(Originally appeared The Telegraph, July 1, 2015)
“We didn’t want to show… the best parts… But it was very… very… hard… to resist.”
The official trailer for Magic Mike XXL, the stuffed-crotch sequel to Channing Tatum’s 2012 male stripper movie Magic Mike, which opens this week, is packed with phallic single entendres so creaky that they’d embarrass Julian Clary.
On the basis of the first movie, phallic entendre may be about as close to an actual penis you’ll get in this movie about male stripping. A couple of obviously prosthetic silhouettes aside, Magic Mike didn’t deliver the goods. The junk stayed in the trunks. (America, it has to be said, seems to have a problem with penises, or even packets – the Tudor codpieces in the recent US-UK TV co-production Wolf Hall were reportedly circumcised considerably at the insistence of US TV execs.)
It did however slap a moralising storyline in our faces – Magic Mike wants out of the sleazy world of male stripping so he can settle down with his judgy killjoy girlfriend. Which of course went against the whole reason why anyone would go to see a movie about shameless male tartiness.
But it was a hit, grossing $167 million worldwide (it cost just $7 million to make). Why? Partly because cheeky-chappie Channing is impossible to dislike, even when he thinks he’s a breakdancing Will Smith. But mostly because even an anti-climactic moralising male stripper movie gives people a chance to celebrate the submissive ‘objectification’ of the male body that has become so, er, dominant in the culture.
In the XXL sequel, Magic Mike apparently gets over himself and comes out of retirement so he and his bun chums can go on one last stripping road trip and bring joy, sweat, and baby oil into the parched lives of Florida’s women – kind of a straight Priscilla in posing pouches. Fortunately, this time there doesn’t seem to be much more of a modesty-saving plotline than that.
The Magic Mike movies are, truth be told, a bit of a nostalgia trip themselves. ‘Male stripping’ is actually rather retro. It emerged as a phenomenon in the now impossibly innocent-looking 90s when the Chippendales and their orange muscles framed by bow ties, white cuffs and permed hair drove women wild – and Channing Tatum himself was working as a stripper in Florida, before he became a Hollywood sex object.
The Full Monty (1997), a British film about redundant Sheffield steelworkers who turn to stripping to the strains of Donna Summer’s ‘Hot Stuff’ to find a new role in a post-industrial world, was a better film than Magic Mike – but, starring Robert Carlyle, it was considerably less buff. The joke was that they weren’t ‘hot stuff’ at all.
Two decades on the male body has been totally, heroically sexed-up and most of the male stripping at the cinema happens in movies not actually about male stripping. Superhero movies now contractually require at least one lingering semi-naked scene from their male leads. But actors like Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Chris Evans (Captain America) don’t seem to be exactly blushing about it.
Chris Pratt (why are Hollywood’s leading tarty men all called Chris?), who famously transformed his body from flabby to f*ck-me! for last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy definitely isn’t: “A huge part of how my career has shifted is based simply on the way that I look, on the way that I’ve shaped my body to look,” he confessed recently.
Pratt feels ‘totally objectified’ but is happy with that. ‘I think it’s OK. I don’t feel appalled by it. I think it’s appalling that for a long time only women were objectified, but I think if we want to advocate for equality, it’s important to even things out.’
Pratt isn’t the only male ‘advocating for equality’. Buffed professional sportsmen like Cristiano Ronaldo appear in teensy-weeny tight pants on the side of buses for Armani, or totally starkers in the Dieux Du Stade rugby calendars. An Irish scientist who also works as a male stripper is favourite to win Big Brother this year – and it’s the fact he’s a scientist of course which is the bizarre part of his career portfolio.
Male stripping is no longer a cabaret act – it has been assimilated as an entirely normal part of masculinity for a generation of spornosexual young men who, unlike Pratt, toil and sweat to turn their bodies into sexual commodities for free, sharing the stripped-down results on social media.
And unlike Magic Mike, they often have no qualms about photographing their penis and sharing it with special and not-so-special friends – or putting on a ‘private cam show’.
Advertising, which has been stripping down the male body since the famous Levi’s ‘Laundrette’ ad of the 1980s, is frequently far less coy about taking liberties than Hollywood. An ad airing earlier this year promoting the ‘keyless entry’ feature on Ford cars cleverly probed new, perfectly-rounded depths of male objectification in prime time – and possibly the use of key fobs as sex toys: ‘Where you keep your key is up to you.’
Our culture’s rampant undressing and sexualising of the male body has revealed not so much male phallicism – as the Magic Mike XXL trailer suggests – but rather, male versatility. Men today are subjects and objects, heroic and tarty, active and passive, tops and bottoms.