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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How "Mike" is Stealing the Real "Magic" From Relationships

If words could cause a black eye, I think I would have one good shiner.  

Recently I posted an article on Facebook that spoke out against the movie Magic Mike and books like Shades of Gray.  This topic has gotten a lot of chatter in my circles lately, so I wanted to try to post some thoughts on the subject.  

You can't pick up a magazine, turn on the TV, or even breath air without hearing or seeing something about Magic Mike.  As of last Sunday, the movie about a male stripper teaching a younger performer "how to party, pick up women, and make easy money," had already grossed $39.1 Millions in box office sales.  That's $39.1 MILLION in its first 3 opening days.   

Disclaimer:  I have not seen the movie.  Usually I don't respect people who make over-generalized statements on something they've not experienced, read, or seen.  So I post these opinions as that--opinions based on a limited knowledge of the movie itself.  However, I feel I know enough from the interviews, news articles, advertising and marketing campaigns to know why they want me to see it.  It is also important to note that I am a a person that follows Christ.  That means I try to live my life according to my understanding of the Bible.  I pray.  I attend church and small groups that discuss Jesus.  Therefore, my world view has that as the foundation.  At the same time, I want to be clear that I am not perfect.  I don't have all the answers, nor will I ever.  I am simply someone in constant pursuit of knowing God more.  This post is directed primarily (but not exclusively) at those that also identify themselves as Christ-followers (i.e. Christian, believer, or follower).  I hope that all that take the time to read it will at least walk away with something to think about.

So, what is so wrong with Magic Mike?   

Many Christians think that watching movies like Magic Mike is just harmless.  I disagree.  In the book Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both, Laura Steep, a Washington Post reporter, interviews young women about the emotional effects of “hooking up.”  Hooking up, according to Steep, eludes a neat definition. It can be anything from an innocent kiss to sexual intimacy.  

For many years, it is safe to say that men have viewed sex and sexuality in a disconnected, purely physical act.  Porn, for the most part, was focused on men. ( I believe porn/views of pre-marital sex is an issue for both Christian and non-Christian men).  Finding a godly man (that was also a virgin) is more and more rare.  Many women, although virgins themselves, usually don't expect their future husbands to be sexually pure as well.  Things have shifted, and now it is just as common that the guy and the girl have had previous sexual relationships, and if not, many of them engage in it before marriage.  

Generally, it was women that held onto the sanctity of sex.  Women that "put out" had the bad reputation while male counterparts were considered studs.  There has been a double standard for years and years.  Since the 60's sexual revolution and women's liberation movement took root, however, the divide between male and female standards of purity and sexuality has drastically decreased.

We now live in a culture where traditionally "male" issues with pornography and sexual promiscuity are just as rampant in Christian women's groups.  The difference?  I know that Christian men are being taught how to avoid these sins.  They are asking their brothers to keep the accountable.  They put filters on their computers.  They don't go see the movie.  More than anything, though, they admit there is a problem

Well, thank you Magic Mike.  Now we have a very popular movie that sheds light on this subject.  Christian women--married and single--are flocking to this movie with doe-eyed innocence.  They don't see the double-standard.  They don't see the problem.  This is NOT a new issue, people.  It's been growing under the surface and now we have fruit of generations of changes.  

Lloyd Kolbe, who formerly served as an adolescent health director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that the majority of adults interviewed avoid talking about early (first) loves.  Kolbe says, "We demean first love, deny it, trivialize it, and so our young people trivialize it.  We lose the opportunity to talk (to young people) about real things, like the difference between lust and love."

Adults clammed up and didn't talk to their kids about how to date.  So, television shows, popular culture, and media started speaking up.  Over time the shift happened.  According to Urban Dictionary, "Hooking up has replaced mainstream dating....It's no longer, 'OMG! When will he call?' but...'OMG, that was awesome, I wonder when he'll ask me out after [last said hookup].'"  
Add in popular, "award-winning"  tv shows like Sex in the City and "hooking up" is down right glamorous.   

So now, romance, monogamous relationships, and dating are seen as messy and time consuming.  Young women (and men) postpone love--or worse--see it as pretty much impossible.  A good number of women get physically or emotionally beat up by the new dating scene.  Even the Christian young women may feel pressure to engage in physical relationships because "if I don't, he will find someone that will."   

The result is a generation of young people who don't know how to date or where to turn for help.  A young women Stepp interviewed says it this way, "A girl can tuck a Trojan in her purse on Saturday night, but there is no such device to protect her heart."

Stepp goes on to quote William Beardslee, a psychiatry professor at Harvard University.  He says a girls are too quick to believe that they can't be hurt when engaging in this type of activity.  "The big issue for me is it's hard to believe that true sexual intimacy is unconnected from personal intimacy.  These young women need to be careful not to fool themselves."

Stepp describes the stories of these scantily clad coeds who keep count of the number of guys they have slept with--many complete strangers.  Although these girls avoid anything more than the "casual" hookup, Stepp shows that, in fact, they become emotionally involved anyway.

It's not just an innocent movie.  You can't just "casually" watch men strip without being affected.  Always, your mind and heart is involved. 

Magic Mike is a symptom of a much deeper issue.  It represents so much that is wrong with our relationship culture today.  Men AND women are going to things (books, porn, or hooking up) to meet a need that is meant to only be enjoyed in the confines of marriage.  If we take nudity (even partial nudity), seductive dancing (meant to elicit physical excitement), casual non-committed sexual relationships as entertainment and then also expect solid, good marriages, we are deluding ourselves. 

"Surpriseingly little research has been done on what kinds of relationships leads to good marriages.  But the traits that characterizes good marriages are firmly established and include trust, respect, admiration, honesty, selflessness, communication, caring and, perhaps more than anything else, commitment," writes Stepp.  "Hookups are about anything but these qualities."

How is watching another man strip firmly establishing trust, respect, admiration, selflessness, and commitment to your spouse (or future spouse)?  It doesn't.  When we let outsiders into our marriages, relationships, and thoughts, we are eroding our relationships with those we have a covenant relationship with.   Comparison is our natural response: Man, my husband doesn't look like Channing Tatum.  I wish he would work out more.  I wish he would say "x" to me like that.  I wish...  When we compare our husbands to fiction, they will lose almost every time.  Discontent will build, and marriages will fall apart. 

As women, we should be especially understanding of this issue.  Female nudity is rampant.  I don't know many women who would like their husbands looking at other women and then comparing them to that ideal.  Moreover, it steals from our relationships the power of true intimacy.  There are things that should ONLY be known by my husband.  That is a special and unique gift I give to him.  If it is shared with the world (literally, like in Magic Mike) how can the wives of these men still feel special.  The whole world can see what is meant for only them.     

Intimacy is meant to be between husband and wife exclusively.  Bring in outsiders--through books, movies, internet, porn, or fantasy--is dangerous at best.  The Bible is much more black and white on the issue.  Matthew 5:28 says "if anyone who looks at a women lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."  Obviously, this is true also for a women.  The Bible is very clear on this subject.  The principle remains true whether you are single or married.  (If you are single, you are still to remain pure for your future spouse.)

I know many think this a dooms-day response.  It's JUST a movie, and I am here, like Chicken Little, screaming, "The sky is falling!  THE SKY IS FALLING!"  
In Psalm 1:1 (NIV) it says:
"Blessed is the one
     who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
     or sit in the company of mockers," 

There is a progression here.  First is walking.....then standing...then sitting.  You go from a passive acceptance to being emerged in it.  Alicia, a women interviewed by Stepp, put it this way:  "Once you've trained your mind...your habits linger."   

I believe there are numerous scriptures and reasons that we shouldn't see the movie.  Almost more than that, though, we need to go to the root of the issue--the real problem.  As women that follow God, we need to address this hook-up culture.  We need to talk to our daughters and the women we disciple and ask them if they are struggling with pornography, sexual sin, or lust.  We need to admit there is a problem and address it in a God-honoring way.  If you are a women who is struggling with these issues or have made mistakes in the past, do not lose heart.  Please find someone you respect and talk with them about it.  It's not just a "male" issue anymore.   
Stepp summarizes the gravity of the issue well,  "The need to be connected intimately to others is as central to our well-being as food and shelter.  In my view, if we don't get it right, we're probably not going to get anything else in life right." 

We need intimacy with God.  We need to protect our intimate relationships with our spouse.  The whole of life can be boiled down to our relationships--with God and with others.  Let's take a stand against movies and books that endanger these relationships.  Moreover, let's talk to those people God has placed in our lives and ask the hard questions and encourage one another to God's standard.

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