A string of purple beads landed in my hands as soon as I arrived at the press screening of “Magic Mike.”
“It’s for the bachelorette party,” the publicist said. I looked around, confused, expecting a gaggle of tipsy women in tiaras to come stumbling into the theater.
“The bachelorette party,” the publicist repeated, gesturing toward the theater in a way that suggested the entire experience of watching a Steven Soderbergh film in which Channing Tatum strips down to a thong is, in itself, a bachelorette party.
That’s certainly how Warner Bros. has been marketing it, with no secret about who “Magic Mike’s” target audience is: groups of randy women (and presumably, randy gay men) who seek vicarious thrills via the sight of handsome, half-naked Hollywood stars.
“Tell your boyfriend you’re going to book club,” urges one of the slogans for “Magic Mike,” which has generated strong advance ticket sales, as well as plenty of double-entendre-laden chatter (much of it from women) on social media platforms like Twitter.
In a scene in the movie that practically serves as a thesis statement for that marketing campaign, Matthew McConaughey advises newbie strip teaser Alex Pettyfer that, to the women who pay to watch him shed clothing, “You are the husband they never had. ... You are their liberation!”
That’s right, ladies. This is Pop Cultural Women’s Lib circa 2012, where we’ve come so far that we can now take our daughters to see multiple films in which young girls shoot arrows, turn soft-core literary porn into an international best-seller and enjoy the perks of watching hot guys strip without coating ourselves in the sleazy residue that inevitably results from entering an actual strip club. Forget what that much-discussed Atlantic article said: We already have it all!
Seriously, though, if women really do rush to theaters to metaphorically stuff wads of cash into “Magic Mike’s” metaphorical g-string, it will serve as another example of the power women wield as entertainment consumers. In that sense, “Magic Mike” is an admittedly twisted endorsement for the strength of the double-X-chromosomed set.
Not everyone will find “Magic Mike” “liberating,” of course. Plenty of moviegoers may find it crass to watch Tatum and his co-stars jiggle in women’s faces, even if the women in question are more than game for the pummeling. But there is at least one way in which the film deserves commendation from both women and men: It turns the prototypical “stripper with a heart of gold” part into one that’s just as much a male thing as a female one.
To be clear, this is not the first time that men have played objectified individuals onscreen; Richard Gere in “American Gigolo,” Mark Wahlberg in “Boogie Nights” and even Michael Fassbender in last year’s “Shame” all fall in this category. We’ve even occasionally seen male strippers in movies before, most notably in “The Fully Monty.” But that was more about comedy than genuine titillation.
When most of us think “onscreen stripper,” we tend to immediately conjure images of “Coyote Ugly,” “Showgirls” or all those nameless ladies bumping and grinding at Tony Soprano’s Bada Bing. It’s usually the women who are forced to let it all hang out so they can score enough cash to make ends meet.
In “Magic Mike,” that’s the man’s job. If that fact, against obvious odds, somehow leads to a movie landscape where any role — be it musclebound action hero or frazzled rom-com single parent — is not limited by society’s gender biases, then “Magic Mike” may accomplish something important. And if it doesn’t? Well, ladies, at least you and your friends got to see far more of McConaughey’s derriere than you ever dreamed possible.