SUNDAY ESSAY – Coming of Age with Magic Mike

Steven Soderbergh is as important a director to the movie industry as Steven Spielberg and I want to see all of his movies (except the odious Ocean’s 11 series). And so, since Soderbergh was the director of Magic Mike, I went to see it even though it was marketed as a movie for the ladies and featured a bunch of male strippers. I can’t imagine that the ladies who saw this movie liked it much beyond getting the same thrill as the ladies in the film that are portrayed as giggling dupes given over to their hormones when a man slings his junk in their face. These strippers are guys to the bone living the good life with lots of cash and plenty of readily available ladies at their beck and call. Magic Mike is a guy’s film and an unlikely place to set a touching coming of age tale.

Mike is a 30 year old man who lives a good life in Tampa, Florida. He is unmarried, no kids, and he has multiple jobs. He is first seen as a roofer but his vehicle also notes that he has an auto detailing business, and he has a few pieces of furniture at this house he designed and he tells people that he is an entrepreneur and artistic furniture designer.

Eventually, however, we came to see where some substantial portion of Mike’s financing comes from, and where his talent and passion lie: dancing and stripping. Mike is a male stripper for an all male revue called ‘The Cock Rocking Kings of Tampa.’ Mike is clearly the most talented of the male strippers and he brings a real artistry to the endeavor with his dancing. However it’s still stripping and the job is about inflaming the women who go to these shows. Being a male stripper isn’t quite gigolo work, but it’s close. Mike has a woman of interest in her life but she is even more sexually indulgent with others than he is. He uses his position as a stripper to cull off sex partners at will. Stripping is sex work and sex is an important part of his life.

Above Mike is the promoter of the Cock Rocking Kings of Tampa, a man named Dallas. Dallas is a little older than Mike and he’s committed to the show and its gleeful comic take offs on all the female fantasy stereotypes. The men come out and strip as fireman, cops, soldiers, spies, Tarzen… Dallas is played by Matthew McConaughey, who, as he does so often, nearly steals the film with a tiny part.

Below Mike is a new kid, Adam, who is 19 with no job and a bad attitude about any work or responsibility. Mike brings Adam in to the ‘lifestyle’ and Adam takes to it like a duck to water. Adam, however, has a sister, Brooke, who is young, but responsible, and in Mike, she recognizes someone who lives on the edge. Mike promises Brooke that he will look after Adam and he does so until Adam’s behavior deteriorates and Mike begins to second guess himself.

Early on, Brooke identifies Mike for what he is; an irresponsible 30 year old stripper. Mike is pretending that he’s advancing but what he actually does is what he was doing at 18; living a hedonistic lifestyle with no commitments or responsibilities. A part of him wants to move on and have the responsibilities of an adult, but the winning part of him wants to carry on as a teenager forever. Hedonistic pleasure, it turns out, is a trap in that it delivers immediate satisfaction on the surface but undermines the deeper pleasures of real accomplishment. To the degree that there is accomplishment in the ‘stripper industry’ Dallas owns that and Mike is his employee. Dallas strings Mike along by telling him that when they leave Tampa and take the show to Miami, Mike will have an ‘equity position’ in the show, but Dallas isn’t going to ever do that. Brooke, it turns out, loosened the band aids Mike had put over his own eyes, and eventually, they come off and he must think through his life and drive out ‘Magic’ Mike and replace him with a Mike of real adult responsibility and accomplishment.

‘Coming of Age’ tales are many of my favorite films but they typically don’t occur Mike’s age, which is part of what makes the film so unique and entertaining. The ‘age’ of coming of age is typically a child, often a boy, who must put away childish things, accept the world as it is, and come in to sober adulthood. Magic Mike is the same story, but 15 years later, because in contemporary American life, there is a long interregnum past adolescent where young people, again mostly boys, linger in a hedonistic yet childlike state before becoming adults. This period also goes by the term ‘college’ in many instances, but Mike isn’t a college student. Delay is endemic in a society built in pleasure and leisure.

No one forces Mike to leave this life; he will only exit when he sees himself as a pathetic loser and sucker, which he eventually does. Not every man does this; they get older, but they never grow up. Like Peter Pan, they try to stay young forever. The ‘Pan’ in Peter Pan’s name refers to the Greek God Pan, a half man half goat deity that is in the constant companionship of the nymphs. Mike, however, has tired of being Peter Pan, and is ready to accept limits in exchange for adult accomplishment.

The dance routines in Magic Mike are comically smarmy
Dallas teaches Adam to strip
Brooke tells Mike he had better watch out for her little brother