Half way through Magic Mike I realized I was watching a movie about a commerical art: dance. Although few would willingly call stripping any sort of art, dance is often enough acknowledged as such. Take for example ballet, modern dance, ect. But in Magic Mike dance is a commodity, sex packaged as a product—a commerical art. This product is sold at a market of sorts—the stage, similar to the theater, or the very movie house where you and I sat watching this film—another place where an endless stream of artists are paraded before us providing vapid eye candy, titulation, but little more in the way of substance, or any sort of value system.
Or so it seems. But perhaps this crass art provides it’s own sort of value system after all. Dallas, the manager (tastemaker, kingmaker) fills us in on his version of family values about midpoint through the movie, telling a group of friends at a party his views on education: school is out; tv is in; Mad Money on the tube 24/7, and by the time the kid is eighteen, he’s a millionaire pro-investor. In other words, self-gratification to exclusion of everything else; don’t even fill your head with all that other bullshit; it will only keep you from making money. These are the values that Dallas sells—to his group of party-goers and to his screaming customers every night, but, above all else, to his troupe of dancers/artists, one of whom is Magic Mike.
There is no doubt that Mike is expressive on stage. His performances are virtuoso, breathtaking, even moving, but all that is done in support of Dallas and his values, not Mike’s. Mike is just another dancer to Dallas, another commodity, who dreams of being original, singular, one-of-a-kind (much how he describes the furniture he wishes to build) this is the non-commodified version of himself he wishes to be. Mike wishes to express not Dallas’s values, but his own. But Dallas makes it very clear that Mike, superstar that he is to the masses, can easily be replaced. Another superstar is always waiting in the woodworks.
The commodity that Dallas peddles is pornography. Is Soderberg telling us that mainstream films are pronography? Are we the jeering crowd, caught up in frenzy and spectacule, oblivious to the values being handed down to us from upon high? Sex, self-gratification, and the most important value of all: money money money! Mike gets a first hand view of the destuctive forces of such values as he watches his friend’s spiral out of control. For he, like many other commerical artist, resists identifying himself with his job, not taking resposibility for the results it has in other people’s lives. His friend’s sister makes him see that he is what he does, a peddler like Dallas, a represenative of a certain (capitalist) sort of values.
Mike, like all artist, wants to be appreciated, wants an audience, but the one he has is interested in the wrong things—titulation, product, package—not originality or depth of feeling—just sex. Mike wishes to reach a diferent more intelligent audince in his friends sister (Perhaps a stand-in for the sort of people who frequent this site). He learns first hand what commerical values does to a person through her brother and bails him out as a rejection of those values (giving away 10,000 dollars is about as uncapitalist as one can get!), but also as an attempt to reach a new audience, one who might find more in him than empty product and a cheap thrill. Whether the girl (or us) is up to the task of fulfilling that role is still quite the open question at the end of the film.
Loved your analysis, Byron. I definitely saw this film as most about capitalism and the economy. It’s interesting to think of it applied to the art of film.
I think an important thing to note is that when Mike “takes Dallas’ advice” and tries something new, that something new is more impressive dancing and not trashier. It shows where Mike’s interest lie. And the audience response makes the film metaphor interesting. Soderbergh seems to be saying more can be more artistic, not just trashier and still attract an audience.
I see him taking his dance art to the next level in this scene as a slight to Dallas, showing him what he can really do, and in the proccess transcending the limitations imposed on him by Dallas. Perhaps this dance means more in some way, in such a fashion as the occasional Hollywood film transcends the Hollywood system, and becomes a true show of self expresion. Some of the greatest Hollywood movies are just such reactions against their own systems (as maybe this film is) In fact, maybe this dance of refutation is more like the very movie that we are watching than we have yet realized. I definitely think that Soderbergh lovingly photographs these dances and this one in particular, and even believes an art of this sort can be found in them(and also according the metaphor the Hollywood film). But there is still much meditation of what is lost when artists are treated as commodites and packaged as superstars, and just not allowed to breath and fully express themselves. Then there is the question of who this self expression, this more pure art would really matter to in the end anyway. The girl at the end talks a good talk, but she also is finally interested more a romp in the hay than the more substanial breakfast date.
“The girl at the end talks a good talk, but she also is finally interested more a romp in the hay than the more substanial breakfast date.”
really? I didn’t get that impression at all. I thought that scene was inviting the idea of the beginning of Mike’s first authentic relationship with a woman, they’d sat and talked and she jumps up and kisses him, maybe before they go to breakfast or bed but either is an assumption as the film doesn’t say and I didn’t think it mattered.
For a renowned exhibitionist Matthew McC sure hit the mother lode here…and he does a good job. I thought the film was terrific with the obvious message (who said it was about nothing?) that eventually for most the reckless and shallow needs to be replaced by something deeper, and that if you trade your flesh that’s all you’ll be to the “vendors” you get caught up with. Not anything earth shattering, but Channing Tatum carried off the role of outstanding performer who reaches the end of the line with sincerity and a deft touch I thought. All the guys were great and production values pleasing. That it might have been “sleazy” seems an odd criticism, it’s about our underbelly and actually I thought it was quite restrained and tidy.