I've been to a male strip club once. It was for a friend's bachelorette party, of course, at a club on the outskirts of Philly that drew in a lot of loud, overly tanned women, slathered in makeup and jewels, more than ready for a good time. For the night I was right there with them, encouraged to pop some singles in G-strings, force my friend the bride to endure a lot of lap dances (they were free in this club, much to the astonishment of the guys I know), and hoot and holler as if we were at a rodeo.
It was the kind of fun that feels more mandated than had-- "Hey ladies, these men are here to strip for you, so enjoy it!" But there's really nothing sexy about a spray-tanned guy shaking his ass 4 inches from your face, or even a team of dudes in very fake looking fireman's uniforms stripping down to thongs. The more someone tells you "this is sexy" the more it becomes the opposite, and my friends and I left that night feeling more like we'd participated in a carnival than anything remotely arousing.
So why, after that mediocre strip club experience, is the Magic Mike trailer so irresistible? With its fake cop opening and Rihanna song and Matthew McConaughey leer it's exactly as cheesy as the strip club I went to, and the way ticket prices are these days, it won't cost much less than that $20 cover to Cafe Risque. Yes, Channing Tatum's dance moves are far superior to the guys I saw in Philly, and the promise of Steven Soderbergh behind the camera seems to suggest this might be more than the "stripper boy makes good" story that's hawked in the trailer. But it's a cheesy movie about male strippers, and it stars Alex Pettyfer for God's sake-- why am I and most of the women I've talked to pumping this up as if it's the second coming of Dirty Dancing?
I can't totally answer that question yet, especially since we haven't even seen Magic Mike yet and don't know if it's as good as we're hoping-- yes, Soderbergh made Ocean's Eleven, but he also made Solaris. But right now the giddy, take-screenshots-of-Tatum's-abs moment feels a little like walking into that strip club, into a sorority of women* who have claimed a little corner of the world to be the objectifiers for once, dammit. It's not about seeing hot dudes naked so much as all being in it together, the prospect of a movie theater full of women with no shame in what they're enjoying and why-- and without actually having to get the stripper right up in your face and feel weirdly guilty for making them work so hard. It might not turn out as fun in practice as in theory, but for now it's nothing but promise, a break from a summer full of superhero movies in which we're supposed to admire and root for the spandex-clad heroes, but not ogle them. In Magic Mike, you can look all you want-- and if Matthew McConaughey is to be believed, they won't really mind if you touch either.
*This is not to exclude the gay men who seem equally excited for this movie-- I just can't speak from your experience.
Magic Mike opens June 29, opposite the new G.I. Joe movie-- which looks perfectly fun, by the way-- and a week before Spider-Man. As we go into a summer where it feels like every movie has already been marketed to death, Magic Mike is a muscle-bound surprise waiting to happen, like a hunkier version of The Avengers in which we really don't know what will happen next. Most summer movies that specifically target women aim for our mushier sides, the sing-along Mamma Mia! or girl-power Julie & Julia. Magic Mike is the carnal opposite of all that, and women seem ready to pay the $20 cover, take a seat by the stage, and enjoy it for all it's worth.