The Big Swinging Dicks Of “Entourage”

Entourage has always celebrated the pleasures of bro-ing out without consequences. So what makes the film feel so toxic?

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The unifying visual motif of Entourage has always been the swagger: a cluster of men walking, talking, and generally plowing their way through the scenery. It’s different genre than the famed Aaron Sorkin walk-and-talk, which involves intense rhetorical wordplay. As the boys (and they’re always called boys) walk from car to party to lunch to car to party, sometimes they make fun of one another, or argue over the appropriate way to handle a hookup, but they’re just words to fill the empty space of their forward velocity. The swagger allows the dick to swing, the gaze to wander. It’s the way the phallus walks.

In Entourage, the swagger is used to get from one activity to the next — arriving at lunch, planning a party, gossiping, talking on the phone. In that way, they’re not far from another foursome that once dominated the half-hour HBO time slot. The women of Sex and the City had prettier shoes, smaller apartments, and were based in New York, but apart from Miranda, their lifestyles were largely typified by the same sort of infinite leisure and privilege. The labor performed by Samantha is similar to E’s and Ari’s: talking on the phone with a purpose. The boys of Entourage just have their important discussions in the car, while the women of Sex and the City have them at brunch.

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But it’s OK for women to hang out intimately without men. The all-girls sleepover and its adult iteration, the endless bachelorette party, are mainstays of the female experience. There’s nothing weird about women spending time with other women; historically, it’s been one of women’s few liberties.

When dudes hang out with other dudes, however, there’s an often unspoken but overarching fear that someone, in or outside the group, might mistake their homosocial arrangement as homosexual, that hanging out with dudes is somehow the same as loving dudes. It’s a particular sort of homophobia, and it manifests in everything from the SeinfeldNot that there’s anything wrong with that!” gag and “no homo” to “don’t drop the soap” jokes in the fraternity shower. Disavowing homoeroticism, in other words, by ridiculing it.

Entourage offers the sort of old-fashioned gay jokes that most “quality” television disposed with years ago. It’s most potently manifest in superagent-turned-studio-head Ari Gold’s treatment of Lloyd (Rex Lee), his former assistant, but the boys use it to insult each other (“Maybe those skinny pills you’re taking are filled with estrogen”) and adversaries use it to insult them. (Armie Hammer: “Enjoy your salads, boys.”)

But even gay jokes can’t always mask the homoeroticism. When Ari (Jeremy Piven) exclaims, “Warren Buffett’s going to be blowing us for investment advice soon!” it’s intended as a power move, but it’s actually reinscribing the aura of queerness.

And so a film like Entourage finds itself in a holding pattern. Every homosocial scene — the boys spending time alone, Lloyd telling Ari he loves him, one of the guys happening upon another one of the guys in a vulnerable and/or semi-naked state — demands a scene to diffuse the queer tension, usually in the form of semi-naked women. But the boys treat those women so absentmindedly that it feels cursory, performative, even unconvincing. The first scene of the Entourage film offers some classic male gaze of models on a yacht in Ibiza, prompting Drama (Kevin Dillon) to exclaim, “I may have to jerk it before we even get there.” It’s meant to highlight Drama’s heterosexual desire, but the comment implies taking out his penis and masturbating in front of his two best friends: an intensely queer action. Cue more shots of girls in bikinis. It’s like an inescapable vortex of compulsory heterosexuality.

In truth, anything that threatens the potent, straight, virile masculinity of these men is narratively solved with a naked body or a gay joke. E’s on-again, off-again girlfriend is pregnant? Cut to a naked woman riding Eric (Kevin Connolly). Ari’s impotence? More belittling of Lloyd. Only Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) gets to be emasculated — as he is, decisively, by MMA fighter Ronda Rousey — but that’s because the series has never considered him a man. His weight, his clothes, his role as a de facto servant, even his name all render him something less than man. No matter that he’s lost the weight and built a tequila business that’s arguably more successful than Vince’s career. In the world of Entourage, once a fat man, always a nonviable man.

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It’s hilarious, then, that Turtle’s the hottest one of the bunch — not because he’s skinnier, although he is that, but because he attempts, however momentarily, to treat Rousey as a business equal. He desires her, but he also respects her myriad powers, and seems otherwise uninterested in accumulating the nameless bed notches that define the motivations of his friends. It’s not that he’s a pussy, it’s that he doesn’t think of women exclusively in terms of theirs.

In the Entourage universe, however, promiscuity isn’t actually about virility. As Drama puts it when he calls out Vince (Adrian Grenier) for hiding his relationship with Emily Ratajkowski, “Most of the fun of fucking a girl that hot is telling your friends about it.” But Drama’s not talking about bragging; he’s talking about intimacy. He, Vince, Eric, Turtle, and even Ari all crave it, men to whom they tell all their secrets and with whom they share all their joys. When Ari softly ridicules them for their loyalty, it belies the fact that he’s spent the last 10 years attempting to share in it.

The film repeatedly evokes this intimacy. When Sloan rides a gurney through the hospital, it’s Eric and Vince who walk beside her; when Vince offers to leave as Sloan and E discuss their relationship, Sloan’s retort is on point: “Why? You’ve been here for every other part of the relationship save the conception.” When Drama arrives at the hospital, he exclaims, “We had ourselves a baby!” Four men live in a house and support each other through every curve of their lives. Shouldn’t that be a beautiful thing?

Well, no. That’s a utopia that’s altogether too queer. Thus the boobs, the cars, the gay jokes, the overwhelming narrative insistence of straightness. In the 2000s, that attitude blended in, a cloaked amplification of anxieties about the impotence of a post-9/11 America and the ever-increasing visibility of gay men and women. But released during a week in which Caitlyn Jenner covered Vanity Fair — and accumulated more than a million Twitter followers in less than four hours — Entourage doesn’t just feel old-fashioned. It feels reactionary.

That’s the problem with sequels and remakes. They’re several years, even decades, after the cultural moment in which the original text found its meaning and resonance. Producers have to rework the premise (the most recent Annie, for example, or Doctor Who) to fit the current context, or the film ends up feeling not whimsically anachronistic, but pathetically nostalgic, especially if that nostalgia is for regressive gender, race, or sexuality politics. Sex and the City 2 felt so flat because by 2008, the postfeminism the show had so glamorously embodied had begun to feel hollow. In the same way, the Entourage movie’s nostalgia for a mid-2000s masculinity — before the economic crisis, before the various powers of social media began to hold white straight privileged men accountable for their actions — feels like a selfish yearning for a time of unfettered irresponsibility.

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Just because it feels like a disgusting throwback doesn’t mean that people won’t go see it. Entourage may be relatively plotless, but its main attraction has been how mindlessly diverting it is. It’s so very easy to watch. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t manifest the same toxic nostalgia, albeit in muted, cloaked form, that drives men’s rights groups.

The bros of Entourage swagger with such enormous strides because they need to make space — not for their penises, but their phalluses. The penis is the actual sex organ; the phallus is what the man imagines his size to be. Someday, maybe even this weekend, that phallus will be revealed for what it is: a projection borne not of power, but of fear.

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