G-String Soap Hypocrisy
– by David Matthews 2
Leave it to my favorite soap opera, “Days of Our Lives”, to continually find ways to annoy me.
In recent storylines for the long-running daytime serial, a certain young professional was revealed to be living a double-life. This person was forced to take a second job to pay off certain debts, and it wasn’t a job that this person wanted to have those close to them know about. In fact this person felt embarrassed to have to do this to help make ends meet. But soon others found out that this otherwise professional person was moonlighting as… a stripper!
This isn’t the first time that the “my secret life as a stripper” story was used. It’s an old TV formula to show the angst and shame of a young woman as she struggles to succeed and yet keep her secret intact. The initial titillation turns to horror as the young woman’s “secret” is revealed, and she is condemned, ostracized, and punished for supposedly “debasing herself and her profession” by being a stripper. She’s treated as a slut. She loses her professional job. She loses her boyfriend/fiancé/husband. She loses her children. She gets arrested in the middle of some police raid. She gets driven to despair and sometimes even to the brink of suicide. And then she quits, or she’s thrown in jail overnight, and she turns her life around and slowly is redeemed in the self-righteous eyes of the community.
It’s tired and old and it continually reinforces the hidden messages that “stripping is wrong” and “you’re a slut if you do it” and “nobody will ever love you until you stop being a stripper”. But it gets brought up over and over again because it allows the writers to totally engage in soap opera fan-service (“just for ratings”, of course) and then engage in blatant emotional-porn so they can give those hidden messages of self-righteous indignation.
Ah, but this time things are different for the “Days” cast! It’s “my secret life as a stripper” with a twist!
Two twists, actually! Eat your heart out M. Knight Shyamalan.
The first twist is that the “secret stripper” in this case is a guy. Yes, dashing young Doctor Cameron Davis, brother of the late Doctor Lexie Carver, paid off his huge student loans through working nights as a male stripper. Of course he didn’t want anyone else to know about this, including his friends and the young blonde woman that he found himself falling for, but they became the first to find out about his secret anyway.
Well, okay, so far so good. It’s a bit of a change, but, hey, it’s not too long after the movie “Magic Mike” came out so I can see where they got the inspiration.
But then there’s the second twist: what happens when that secret life is “revealed”.
Does Doctor Cameron lose his job? Does he lose his would-be girlfriend? Is he shamed and his name is dragged through the mud?
No, no, and hell-no!
Actually, the exact opposite happens. When other people find out that Doctor Cameron is about to be revealed by the hospital’s Human Resource director, they all show up at the strip club for moral support. And not just as patrons, but even the men show up to give their own bump-and-grind renditions!
I wish I was kidding about that, but first the music cues up and there was Dr. Daniel Jonas, a.k.a. “Scruffy The Horndog”, the hospital’s bed-hopping relationship-killing man-whore. Then there’s Brady Black, the moody ex-addict who can’t get into a relationship without ruining it and yet somehow becomes a big corporate executive. This is followed by Rafe Hernandez… or I should say Detective Rafe Hernandez off-and-on of the Salem Police Department. All of them up on stage, bumping and grinding for dollar bills along with Doctor Cameron, aka “Apollo”.
And nobody ends up being fired or dragged through the mud. The “new talent” all tell the hospital administrator (who was dragged down there by the evil HR person) that they did what they did for charity, but eventually the moonlighting doctor comes clean and says he did what he did for his own reasons and never let it interfere with the hospital. And he kept his job! (The medical one, not the bump-and-grind one.)
This is where I have to call BS.
Gone is the talk of exploitation. Gone is the talk of how stripping “demeans” a person. Gone is the talk about how strippers are no different than prostitutes (something “Days” knows all too well, but I’m getting ahead of myself here). There’s no talk about crime or drugs, and no mention that this club is in a “seedy section” of the city. In other words, none of the “negative secondary effects” that are always brought up when the subject of strip clubs are otherwise discussed. No, it’s just a super-brightly-lit male strip club someplace in the city.
And how about how the audience acts in this male strip club? The ladies end up doing things that would brand men as perverts!
Even more baffling, though, is the idea that other men would bump-and-grind to help out their friend. Sure they invented this idea of it being done “for charity”, but, seriously, how many guys in the real world would go to a male strip club that they’ve never heard of before and take their clothes off in front of a bunch of crazed women just to help out another guy they may or may not know? How many of them would put their relationships and their jobs on the line for this? Remember, we’re talking about doctors, business executives, and even a police officer! Nude or not-nude, just the fact that they performed for an impromptu “charity event” would get most men in hot water with Human Resources, especially when it comes to a member of the local police department.
And what if the gender roles were reversed… or in this case “normalized”? What if it was a female character taking her clothes off in a regular strip club and her “secret life” was about to be discovered? Would you honestly expect the other female characters of that soap to be hitting the pole to help out their friend and colleague? And if, by some moment of studio insanity it happened, would you honestly expect those female characters to get away with it, “charity” or not? Even for a soap opera, where aliens, super-spies, and demonic possessions are commonplace, “suspension of disbelief” can only go so far.
As much as I would not object to either gender having a strip club, let’s get brutally honest here… the cast and crew of “Days of Our Lives” essentially committed a huge sexist and hypocritical insult with how they handled this storyline. On par, this commentator would say, as the old “rape as seduction” idea.
What “Days” did is essentially glamorize male strippers. Maybe they are easily-manipulated addicts (Brady), maybe they are moody and stressed-out (Cameron), maybe they are family-killing man-whores (Daniel), maybe they are incompetent heroes (Rafe), maybe they each can’t keep relationships worth a damn, but isn’t it nice to know that the women think they would be best suited on a strip club stage taking their clothes off for dollar bills? Isn’t it nice to know that the writers and the traditionally-targeted audience think that these men are only good for being used as sex objects so women can fight over every article of clothing they remove?
Bear in mind this is the same soap opera that has its share of former prostitutes and porn stars. Kimberly Brady, former high-priced hooker, now West Coast therapist. Eve Donovan, Kimberly’s step-daughter and former psychotic street walker. Kate Roberts (formerly Kate DiMera, formerly Kate Kiriakis), former high-priced hooker and madam, now corporate CEO. Chloe Lane, former singer and victim of schoolyard bullying, chased out of town after she was forced into prostitution (not to mention ruining three marriages). Then there’s Nicole Walker, former porn star and designated pariah of the community, whose very name elicits painful groans from even ordinary citizens.
All of that self-righteous indignation, and yet they have no qualms with men being used as strippers, or for a male strip club to operate in their little “god-fearing community”. The women in that community used to be the victims of serial stranglers and slashers. Now they’re screaming wild-eyed customers treating men as sex objects.
As the old cigarette ad goes… "You've come a long way, baby." You’ve gone from victims of sexism to its perpetrators and enablers. I hope you’re happy.
I guess what I’m looking for is a little bit of quid pro quo in the soap world. I want the writers and producers and the cast to remember this storyline and how they handled the subject of male strippers. And the next time they come up with a more traditional strip club or turn the old “Cheating Heart” bar into a Hooters-style restaurant and show the supposed “shame” of a beautiful young woman working there, I want someone in Salem to give a “Harper Valley PTA” sermon and remind the community of when they were stuffing dollar bills down the boxer shorts of male strippers. I want the inevitable estrogen-fueled crusade against such a business operating in their community to be thoroughly bitch-slapped on camera, with flashbacks for proof, as a reminder that they set the bar low for themselves, and now they have to suck it up and apply that same bar to others.
And maybe… just maybe… we could then see the same thing emulated in the real world.
Or is that too much disbelief to suspend?