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Women get horny, but Hulu’s Chippendales forgets to ask why

He may have been a king of nudity, but Hugh Hefner probably never found himself in a room full of dancing naked men. (…Probably.) It is unlikely that he gave much thought to the male form, and yet his legacy still casts a long shadow over her. Welcome to Chippendales. It’s not even five minutes into Hulu’s latest true crime miniseries before Hefner’s young, smiling face appears on the screen. His image is plastered on the wall of button-down Indian immigrant Somen Banerjee, played by an inexplicably buff Kumail Nanjiani, as one of the many glowing cutouts that make up his living room vision board.

as subject to The six million dollar man plays on his television, Somen (soon to be Steve) ignores both the perfect male specimen Steve Austin on his screen and the bulk of the bright, sprawling images that make up his vision board. Damn the bionic men, the backgammon, the fancy clothes, and the vision of a better American future; instead, what catches Steve’s eye is that little black and white photo of the world’s most famous magazine publisher.

Not that Steve was unique in this regard; Ever since the first issue of Playboy was published in 1953, many men have watched with awe and aspiration at Hefner’s studly reputation, her bon vivant lifestyle, and the women’s leagues she surrounded herself with. . But what Steve knows, and what Welcome to Chippendales seems willing to remind us, is that Hefner was first and foremost a businessman. Behind decades of glamor and hedonism was a simple but profitable fact: Desire is a commodity, something to be bought and sold. And by 1979, second-wave feminism had left its indelible mark, the pill was widely available, and liberated women were a market force to be reckoned with; it was very clear that men were not the only ones buying. Sell ​​though? Well, Chippendales was inspired by Mr. Playboy in more ways than one.

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Of course, Welcome to Chippendales You can’t change history. This was never going to be a story about women commodifying their own desire, and there’s no denying that men are part of the story of Steve Banerjee’s dance empire. But where the show fails on its subject matter, and on its audience, is where it seems to forget, or worse, deliberately leave out: women.

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A crowd of women applauding and putting money on the waist of a Chippendales dancer

Photo: Erin Simkin/Hulu

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Even as they packed the floor of Chippendales’ original West Los Angeles location, even as they flocked to this spectacle about a kingdom of half-naked men, even as they supplied the dollar bills that made this chronicle possible, tragedy and all, Women were never the main concern of Welcome to Chippendales. In fact, apart from a line or two from hapless playmate Dorothy Stratten (Nicola Peltz): “I have something to tell you, Paul. Something extremely shocking… but women get horny!” — The prominence of women’s desire for success in Chippendales is glossed over in episode after episode, unceremoniously buried in favor of the sensationalism of men’s desire. The meat (sorry) of the show isn’t the boisterous men’s revue, but the two men who make it simmer: Steve and his new Emmy Award-winning choreographer, Nick De Noia (Murray Bartlett). They both want success for the club, but for both, the definition of success is control. Methods and egos collide, friction ensues.

These tensions do not take long to establish themselves; This is a true crime, baby. We don’t want sociopolitical awareness, not really. We want a bad guy, and we want him now. Time that could be spent making the audience understand what made Chippendales a global success—women’s liberation, a more traditional, strict masculinity that heralded the commercialism and conservatism of the 1980s—is spent more directly. to make us understand the basic components of Steve’s ego and to establish the origins of his growing anger. (Not much background is given to Nick, but he’s not the villain; we don’t have to understand what makes him tick so much as we need to know it’s ticking.)

Truly, Steve’s journey is a well-trodden path: a man has a dream, different from the one his parents had for him. He succeeds in his goals, but not in theirs, and comes away feeling like a failure. He hurts and hurts, and then everyone around him suffers. What Steve wants (parental approval, fame, fortune) conflicts with what Nick wants (creative freedom, fame, fortune), even though they are really the same thing. Hostilities escalate and what should have been a story about the fortunate convergence of historical moments is reduced to the proud follies of two men. He’s true to life, of course, but still, he irritates.

Male desire has always been taken seriously. People may joke about reading Playboy for articles, but in its heyday, among the pages and pages of naked women, the magazine featured writing by the likes of Roald Dahl, PG Wodehouse, Ray Bradbury, Alex Haley, Margaret Atwood, and many, many. much more. Feminine desire has rarely received the same treatment; even a former Chippendales dancer described the show as a “comedy act for women”. Not that what we want has never been in style: Chippendales itself is just one example of the enormous influence of women in popular culture. But for every shred of legitimacy our wishes garner, there’s always a wave of ridicule and deletion waiting in the wings. There’s always someone (usually a man) who says, “That’s not really important” or “That was always overrated.”

Weather Welcome to Chippendales women are not mocked or ridiculed, the camera pans over and over over the screaming crowds and backstage dates and sends a clear message: that’s not really important. When men want women, it’s front page news. But when women want men? Well, we know that, what is the real history?

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Steve (Kumail Nanjiani) and Nick (Murray Bartlett) standing and talking, while Nick smokes a cigarette.

Photo: Erin Simkin/Hulu

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A group of Chippendales dancers practicing moves outside

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Photo: Erin Simkin/Hulu

It’s not just women who chippendales forget, however. Even most of the dancers are cast aside as nothing more than faceless props in Steve’s relentless pursuit of fame and fortune. They enthusiastically take off their pants and regularly have sex with enthusiastic fans, but nothing lingers about them. Almost none of them are granted any interiority. The show seems almost as disinterested in them as it is in the women they serve. But that’s the trap of true crime, or at least the river of true crime series we’ve been swimming in lately: any detail that doesn’t contribute to the implied behavioral profile of whatever bastard we’re focusing on. not really worth exploring. If you’re not going to tell us what makes Steve like this, what’s the point? Beyond making caricatures of real-life ballerinas, this trend in form once again delegitimizes female desire. It flattens it out and reduces a complex phenomenon to a simple fact—naked, muscular men here—to make room for the violent main attraction.

One notable exception, really the only one, is Otis (Quentin Plair), Chippendales’ only black dancer and its most popular. We learn that he has a family and aspirations, and that he admires Steve as a successful businessman. There are hints of Otis’s struggle with his newfound fame, as white women take the opportunity to rough him up, grabbing his crotch to “confirm” the rumors and stealing unsolicited dirty kisses. But even Otis, based on real-life Chippendales stripper Hodari Sababu, who at one point was also the only black member of the dance troupe, soon finds every hint of individuality the show gives him in the destructive path of the Steve’s goals. In this week’s episode, aptly titled “Just Business,” Otis finds out too late that he’s been cut from the inaugural schedule of Chippendales, which is a commercial success even before it hits shelves. You can see the doors of opportunity closing before his eyes. When he confronts Steve about the matter, his response is simple. “In the end, I felt that it would be bad for sales… Most can [handle a shirtless Black man], but not all. And we want them to buy the calendars too.” And that is. Otis’s career as a Chippendales performer has reached its limit. Not because he can’t, and not because women don’t want him, but because Steve says so. A man’s desire rules everything.

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Otis (Quentin Plair) in a still from Welcome to Chippendales

Photo: Erin Simkin/Hulu

Welcome to Chippendales is, in essence, a series about the dirty business of loving. Not the sultry, sexy desire he expected, but a braver guy, the kind who leads sane men to commit violent acts like the ones Steve Banerjee ultimately did (no spoilers; the show will get there). It is about how greed, excess desire, corrupts and devours everything in its path. But more than that, it is about the ways in which men’s desire, their ego and their pride, swallow the specificity of women, even in the case of chippendales where they are the ones who do the wishing. Think Hugh Hefner and his monthly playmates and centerfolds; women reduced to a list of things that turn me on and turn me off, asterisks and measurements. You can argue that it’s not inherently demeaning, but it is undeniably crushing, in every way. Hefner and Playboy knew that men wanted an ideal woman, not a specific one.

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chippendales it doesn’t do anything quite as egregious, and yet the effect isn’t far off: the women who, for better and worse, helped set Steve Banerjee on his perilous path are reduced to a faceless, screaming mass. His desire becomes nothing more than a weapon that Steve and Nick happily wield against each other, fuel that fuels the fires of his anger. It has no particularity, it has no context. “Women get horny!” Dorothy Stratten tells Steve. Welcome to Chippendales suggests that there is nothing else.

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