It’s no secret: I’m really excited for Magic Mike. You already know that Channing Tatum is My Favorite Doofus. I’m excited it’s directed by Steven Soderbergh, I’m excited about Matthew McConnaghey doing what he does best (read: be hot-sketchy), I’m excited for Channing Tatum dancing, I’m excited it’s getting good reviews.
I’m also unabashedly excited to ogle male bodies. I mean, the trailer is a blatant, unapologetic call to objectify the (finely tuned) male body –
Warner Bros., which produced Magic Mike (budget = $5 million) has naturally channeled its marketing, exploiting the male bodies the same way that a trailer for a film featuring Megan Fox exploits the female body. Lots of imperceptibly slo-mo shots of undulating bodies, abs, and, er, packages. This marketing tactic has predictably alienated a large swath of the male audience — a situation that Tatum and Soderbergh have worked to correct in interviews:
“Look, this is not a movie that is exclusively aimed at women and gay men. To what extent are women going to be able to talk their boyfriends into going? I don’t know. But I don’t think guys will be sitting in the theater thinking, ‘This is torture.’ Ten minutes into the movie, they’ll realize they are not being excluded from this experience at all.”
Does that mean that there’s female nudity in the first ten minutes? Yes, I believe so. But what matters is that this film has been blatantly and almost exclusively marketed to a female audience. Unlike rom-coms, which appeal to a woman’s sense of romance and the specter of sex, these ads appeal very directly to women’s desire.
But that desire is still illicit. No matter how far American society has come in terms of acceptance of sexuality (and its various manifestations) in the public sphere, female sexuality is still sublimated and made abject. You know this: the tremendous flustered anxiety over funding women’s birth control, the GOP censure of the word VAGINA (vagina vagina vagina!). Women should have babies, but they somehow shouldn’t have sex — or, god forbid, sex that doesn’t produce babies.
Magic Mike is thus, in many ways, a perfect counterpoint to the suffocating, frankly misogynistic rhetoric of the last year. But what’s most interesting to me is how the television campaign at once invokes and transgresses this understanding of female desire.
Earlier this week, while watching The Bachelorette (long story), I saw a new set of ads for Magic Mike – all of them invoking “book club.”
I couldn’t find the exact ads on YouTube, but here’s one on Facebook. Watch it.
Or, if something stops you, then here’s what you need to understand:
These intertitles are wedged between shots of abs, gyrating, and leather pants. Right after Matthew McConaughey tells a room of stripper-anticipating ladies that “The law says that you cannot touch! ….. But I think we got a lotta law breakers up in this one.” He’s addressing the audience in the film, but Soderbergh films him head-on, in a manner that suggests direct address. In other words: McConaughey (and, by proxy, the filmmaker, the producer, the studio, the commercial) is acknowledging that you’re going to break the “law” of acceptable female behavior. You’re going to go to this movie, and you’re going to love it.
BUT! You, Bachelorette-watching, romance-loving woman that you are, feel guilty about it. Why? Because patriarchy makes you feel bad about desire that isn’t for your boyfriend/husband/homosexual partner. That’s why you have to tell him you’re going to something as homosocial (meaning: all your own gender) and ostensibly desire-less as book club. (Little does boyfriend know: lots of bookclubs are filled with sex talk about sexy books. It’s not all The Help and cheese plates).
Now, I realize that this ad is supposed to be funny. It is funny. But like most humor, it’s funny because it’s true: in our supposedly liberated, postfeminist society, the only way to make female desire acceptable is to disavow it.