On June 29th, the world of summer cinema saw the release of Ted and Magic Mike. Ted is a Seth MacFarlane(vintage Family Guy, American Dad, newer and considerably less funny Family Guy) raunch-comedy about a CGI teddy bear(voiced by MacFarlane) and his bromantic relationship with his developmentally-stunted owner/friend(Mark Wahlberg). Magic Mike is a Steven Soderbergh dramedy about the financial and romantic travails of a male stripper and his abs.
Both films were incredibly successful at the box-office(and still are at the time of this writing) and moderately successful with critics. At first glance – which I suppose is what matters most with the Average Joe moviegoing public – these films would appear to have two distinctly different target audiences. Ted, with its foul-mouthed raunch and bromantic underpinnings would seem to appeal to men. While Magic Mike with its cadre of shirtless heart-throbs would appeal primarily to women. One could argue that the bromantic raunch of Ted is nothing new or unprecedented; that female audiences enjoyed films in the similar comedic vein with the likes of The Hangover, Superbad, Knocked Up, Role Models, I Love You Man, Wedding Crashers, and so on, depending on how far back you really want to trace the bromantic comedy movement. Similarly, one could also argue that Magic Mike would appeal to men who have a serious interest in cinema being that Soderbergh is a consistently interesting filmmaker whose work bounces between slick, mainstream entertainment(The Ocean’s flicks, Erin Brockovich, Out of Sight), avant-garde indie fare(The Girlfriend Experience, Bubble) and stuff somewhere between the two(The Informant!, Che, Traffic).
But sure, the promotional focus on male pelvic grinding makes it pretty clear who this movie is being aimed at: people who want to see male pelvic grinding. And Ted, like the other mass-appeal bromantic comedies before it, contains a male protagonist and deal primarily with masculine concerns(male camaraderie, farting, and leaving your cool child stuff behind so girls won’t be ashamed to sleep with you) makes it pretty clear who the film is ultimately geared towards.
So all of this is just a long-winded way of me saying “Fair enough” on that end. Let us assume that Magic Mike is for women and Ted is for men. Let us also assume that the respective demographic for each of these film’s box office success is consistent with that target intention(men flocked to Ted and women to Magic Mike – for the sake of set-up since I don’t know how actually true it is). All of this has given way to the following meme:
This thing has been all over Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. Friends are passing it on to one another, which means they find it to be funny or true or smart or some combination of these(unless it’s some sort of ironic statement about really bad memes). It seems to be about as popular as any other short lifespanned meme in that you’ll see it pretty constantly until Magic Mike and Ted are out of theaters and it ceases to have relevance.
I love me a good meme. At best, I’ve audibly laughed at a meme and at worst, I just sort of say “meh” and go on with my life. And that’s what I did the first time I saw this meme, but its persistent intrusion into my digital social life has proven unavoidable. People are still forwarding this and quoting it and seemingly finding it clever or funny or containing enough truth to warrant showing it to more and more people. Not only is it not funny which is a darkly subjective water that I won’t bother to dip my toes into here, the meme makes virtually no sense. Here’s why:
I get that strippers are a terrain that’s been traditionally monopolized by men. In the United States, there are between 2500 and 3000 strip clubs and most of those are geared towards heterosexual men. Even in the biggest cities, strip clubs directed at heterosexual women are in scant supply compared to their counterparts. Whatever texture your explanation for this takes(“There are more female strip clubs because men are gross!” – Socially unconscious woman, “There are more female strip clubs because the male-dominated power structure has been allowed to easily subjugate women for centuries!” – Socially conscious woman, “There are few male strip clubs because it’s still socially taboo for women to express sexual interest or enjoyment in a public setting!” – Socially conscious guy who’s trying to sleep with one of the other two women, etc.) it’s pretty clear that strip clubs are firmly by and for heterosexual men.
So, no argument on that. But when did teddy bears become a bastion of women? That’s so bizarre and unsupported to me that I got slightly dizzy when I read this meme for the first time. Like I somehow missed this obvious, cultural thing that everyone takes for granted: “Teddy bears are for girls, duh! Next you’ll tell me that you didn’t know that all homeless people are actually rich!”. I wouldn’t know where to begin research into the respective sexes’ relationship to teddy bears outside of personal anecdotes. For my own younger relatives, for children that my friends have blorted out, in mass-cultural media depictions of childhood(in commercials, TV shows, movies, etc) teddy bears seem pretty firmly unisex. And that’s without considering my own feelings on the matter. Me? I fucking love teddy bears.
Teddy from A.I. Baddest motherfucker alive.
Not only is there no existing cultural precedent that aligns teddy bears to women, but the meme itself makes the mistake of grounding itself in the world of cinema(“This may be the first time that men want to see a movie about a teddy bear and women want to see a movie about strippers”).
Quick, name the last movie about a teddy bear that women flocked to see. Okay, that might be a little unreasonable. How about you name any movie about a teddy bear aside from Ted? Don’t try too hard because there fucking aren’t any. Even consulting Google and weeding through dozens of links related to Ted, there aren’t many movies about teddy bears to be found. I found a few direct to video children’s animated movies and a cult Polish film whose cover is this:
So not only is this the first time men want to see a movie about a teddy bear but it seems to be the first time that a movie about a teddy bear has appeared in an American multiplex in my life time.
The field is a little more crowded for stripper flicks but not much. Sure, stripper/dancer characters have been in plenty of films but how many of them are squarely about strippers? Natalie Portman’s character in Closer(2004) becomes a stripper for about five [glorious] minutes of screentime but it is a reach to centrally define her character as “a stripper”. Marisa Tomei’s character in The Wrestler(2008) is a stripper but the movie is about The Wrestler. Rose McGowan plays a one-legged stripper in Planet Terror(2007) but again, this is not a focal point.
I invite readers to correct me on this but the last flick I can think of that was squarely about strippers was The Full Monty(1997) a British comedy about – wait for it – the financial and romantic travails of a male stripper! Before that was Striptease(1996) and Showgirls(1995). Not only were these movies not very good but whatever fleeting interest heterosexual men might have had in them is less relevant in our post-Broadband culture where you can easily pull up pictures of tits before you finish reading this sentence.
Pulled up in another tab while I typed the last sentence.
I’ve clearly spent too much time here but that’s sort of the point. In our post-Twitter culture where no one has time to read, much less compose something that makes us laugh, memes can be a nice little snack of comedy or satire or truth when done well. This one is not done well. And the fact that it gained such traction reveals that we’re not really paying attention to the things we consider funny, clever, true, or worthy of sharing with others. Our culture allows anyone to create whatever the hell they want and that’s great. But the onus is on us, the people, the consumers of this culture of impulsive creativity to pay a little more attention. We can allow someone to string a couple statements together, neither of which qualify as legitimate observations and allow them to call it “funny” or “witty” or “true” but we don’t have to mindlessly pass it on in complicit agreement of its own shittiness.