I should probably start by confessing that Magic Mike isn’t my first time at the proverbial rodeo. In a testament to family loyalty that trumped better judgment, I experienced my first “all male review” years ago at a bachelorette party for my cousin. In what is probably not a too unexpected coincidence (especially given Channing Tatum’s previous stint as a male stripper), the “show” put on that evening is pretty consistent to those in Magic Mike, right down to the opening act set to “It’s Raining Men” (halleluiah!). The premise seems to be set on the fact that men perform “dance numbers” in characters that are meant to represent what I presume are female fantasies. In Magic Mike these includes soldiers, cowboys, and Tarzan, which, if you ask me, more closely resemble the desires of pre-adolescent boys than adult women. But again, in a nod to authenticity, I will say that my own “Magic Mike” experience mirrored this, with the performers appearing as construction workers, firemen, and James Bond.
As the eponymous “Magic Mike,” Channing Tatum’s character performs the star solo act. For this number he appears in a sideways baseball cap, white tank, and baggy sweatpants. Looking more “mediocre” than “magic,” I suppose his appeal is as an “average Joe.” This, in some ways, makes sense to me, and ties in with the character’s dream of being “legit.”
While I don’t remember the name of the headliner at the show I attended (although I am sure it was something as equally as clever), I can honestly say his performance is something I have never forgotten. Set to Usher’s “Yeah!,” to this day I only need to hear the opening chords of the song to flash back to this memory. The stage was dark and in the center of the floor shone a single spotlight. The crowd grew silent in anticipation of the “grand finale.” Things had been pretty tame up until now, and I admit, I didn’t know what to expect given the nature of the situation. And then, just as Lil’ John croaked his opening lines of “Yeah, okay,” there he appeared. Stumbling into the spotlight our Master of Ceremonies had transformed himself into—wait for it—a homeless man. Take that, rewind it back. Vagrant. Bum. Hobo. Whichever your pleasure, that, my friends, was the ultimate fantasy being offered for the evening.
Over the years, I have continuously marveled at this. Although my interest in seeing Magic Mike had more to do with the course I am teaching this summer on gender and popular culture than wanting to revisit that memory, in both cases, I am drawn to the same conclusion. In talking to my students about the “male gaze,” we have been discussing the possibility of a postfeminist “female gaze” in popular culture. My skepticism of postfeminism aside, Magic Mike can hardly be considered a “woman’s film.” With a male writer, director, and producers, Magic Mike no more hits the vision of what women want than did my vagabond from years ago. It is just another projection of male fantasy and a distorted take on female desire. Until women are actively producing an equal amount of the popular culture we as a society consume, the roles for women—and men—remain limited.
In all fairness, the audience of the showing I went to was comprised mostly of women, and there was quite a bit of laughter. Magic Mike isn’t necessarily a bad movie, but it certainly isn’t a good one. If you noticed this review is lacking a synopsis of the plotline, it’s because the film doesn’t have one. Well, I suppose it does, but it’s about as superficial as the characters and with as much substance as a thong. It covers the bare necessities, but not much else. Overall, the dance numbers are solid and Matthew McConaughey is devilishly good, but the rest is as predictable as, well, a striptease. Mostly hype with little to offer in the long run.