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Objects of their affection: 10 characters in love with the inanimate

The bubbling cauldron of obscure fetishes and exotic sexualities that is the internet has produced some pretty strange micro-communities over the years. One of the strangest and most difficult to understand is objectophilia, the inclination to form emotional and sexual bonds with inanimate objects. You know, like Erika Eiffel, the lady who married the Eiffel Tower? According to a 2008 documentary on Eiffel, there are only around 40 self-proclaimed “objectum sexuals” in the world, seemingly all of whom have appeared on a TLC documentary at one point or another.


These documentaries aside, there aren’t many fictional depictions of objectophilia in pop culture, most of which are played for laughs. It’s not as common as fictional depictions of sex dolls, for example, or people falling in love with computers, or androids, or the disembodied spirit of a lover possessing a sword or a brain in a jar. But there are a few odd souls in TV, movies, book, and comics who let their freak flags fly, and who dared to love—or maybe just lust after—non-humanoid things.

1. Gene and the toilet, Bob’s Burgers

You could probably create an entire Inventory based on Gene’s psychosexual urges in Bob’s Burgers, but the one in “O.T.: The Outside Toilet” is the top pick for many reasons, most notably that it’s one of the best episodes of the entire series. But it also deftly and hilariously examines Gene’s confusion about affection, running the gamut from paternal affection to best friendship to, in the end, a confession of love. The toilet, ably voiced by Jon Hamm, interprets this as a demand to vomit. And in the end, isn’t that what love is? A toilet that will make it easier for you to vomit? Not really, but when Gene is on a roll, it’s hard to deny his affection. [Rowan Kaiser]


2. Leigh Swift and the utility box (and the iPhone), Boston Legal

One of the more serious depictions of objectophilia to appear on TV comes from Boston Legal, when the firm takes the case of a woman named Leigh Swift who wants to sue a construction company for relocating her beloved Gebrauchskasten. The name, she explains, is German for “utility box,” because that’s what Gebrauchskasten is: A utility box with which Leigh has fallen in love. Things don’t turn out very well for Leigh and her metal lover, who was crushed into a dense cube after being removed by the costruction company. The experience does give her the courage to ask attorney Jerry Espenson out on a real-life human date, though. Leigh eventually dumps Jerry for an iPhone, but who can blame her for that? Those things are sleek. [Katie Rife]


3. Logan and his couch, Nip/Tuck

Ryan Murphy’s plastic surgery drama Nip/Tuck liked to shock viewers by incorporating bizarre fetishes—adult babies, a patient who was sexually involved with her dog—into its plots. The seasoned viewer could usually predict the big reveal early in the episode, but there was one that probably threw even your friendly neighborhood dominatrix for a loop. On the penultimate episode of the show’s fifth season, Dr. Christian Troy begins searching for a potential replacement, as he has been diagnosed with breast cancer and given six months to live. Enter Dr. Logan Taper, a good-looking guy with plenty in common with Dr. Troy: In addition to being a fine surgeon, Dr. Taper shares Troy’s love of aesthetics, particularly the MCM-style sofa in his office. Troy hires him immediately. Even his partner, Dr. Sean McNamara, is on board—until the partners walk in on Taper making sweet love to the aforementioned couch. Taper admits to being sexually and emotionally attracted to inanimate objects, a reveal that, on its surface, is played for laughs as the shallow, materialistic Troy—who also fetishizes the objects he uses to define his personality—fires Taper on the spot. Taper, on the other hand, is depicted sympathetically, as a man who has to struggle with his unusual attractions every day of his life. [Mike Vanderbilt]


4. Clone Emily and her rock, World Of Tomorrow

Don Hertzfeldt’s Oscar-nominated animated short film World Of Tomorrow is yet another definitively Hertzfeldtian stick-figure study of alienation and loneliness, with a surreal sense of humor. It tracks the long, sad life of a clone named Emily, dropping back in time to chat with her progenitor, a young child who has no idea what Clone Emily is saying about her history and her sadness. That’s just as well, since otherwise, Original Emily might get some weird ideas about romance from Clone Emily’s story about her first relationship, with a rock. Stationed alone on the moon as a robot-supervisor, the isolated young clone decides a certain rock is “immensely attractive” because it sparkles. Also, it doesn’t have much romantic competition. “I did not understand my mental and emotional shortcomings at the time,” Clone Emily says dourly. But eventually, an economic crash terminates her job and separates her from her love. She’s heartbroken, until her new deep-space posting lets her fall for a fuel pump instead. Sadly, she does not report on its sparkliness, or lack thereof, but she does say it was “much more gratifying than the rock.” There’s no sign that she consummated either relationship, or that her affection was returned in either case, but at least she apparently learned that a sparkly appearance isn’t everything. [Tasha Robinson]


5. Buster and “Robot,” Arrested Development

The Oedipally afflicted Buster Bluth spends the entire run of Arrested Development bouncing from mother substitute to mother substitute, desperately searching for a Lucille-shaped hole to fill (in his heart, or otherwise). And while it’s dangerous to ever ascribe a “lowest point” to the ever downward trending Bluths, Buster might reach his sexual nadir in season two’s “The Immaculate Election.” Having gotten the family’s long-suffering housekeeper Lupe—“an immigrant in mother’s old stirrup pants,” in Lucille’s withering dismissal—fired for some pity-based bedroom shenanigans, Buster is forced to come to terms with the family’s new domestic servant: a Roomba-esque mobile vacuum that everyone just refers to as “Robot.” And come to terms he does, combining his own attraction to maternal figures with the family’s odd tendency to anthropomorphize the objects in their lives, and taking them to their naturally unnatural conclusion. But hey, who can blame him? The poor guy is part machine. [William Hughes]


6. Kumar and his bag of weed, Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle

Hardcore stoners fetishize weed to the point of sexual deviation, from lovingly naming pipes and bongs to salivating like a Pavlovian dog at the scent of OG Kush. In Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle, Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) takes this symbiotic relationship to its logical extreme when he literally marries a sentient bag of weed in a ridiculously extended fantasy sequence. During his break from reality, Kumar spans a lifetime in a little over a minute with his beloved bag of weed, from initial romp-in-the-park infatuation to explosive sex, marriage, and the crashing Raging Bull-esque abusive denouement. [Drew Fortune]


7. Gene and his fridge, Wet Hot American Summer

As an intensely loony Vietnam veteran, camp chef Gene has a thousand-yard stare that goes up to three thousand whenever he talks about his sexual kinks. But that intensity quickly turns to panic as soon as someone calls him out on wanting to fondle his sweaters or smear mud on his ass. And that’s why the fridge moment—when Gene comes clean and announces to the entire camp that he’s going to go hump the fridge—is so triumphant. It’s not just about him hoisting a leg onto the door and thrusting his hips with a determined grace—it’s about him finally being honest with the rest of Camp Firewood. To their credit, they respond with enthusiasm and acceptance, erupting into applause as he’s rolled off-screen with his beloved appliance, still humping away. [Dan Caffrey]


8. “The Mercury Mistress,” Saturday Night Live

Cars are sexy even when they don’t have bikini babes draped across the hood, as any number of music videos from the ’80s to the present day can attest. Saturday Night Live spoofed men’s erotic obsession with horsepower in 1998 in a video short called “The Mercury Mistress,” an ad for a luxury automobile that doubles as “the first car you can actually have sex with.” Folding down the rear license plate of the Mistress reveals a Fleshlight-type orifice—blurred for the broadcast censors, of course—to which a young Chris Parnell saddles up, pulls down his pants, and starts rhythmically banging. [Katie Rife]


9. Victoria and her teddy bear, The Heart Goes Last

Margaret Atwood’s latest novel was written in serial form for a defunct website and collected for a softcover release, and it shows. The book is digressive and wandering, lacking Atwood’s usual metaphorical focus and sense of significant ideas lurking under the sometimes absurdist concepts. One of the most underdeveloped and potentially rich subplots involves Victoria, a beautiful woman who was kidnapped and reprogrammed to adore the first thing she sees upon awakening. A random act of luck puts a teddy bear in her sight line when she opens her eyes, leaving her with an inanimate slave to her passion instead of becoming a helpless slave to someone else’s desire. One of the protagonists has his own fit of obsessing about Victoria, but as she explains, she’s incapable of sexual response to anything but the bear—and she’s perfectly happy that way, since she can carry it with her wherever she goes. She’s practically self-contained and self-fulfilled, which puts her way above all the other needy, unsatisfied, unfocused characters in this novel. [Tasha Robinson]


10. Little Octagon, Eightball


Daniel Clowes’ mid-career transition to somber reflections on youth and identity shouldn’t obscure his legacy of creating comics about masturbating cartoon characters. An issue of his comic Eightball featured “Playful Obsessions,” Clowes’ response to Harvey Comics, the mid-century publisher famous for titles like Casper The Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich. Exploring the mono-personalities of Harvey characters, Willie Willions—a Richie Rich stand-in—berates Insignificant Shrimp for not having a single, all-consuming personality trait. To illustrate his point, Willie points to Little Octagon, whose sole quality is an obsession with the eight-sided shape so strong that the mere sight of a stop sign is sufficient to make him fall to the ground, bug-eyed and sweating, to engage in a furious bout of onanism. Willie continues that he was able to secure his wealth, and identity, by exploiting people like Little Octagon: All he has to do is cut the shape out of paper and sell it for whatever price he sees fit. [Nick Wanserski]

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