Is Magic Mike homophobic?

...or just heteronormative?

This question seemed to take up space like a big pink elephant in the room as I watched Magic Mike (Soderbergh, 2012) this weekend. For a film about oversexed male bodies, where are the gay men?

The film features Channing "no neck" Tatum as stripper/entrepreneur extraordinaire named Mike who has a love/hate relationship with his profession. He's 30, wants equity in the Xquisite Dance Revue where he's legendary, is saving up to start his own furniture business, and tries not to be seen as his "lifestyle" (all the while booty-calling a girl who will only see him as such). But when down-and-out Adam comes along looking for a job, Magic Mike works his magic and finds him a place in the house as a dancer. And a bromance is born. Mike portrays himself as benevolent older brother figure, but his benevolence, he worries, may be letting him slide through life with money, girls, and a good time, instead of helping him make something of himself (offstage).

With the narrative told simply, the movie leaves plenty of room for the spectacle of the male body in motion. Tatum's dance moves are mind boggling, as are Matthew McConaughey's abs. But these bodies are all straight--there are no gay characters in the film. Furthermore, who in the movie are the recipients of this spectacle? The Xquisite Dance Revue's patrons are all female. I do not think I even spotted one man in the venue on screen that wasn't working there. Now, I'm sure the film's gay audiences appreciate the strippers as much as the women on screen do, but why can't they be represented there? Instead, it's women who get hoisted onstage and receive the lap dances.  This points to the film's heteronormativity, as would a film about a female strip club with its male clientele.

What may tip Magic Mike to the homophobic scale, however, is that it shies away from acknowledging its own hints at homosexuality and homoeroticism. In one scene, Adam's sister finds his go-go outfits and wants to have a serious talk with him about his "preferences"--while Adam is shaving his legs. Funny, yes, because Adam panics, but his panic as he repeats "it's for work, it's for work" also reveals that he wants to avoid coming across as gay.

Similarly, in a particular dance rehearsal scene, McConaughey's Dallas teaches Adam how to seduce the mirror like it's a woman. He says, "you're not just stripping. You are fulfilling every woman's wildest fantasies. Who's got the cock? You do, they don't." Wait, so women are the only ones admiring the phallus in this situation? It looks more like the two of you are gyrating for each other.

Isn't everyone allowed to celebrate chiseled male bodies? 

Now, the scene is actually quite funny, because 1) Adam really can't dance and 2) Dallas is just completely over the top. But we may also laugh because neither the characters nor the filmmaker seem to realize how homoerotic the scene is. In fact, certain audiences may find the entire film funny precisely because it's more homoerotic than it wants to let on (there are penis enlargers, comments like "let's be best friends," and bear hugs). But I also think Soderbergh & co could have benefited from a bit of self-reflection. Ultimately, the film is not a satire of an over-the-top industry but a character portrait of a man being a man in an over-the-top industry...and a straight man, at that.

...Or perhaps, Soderbergh is actually really progressive and just didn't want to reinforce gay stereotypes so he consciously removed them by making everyone straight? Hmmm, not sure I can give him that much credit.

Finally, the only other film I've seen or heard about that centers on male strippers is The Full Monty (Cattaneo, 1997), which only peeked at homosexuality and turned men's bodies into comedy. So, where are the gay Chippendales? Is this purely a matter of mainstream vs. niche? I thought gay was trendy!

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