙂


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