Gimme What You Got (But Not Your Cock)

Magic Mike in three lines:

  1. Too much Soderbergh.
  2. Not enough cock.
  3. The female gaze says what?

A spoiler-y feminist take after the jump.

Ok, first off: Magic Mike isn’t a bad movie. Not at all. It’s quite entertaining–the snoring guy at the showing I attended not withstanding.

But here’s what it’s not: a male skin flick.

Yeah, there’s a lot of shirtlessness, much of which is–

Right.

However, the movie is coy–skittish, even–about indulging what it sketches as the acquisitive, devouring, de-personalizing female gaze. The gaze that consumes, that takes the boys for all they’re worth–without getting down to dicks, mind you–and coughs up the cash in return.

There are two central female characters in the film: Joanna, an ABD psych student played by Olivia Munn and her breasts; and Brooke, the Kid’s sister, played by Cody Horn. Soderbergh uses these characters to set up what he presents as the two opposing sides of the female gaze.

Joanna fucks Mike because she can, because he’s gorgeous, willing, and talented. She met him, we’re told, when she came to the club to conduct a study for her dissertation. And jumped right up on him, because, well:

But Mike? He wants more–hell, he seems to think that they’re boyfriend and girlfriend, and spends much of the middle of the film fruitlessly calling her in what Soderbergh seems to think is a clever reversal of the “traditional” hetero male/female mating dance.

Yeah. Not that clever, dude.

Mike keeps asking Joanna about her dissertation, which she doesn’t want to discuss because, as she tells him:

You don’t have to talk. Just lie there and look pretty.

And, ultimately, of course, Joanna is revealed to be, you know, ENGAGED to another guy and utterly uninterested  in having anything to do with Mike anymore, now that she’s graduating and her real life is about to start.

This kind of attitude, the movie instructs, this perception of male strippers as beautiful, temporary creatures to be eyed, fucked, and put back in the barn is wrong: demeaning to the boys, cheapening for the women, and generally fucked up and uncool.

Brooke, on the other hand, meets Mike outside of the club, without knowing what  he does for a living, exactly. When she does come to the club–when she does see him perform–she’s both uncomfortable and turned on.

Soderbergh makes a point of focusing on Brooke’s discomfort in this scene: he uses a tight, 3/4 focus so that it’s apparent that, despite her physical position in a room full of horny, screaming women, Brooke’s alone in her conflicted reaction. She finds Mike attractive–and he is, in this scene; Tatum as his gleeful, Step Up best–and yet she’s seriously repulsed by the whole situation: the hungry crowd, the noise, and her own desire.

So she flees.

Mind you, earlier in this scene, she manages to watch her brother–as Mike puts it–“air hump a chick on stage” as part of his act, but she can’t bring herself to stay until the end of Mike’s set. Because she wants Mike, and she’s freaked out by that because she knows she shouldn’t want him, not like that, and damn if the movie doesn’t punch home to we women in the audience that THIS is the correct response. To be squicked out by our own desire when it occurs in this consumptive, public space.

Because, dear reader, Brooke ends up with Mike. He leaves the life for her, because of her. She fucking saves Mike, don’t you know. Or gives him the strength to save himself.

Now as a firm believer in, advancer of, practitioner of the female gaze–

(Yes.)

–I don’t know what to make of this. I mean, I know what I want to make of it–

because the dissonance here makes my head hurt. So a film that’s been heavily marketed as a male skin flick–as hot boys on screen for your pleasure, ladies and men who’re so inclined–is narratively structured to chastise us for partaking in that particular pleasure, or for coming to the picture looking to get off on the pretty?

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, either by the narrative itself or by my read on it. My feminist radar’s always up, dude.

Still. While I left satisfied with the story–Mike and Brooke have great chemistry and a very believable back-and-forth [and fuck, they get together over Foreigner’s “Feels Like The First Time,” so, yeah. I’m in]–I was unimpressed with what was promised as the sex. Even the brilliant crazy of Matthew McConaughey and his assless chaps doesn’t go all the way.

Which, yeah. If there’s a visual version of blue balls, this film manages to find it.

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2 thoughts on “Gimme What You Got (But Not Your Cock)

  1. Pingback: My Rhetorical Voltron | cute girl discount

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