There isn’t one.
Magic Mike is a great movie, one of the best American films so far this year (the others, for the record, are Moonrise Kingdom, The Grey, Chronicle and Cabin in the Woods). It’s also an important film. In a medium where the “male gaze” is the unquestioned norm, Magic Mike muddies the line between a male gaze, female gaze, heterosexual gaze, homosexual gaze… The male strippers featured so prominently in advertisement are clearly the center of attention, not only from a cheering female audience but also from approving males, disapproving males, and not so approving females, and we are placed in the position of all four groups. Stephen Soderbergh, who has matured excellently since sex, lies, and videotapes, directs the camera without succumbing to the biases of his gender and sexuality. He’s too clever for that. The result does not merely flip objectification from women to men but calls into question all objectification. It acknowledges its appeal and admits a certain level of objectification is natural for humans, even healthy, but when systemized it becomes a means of oppression. Magic Mike articulates the message clearly with the help of Channing Tatum’s real experience as a stripper, the script’s accurate recreation of this, and Oscar-level performances from Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, and newcomer Cody Horn in the deal-making role of Brooke, sister to the newest stripper Adam, a woman not opposed to the business per se but forced suddenly to confront it.
For these reasons you should see Magic Mike, but you should have been willing to see it regardless. Sadly, many men had decided early on they weren’t going to because it features men wearing thongs and shaking their asses. The theatre I went to had maybe two or three other men, and many others I’ve talked to have all given the same impression: “Magic Mike is ‘female fan service,’ ‘eye candy,’ any guy who obligingly sees it is ‘gay.’ Permit me the expletive when I say: “That’s bullshit.”
It’s bullshit to think taking interest in a film with a cast of good-looking men makes one gay. There’s no good argument for why and you shouldn’t try to find one. Men who think along these lines are responding to either homophobia or sexual insecurity that makes them uncomfortable to acknowledge, yes, women can ogle men the same way men ogle women.
It’s bullshit to brush off said film as “fan service” and “eye candy” when the same people will watch Michael Bay’s Transformers and not raise an eyebrow when the camera pans up Megan Fox’s body. Let’s face it: leading actors in Hollywood tend to conform to modern notions of beauty. Magic Mike is no exception but it at least admits “sexiness” is a performative, and not inherent, quality. Presentation and intention determine if a piece of art is fan service, not the appearance of a “good-looking” man or girl.
It’s bullshit to make excuses for your prejudices. Admit your discomfort; fight it off. I can’t put it more simply.
Cinema gives us a lens into experiences both familiar and unfamiliar: the lives of male strippers, viewed by their girlfriends, female customers, and each other, is just as compelling as any other profession or perspective. Some might ask why I give Magic Mike a pass but not Twilight. Twilight is not bad because it prominently features Lautner’s abs and Pattison’s brooding stare. It’s bad because – I’ve already listed why, and none of it has to do with there being beautiful men. The surface-level contents of a film (type of characters, their appearance and presentation) only become important if they unwittingly conform to stereotypes, promote ignorance, or justify a hateful agenda. Otherwise, it’s about how the characters are used and the way the narrative is built around them.
I had fun seeing Magic Mike with an audience of mostly women. They enjoyed it unreservedly, whooping, laughing, intensely soaking in the dramatic twists and turns. During the strip show scenes – and there are many – I was not attracted to the men but I felt… Free? Jubilant? Liberated? There’s something wonderful about connecting with a perspective that’s not yours. A heterosexual experiencing homosexual love, a Caucasian male embodying the mind of an African female, an athlete vicariously living through a cripple. Empathy is what art does. I was reminded during Magic Mike of seeing Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris with a crowd of forty-pluses. These were people who knew better than I did Allen’s nostalgia for a more romantic, literary time, and their joy infected me along with the film’s. I was reminded of Boys Don’t Cry‘s scenes of female sexuality, of seeing, focusing on a woman’s face during orgasm, and not viewing her condescendingly but as an equal, sharing her pleasure. The best films don’t remind me of times in my life, they show me times I’ve never known. It reminds me there’s a world outside my head.
So, please, whether you’re a guy or girl, straight or gay, bi or asexual, regardless if you think you’ll like it or not… watch Magic Mike. Open yourself up with this film and others to a life you’ve never lived, viewed with eyes you’ve never seen through. You might be surprised. You might have fun.