The call girl “Chelsea” is far more vulnerable and engaging than Mike—not because Sasha Grey is a more vulnerable or sympathetic actor than Channing Tatum but because there is no doubt that the great wave of financial catastrophe just cresting in her Manhattan will take her under, despite her maneuverings. Magic Mike can’t quite take this seriously. And certainly this concerns both gender and job. In the sex work movie, men get happy endings.
Which is to say: they get to dress up as cops. The interval from The Girlfriend Experience to Magic Mike might be marked, as a matter of economic affect, by a shift from rising dread to exhausted despond. It has also been marked by a rising tide of political ferment and, in response, state violence. Mostly, in the main markets of Magic Mike, this has meant riot cops: vs. racialized rebellions, vs. university struggles, vs. Occupy encampments.
The film started shooting in the middle week of September 2011 and finished near the end of October; this is a suggestive span, to say the least. Principal photography was almost precisely contemporaneous with the span from the founding of Occupy Wall Street on September 17 to the dramatic, violent, and internationally reported first eviction of Occupy Oakland and ensuing night-time streetfight on October 25, riot cops and their objects of affection whirling through eerie floodlights behind a ground layer of tear gas. It certainly sets Tatum’s big dance number in strange relief.