Donald Clarke: Hold on there – do we now approve of strippers?
Are female strippers only okay if – by attaching frills and bows – they redefine themselves as ‘burlesque’
Channing Tatum attends the Amsterdam premiere of Magic Mike XXL on July 1st. Photograh: Michel Porro/Getty Images
If you’ve seen a bus this week you’ve probably seen an advertisement for Magic Mike XXXL. This is the unsatisfactory sequel to a misunderstood 2012 film by Steven Soderbergh. That first episode was marketed as a cinematic solution for women (and gay men) who couldn’t get to an actual male stripping event. In fact it was a surprisingly gritty drama that happened to include the occasional McConaughey in leather underwear.
Never mind that. The images of Channing Tatum on the side of the 46A give us cause to ponder a hugely tricky problem from the field of sexual politics. Do we now approve of strippers? Do we only approve of male strippers? Are female strippers only okay if – by attaching frills and bows – they redefine themselves as “burlesque”?
This used to be straightforward. We all knew that the sex industry was a machine for objectifying women and fulfilling male fantasies concerning permanent female availableness. Strip joints were seedy places where seedy men went to watch non-unionised women make less money than they deserved for spending time naked in such unlovely company. Male strippers didn’t have any visibility in the mainstream.
Americans are weird
The advance of the male stripper from gay entertainment through Chippendale mania to bus-movie came at the same time as raunch culture sought to make its female equivalent quasi-respectable.
The dubious argument goes that watching the male version and participating in the (responsibly administered) female version were empowering. Everything is empowering these days. Drug-taking. Drag-racing. Smashing yourself in the face with a frying pan. If it’s bad for you it qualifies.
All that said, distinctions still apply. The sexualisation of women on advertisements is a proper cause of controversy and complaint. The sexualisation of men such as Mr C Tatum attracts little such kerfuffle. No, hollow-headed “Men’s Rights” activist, this is not because we live in a femocracy where natural male desires are regarded as less valid than theirfemale equivalent . (I’m quite good at this. Maybe I’ll start delivering motivational lectures to whining nincompoops in forests.)
This is to do with the unequal way power is distributed in the media. Too many men are making the decisions about what class of midriff gets plastered across public transport.
Whereas the female lap dance involves a slavish grind carried out with the sole purpose of achieving tumescence in alcoholically softened equipment, the male striptease tends to take in a degree of humour and self-deprecation. These people rarely work as sailors and cowboys during the day, you know.
None of which much excuses the audiences at such affairs. At some point in the 1990s, a bandit school of weak-brained pseudofeminism – aided by partisans in the Ladette Cadre – decided the solution to gender imbalance was to behave as badly as Men Behaving Badly. Spend with abandon, drink noisily, ogle the opposite sex. The ultimate manifestation of this grisly philosophy is found in the two Sex and the City films.
If men are allowed to shove fivers into G-strings, then women should be allowed to ram currency into posing pouches. Right? Well, maybe. But, just because we behave like gibbering cretins doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. Aside from anything else, it’s just so undignified.
The BBC achieved something extraordinary this week. We shouldn’t need to say that the Daily Mail is angry with the corporation. That paper is convinced that every BBC series from The Antiques Roadshow to Songs of Praise is a cog in a Marxist conspiracy aimed at placing Russell Brand on the throne.
Wimbledon highlightsGuardianTelegraphMail El Dorado
The really remarkable aspect of this story is that the offending project is not a soap, a game show or a reality series. It is a Wimbledon highlights package.
Such distinguished players as John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova are forced to deliver high fives to a studio audience and then stand around like ninnies while the unavoidable Clare Balding makes them watch videos of the viewers’ cats playing Swingball.
Everything about the ghastly show – right down to its name – stinks of focus-group thinking. It is called Wimbledon2Day and will be taught in media studies for decades to come.