In the decade since the release of the first film, Magic Mike has become an unexpected entertainment franchise. The original entry spawned a sequel, Magic Mike XXLa live stage show, Magic Mike Livean HBO Max reality series, Finding Magic Mike, and an upcoming third film. Two shared elements recur in each of the entries following the first film: Channing Tatum‘s megawatt star power and lighthearted escapades involving male strippers. Though Tatum’s sparkle is established in the first film, the lightheartedness does not actually enter the series until after its originary movie.
The original Magic Mike garnered instant cultural resonance as “the male stripper movie.” Starring a host of conventionally attractive male stars shedding their clothes on screen (including Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganielloand Matthew McConaughey), the film seemingly set itself up for women and gay men to ogle at the cinematic eye candy. The dance sequences, though, comprise a surprisingly small percentage of the film’s screen time. Many of the dance sequences are shortened or obscured by cutting away before the action really unfolds or montaging multiple dances together. Through its cinematic construction, the film repeatedly shields itself from being “the male stripper movie.”
Because the film centers on a group of stripper-bros, it is unsurprising that the film repeatedly veers into gendered discourse. What is disconcerting is how this discourse repeatedly recalls a common, problematic rhetorical strategy men have for protecting themselves: the language of toxic masculinity. Magic Mike invokes this language at both the level of narrative and cinematic composition. Rather than accept that audiences might find unequivocal pleasure in the physical appearances of its hunky male stars, the film projects its insecurities onto its women characters. Therefore, the vernacular of toxic masculinity is most visible through the film’s objectification of women.
Within the narrative, women are predominately objectified as either objects of monetary or sexual value. The kind of objectifying value assigned to the female characters is closely related to the spaces in which they occupy. Women who are a part of the club scene where the male strippers perform are objects of monetary value. In an early scene in the film, Mike (Tatum) enlists Adam (Pettyfer) to help him recruit women to their upcoming performance. Rather than simply pass out tickets to any woman at random, Mike specifically sizes up certain kinds of women whom he deems most valuable. When Mike tells Adam to go talk to a woman in a tiara, Adam tells Mike, “She does not look like she wants to be bothered.” In a particularly jarring response, Mike says, “Look at what she’s wearing! She came here tonight to be bothered! ” This line indicates that Mike assigns monetary value to women based on their looks, and that women’s looks are intentionally crafted to garner the attention of men.
Women who are predominately located outside the club scene are objectified as objects of sexual value. This form of objectification works to distance the male ensemble’s relationship from any possible connotation of homosexuality. There are many scenes that might allow for their bonds to be read as potentially gay, especially during the dressing room scenes. For obvious reasons, the men spend a great amount of time backstage together nearly, and sometimes completely, naked. When Adam is first brought to the club, he struggles to look away as Big Dick Richie (Manganiello) pumps his penis to increase its length. The characters could be construed as gay because of their proximity to other nude men and their lingering glances.
Like in the real world, though, these men reaffirm their heterosexuality by treating women as sex objects. Nowhere is this clearer in the film than the hurricane party scene. In a bedroom, Adam stares longingly at Ken’s (Bomer) wife’s, Mercedes’ (Mircea Monroe), breasts while she sits topless at the edge of the bed. When he notices Adam’s staring, Ken says, “My wife’s tits are awesome, right?” After Adam agrees, Ken says, “Check ’em out, man.” Mercedes gestures for Adam to approach, and he touches her. Adam then turns to Ken and asks, “Is it okay?” to which Ken responds, “It’s okay with me, man. She loves it. ” The two men then repeatedly exchange “I fucking love you” comments while Adam continues to touch her. Though she does offer consent for Adam to touch her, it is only after Ken already consents on her behalf. Mercedes is passed around by Ken for the sexual gratification of other men. Because the two men then talk to each other, with Adam barely acknowledging her existence even though he has her breasts in his hands, Mercedes is treated as a sexual object, rather than a living person.
The hurricane party scene is also elucidatory of how the film’s composition participates in the objectification of women. Throughout the film, women are configured as elements of the mise-en-scène rather than offered characterization. Save for the couple of women characters positioned as Mike’s love interests, the majority of women on screen spend most of their screen time just filling out the frame as unnamed décor, sometimes pictured as actively listening to one of the male characters, other times flirtatiously touching. them. The onscreen women exist to demonstrate how filled with women these men’s lives are, and, through their flirtations, how they are sexually available for the male ensemble.
Toxic masculine behaviors work to aggressively claim one’s manliness. It thus involves the process of repeatedly performing behaviors that assert masculine dominance, like the objectification of women. As Western masculinity is tied to its opposition from femininity, Magic Mike invokes toxic masculinity to shield itself from being labeled as a “film for women.”
Fortunately, the subsequent versions of Magic Mike atone for the failings of the first film. The sequel offers a scene where the protagonists dance in a gay bar, demonstrating a change from the original’s distancing effects. Magic Mike XXL also features less interrupted stripping sequences, inviting, rather than disrupting, ogling eyes. Magic Mike Live opens by parodying the first film’s club’s aesthetic, mocking sexist language and limited views of masculinity. Though the unexpected franchise did not begin with a welcoming film, ten years later, it is clear that Magic Mike continues to evolve.