When Princess Marie Bonaparte couldn’t orgasm, she went to Sigmund Freud. She’d already failed to treat herself by undergoing experimental surgery to shorten the distance between her clitoris and vulva, so she approached the psychoanalyst seeking to understand her inability to climax during sex. It was to Bonaparte that he famously remarked: “The great question that has never been answered and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my 30 years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?’”
Clearly, Freud had never been to see Magic Mike Live.
For the uninitiated, the Magic Mike journey began with the 2012 film, in which Channing Tatum and director Steven Soderbergh immortalised Tatum’s true story of becoming a stripper at 18. It spawned what has now become the Magic Mike industrial complex. In the nine years since, there have been two films, a live production that’s toured Las Vegas, London and Berlin, and a Broadway musical.
With his erotic routines, Tatum has seemingly done what Freud could never: discovered what women want. In creating Magic Mike Live, specifically, the actor writes he tried to “provocatively jumpstart the conversation about what it is that women really want”. The show, which premiered in 2017, is sold as “empowering, exhilarating and unexpected”. Tatum urges us to “imagine a world where all women were empowered to ask for more – from men, from a night out, from everything they wanted – and all of their desires were met.”
I’m not the type to drink the Kool-Aid. So the idea that a show of topless men will finally – finally! – give me what I “want” seems like a tall order. My issue with Magic Mike Live’s premise is that it just seems to be promising a bit much. I want my feminism to agitate for structural change, and I’m not exactly sure how a group of 16 half-naked himbos dry-humping a stage does that.
My vibe is more bell hooks’ feminism than a beefcake’s bod, and given a choice between a protest or brunch date, I’d pick the protest. This is probably why my editor asked me to attend the show: I was easily the most cynical. But I did what I was told.
Upon arrival, there’s an eclectic mix of women congregated: hens parties taking photos out the front with bright-red feather boas draped across their shoulders, mother-daughter pairs sitting patiently in the lobby with glasses of champagne in hand, and groups of friends who are clearly just there for a good time after enduring the shit-show of 2020. The air feels kinetic, the novelty of attending a live performance evidently not lost on anyone.
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