I’ve been told that I’m outrageously honest when I say that I didn’t watch Magic Mike for the plot. But really, who did?
With Magic Mike XXL coming out, I thought I’d revisit my feelings towards these movies and the crossover between consent, sex work, and my enjoyment of sexually explicit media.
Trigger Warning : Sex Trafficking, Consent Issues,
I enjoyed Magic Mike, but I pretty much fast forwarded through all of the plot and just watched the stripping*cough* I mean, dancing. But hey, I’m just being honest.
In fact, the plot was actually a hindrance towards my enjoyment of the movie. I remember telling Grey that I was just not interested in seeing a sad back story with hungry children or drug problems or relationship issues. I just wanted to see Hollywood-style, cinematically-shot stripping. Don’t make these characters real to me, just let me objectify and enjoy dammit!
I also found it very strange because I have always found the opposite true in pornography. Porn has always been much TOO plotless/lifeless to enjoy much at all (and it’s exploitative/creates weird sex norms/many people are sex trafficked/is very hetero male gaze oriented/did I mention that many of these individuals may be victims of sex trafficking?/ I think the sex trafficking part is kind of important)
This feeling was so different from my engagement with pretty much EVERY OTHER FICTION EVER, where character and arc and relationship are always my focus, that I was thrown by what it meant.
Was I objectifying these male actors in the same way that the media objectifies women? Was this a bad thing? Was I being exploitative or just enjoying eyecandy? Should I even care?
Now I want to make this very very clear – Strippers and Prostitutes of all genders are lovely and valid human beings and deserve massive amounts of support and acceptance and protection from abuse. There is nothing inherently wrong with either Stripping or Prostitution, but only so long as the individuals involved are voluntary, consenting, and have the freedom to leave should they wish to. But that’s not the reality most of the time. The fact that some individuals are voluntary sex workers does not erase the fact that many sex workers are trafficked individuals. This is why I find it hard to enjoy purely sexually exploitative venues and films.
I just can’t watch something without having assurance that everyone on screen/stage is voluntarily present and genuinely invested and excited to be there. As a result, I avoid a lot of sexual venues and films (Read: Porn).
While it may seem like the perfect consensual venue is hard to find, it’s really not. There are many events, such as burlesque or alternative media pornography, where consent is talked about and where consent is important. They just might be a little harder to find, but they are there. I realize that not everyone has these consent hangups that I have, and that some people have no problem with the current state of affairs – the Schrödinger’s box of Consent, if you will.
How does this relate to our topic, Magic Mike?
Well, exploitation of both men and women does happen in Hollywood, often with younger/less experienced actors, but one has to hope that while Strippers and Prostitutes are most definitely hired in and around the movie industry, the industry itself does not operate like some kind of giant evil mega sex trafficker. One hopes, anyway.
The beauty of Magic Mike is that it’s a big budget film about stripping with many big name movie stars, so one can reasonably assume that they are there of their own free will. This is why I find it enjoyable.
I can watch Channing Tatum channing a girls tatum (it’s a thing) and know that after work he is going home to his reasonably large bank account and personal autonomy. I know that he is slotted to play Remy LeBeau, the X-MAN GAMBIT, in the 2016 GAMBIT MOVIE!!!! and that he has had several movies coming out including a triquel to 21 Jump Street.
When he leaves my screen, after booty shaking his way across it, I know that he has a place to live, food to eat, and enough money to control his future choices. He is not in a situation where he has to choose between safety and autonomy.
And I think that is the crux of it. I enjoy Magic Mike because, while I don’t want to be invested in the film’s characters, I am invested in the lives of the people doing the stripping, in this case the actors.
When we talk about stripping and sex-work in our culture, we tend to package it with stories of pain, drugs, drama, and a dearth of choices. Our sexual enjoyment comes with a strong side of judgmental bigotry towards the very individuals we are deriving sexual enjoyment from. It’s very very puritan.
I don’t think is has to be this way. There are enough real stories of pain and drama. Let me watch consenting pretty boys twerk and forget the real world for a while.