Call for Comments: Fictional and Celebrity Crushes

From Mav: Last year we did a special Valentine’s Day show about romantic shipping in our favorite fictional universes. It was so great celebrating Valentine’s Day by explaining to everyone in final decisive detail exactly how I am 100% positive that Hermoine and Harry totally absolutely and without a doubt totally “did it” behind the scenes in the 7th book. We can all agree on that now, right? I thought so. Ok, moving along. As we approach Valentine’s Day this year I’ve been thinking about love again, but I want to approach it from a different perspective. Not the relationships that we imagine between different fictional characters, but the relationships we imagine between fictional characters and US… and what that means. That is to say that if there’s one thing that I’m sure we can all agree on, it’s that Illyana Nikolievna Rasputina, aka Magik, is totally in love with me and has been since the mid-1980s. You know… or she would be… you know… if she like was real and stuff… Similarly, I want to point out that Ariel the Little Mermaid also would totally be in love with me if she were real too. And Holli Would from Cool World who I maintain is WAY hotter than Jessica Rabbit (don’t judge me!).

Of course, I don’t just have crushes on cartoon characters. I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned on the show before that I’ve completely reasonably totally had a completely age appropriate crush on Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years since I was 13 years old. I’m not alone here. If you are an at least nominally heterosexual man of a certain age living in America, and you’re NOT in love with Winnie Cooper… something is wrong with YOU! And she’s perfect, because as far as I am concerned she totally ages right along with me. We were the same age when the show started, were the same age when it ended. Yes I realize there’s some weirdness since the show took place in the past and so in a way she’s both the same age as me and at the same time also twenty years older. Look, if I can ignore the fact that Illyana is a drawing and also a half-demon mutant sorceress… time displacement ain’t a thing. The point is that my love for Winnie Cooper is perfect, pure, enduring and eternal… and it extends to her actress Danica McKellar, who similarly is perfectly age appropriate for me and also both gorgeous and smart and I’m sure would totally be in love with me today… you know, if she had any idea who the hell I was… which she doesn’t. DETAILS!

But my unrequited crush on Danica made me start really start thinking about the nature of celebrity crushes. There’s a fundamental difference between my crush on Illyana, Ariel or even Winnie than the one on Danica. Being in love with Winnie Cooper isn’t fundamentally any different than being in love with the Little Mermaid. They’re stories. They don’t have feelings. They don’t have agency. Whether they love me back or not is purely a function of my own imagination. McKellar is a real person. It’s entirely possible that in real life she might not be in the slightest bit attracted to me. Or might even straight up just hate me. The same with any of my other celebrity crushes. Rihanna, Shakira, Halle Berry, Lolo Jones. It feels like there’s a weird lack of consent going on. Hell, I’m in love with Audrey Hepburn and she’s been dead for years. Granted, crushes are often one way even in real life. But somehow, this just feels “different.”

And again, I know I’m not alone here. Both my wife and my mother have noted on MANY occasions to me that they have crushes on Johnny Depp (as have countless other at least nominally heterosexual women of a certain age). And the idea of hall passes for a limited list of famous people is so common that it’s been a plot on several sitcoms. And while sure, the idea that I’m allowed to fuck Rihanna or Stephanie can just fuck Depp if we ever just happen to run into them is great… for us… but it really doesn’t take into account the crush’s desires at all. So I can only conclude that in a sense, we don’t think of celebrities as “real people” in as far as it comes to crushing on them. The lack of feasibility of ever encountering them makes them “fictional” for all intents and purposes. They don’t count anymore than Winnie Cooper or Illyana Rasputin.

So then extending the idea that the relationships are always “essentially fictional” makes me think about them even more as fantasy. The idea of the relationship with the celebrity or fictional character essentially becomes mental pornography. Even if you’re not really imagining them in a masturbatory manner (and who are you kidding, pervert!), they’re still just fantasies. And what makes this special is that we can essentially dispense with any of our natural sexual propensities in relation to them. I’m thinking here about the fact that I have seen plenty of women tweet or facebook update that they are 100% straight and yet swear that they would “make an exception” for Ruby Rose or Janelle Monae. I mean, I totally get it. They’re both extremely attractive. And they both have very public personas that openly question heteronormative conventions of both sexuality and gender. But there’s probably less gender fluid common crushes that do the same thing. I’ve certainly heard supposedly straight men make the same claim about Jason Momoa (and yes… yes, I totally would) and he’s as stereotypically masculine as you get. And then there’s David Bowie who certainly had his hetero-male admirers (not my thing personally, but I still totally get it).

I was talking about this concept with former show guest Anna Peppard and she noted a curious gendered thing that happens in schoolgirl celebrity crushes. I’ll leave it to her to expand upon it in comments if she likes, but the thrust of what I got from her argument is that if you have for instance a girlhood crush on David Bowie, there’s an inclination to both as she put it “be a Bowie girl” and “be a Bowie-Girl”. That is, part of the idea of crushing on Bowie is not just wanting to possess him (romantically, sexually, whatever) but also wanting to BE him. Bowie is probably the best example of this, but there certainly are other minor examples. Again, to go back to Depp… while I don’t think he’s ever commanded the kind of total cosplay-esque devotion that Bowie did, there’s still “something there” where he seems to directly affect the style of his heterosexual admirers. I don’t feel like there’s quite an analogue for a female celebrity with cis-het men… or at least not that I can think of.

But to me, the interesting thing about Bowie is that like Monae and Rose, he bucks gender norms, especially back in the day. In a sense crushing on Bowie (or Monae or Rose) is a sort of gateway into pansexuality. There’s a way for the person with the crush to explore their inherent queerness without necessarily devoting to it. The fictionality of the crush and the unattainability of the actual celebrity, I think, makes it okay in a way that acknowledging a real life queerness would not. At least not at first. And though it seems like a counterexample because Momoa lacks androgyny in every way that Bowie displayed it, But I think the same thing actually happens just in a less obvious way. Momoa is so overtly hyeprmasculine that it somehow seems almost “not gay” for another man to be into him. There’s sort of an implied exception. And I feel like maybe that’s the point of the crush. He’s a “safe place” to explore feelings. Because in a way he’s no more real than my other fish person crush of Ariel.

And he’s certainly more acceptable than the completely-reasonable-because-she’s-fictional-but-super-deviant-if-you think-about-it-beyond-that crush I have on Lola Bunny. And you have one too. Don’t lie! Because in your heart of hearts, you have issues with besitality! Ok, maybe not. But I think she is doing something with her sexuality that is also in this same realm. She’s definitely a male gaze character. But she’s also very much a tomboy. But I think in some ways the same thing happens as with the other examples. There’s a safeness to the sexuality that works just because she’s a cartoon character. Sexualizing the tomboy allows Lola to have a performative masculinity and a performative femininity at the same time. And packaging her as a silly animal cartoon character allows her a little more leeway and acceptability than Jessica Rabbit might have in the same role.

And really, maybe you don’t want to think about it too hard. But… thinking hard about these things is what we do here. So tell us, who or what are your fictional crushes? Are they real people or celebrities? What do you think is the psychological and cultural reasoning behind why we have them? What do crushes do to help us break down our sexual norms?

From Wayne: As usual, Mav touched on most of the points we want to talk about. He and I may have to fight for Illyana’s affections.

And Maybe Audrey Hepburn’s as well.

I’ve said for a lot of years that I didn’t really do the “celebrity crush” thing in the way a lot of other people do. I say here on the record that I am the only boy in his middle teenage years in the late 70s who didn’t own the Farrah Fawcett poster. I just couldn’t get the vibe on her at the time. The same was true of Bo Derek, and many of the other celebrity sex symbols that were foisted on us at the time. But I did engage with my own versions of this. I’m pretty sure that Goldie Hawn helped launch me into puberty. I had totally age-appropriate crushes on Jodie Foster and Tatum O’Neill and Kristy McNichol. I briefly fell in love with Cherie Currie based solely on a Runaways record cover.

I don’t remember doing this with fictional characters as much, except as Mav pointed out, the celebrities were just as fictional in their own ways. I was a little in love with Donna Troy in the New Teen Titans, and Mav and I have both talked about having our hearts broken in that same series by Terra.

And, just for the record, in my day to day preferences I’m pretty straight, but I’m totally on board with the Bowie crush. He was beautiful and talented and brilliant, all of which I find appealing in a sapiosexual way. Some of it is the androgyny, which I do find interesting. I was made fun of pretty hard back in my rural surroundings for my love of Queen. I think this sort of impossible crush allows us to conduct emotional mind experiments with things we may never do in our real life. I currently have a crush on Luke Spiller, lead singer of The Struts, for the same glam Rock androgyny reasons.

I seem to do this with Rock stars more than other celebrities. I spent a tremendous amount of the 90s in love with PJ Harvey, who exhibited her own brand of androgyny. There was a least one concert in a very small venue in DC where I’m sure she was singing directly to me.

No, really. She was.

There is the potential dark side of this as well. Celebrity stalkers have been in the news for a very long time. Unlike David Hinckley I didn’t try to impress Jodie Foster by trying to kill the president.

Time for some shameless self-promotion. This idea forms the core of my novel This Creature Fair. In I explore the idea of the celebrity crush, and, within the context of an Urban Fantasy/Horror setting, what might happen if suddenly the celebrity starts stalking you.

So, this has become more of a confessional than a pseudo-academic blog. I guess what we’re asking here is why do we do this? Why do we project romantic/sexual fantasies on the unobtainable? With celebrities it makes a certain amount of sense because they are, in some ways at least, real people, even though all we ever really see is the mask/persona they present to the public. What in the world do get from doing this with fictional characters? Is it purely because it provides a safe psychological distance for us to explore these feelings?

Let us know who your crushes are, real or fictional.

5 Comments and 0 Webmentions for “Call for Comments: Fictional and Celebrity Crushes”

  1. Such a great topic! Other academics have definitely written about the “wanting to be/wanting to be with” the crush thing as it pertains to female fans. Off the top of my head, I’ve read some great stuff related to that regarding 60s Beatles fandom and Elvis fandom in addition to Bowie fandom. There’s also lots of stuff written about this with regards to fanfiction, especially slashfic and genderswap fic.

    1. That’s a great point and it reminds me… I totally should have tagged our previous slashfic guests. Soooooo…. Laura Valentine, Bee Scettrini, Josie Rush: any of you have thoughts on this/interested in participating?

    2. Chris Maverick I mean, this is belated, but — I don’t know that my thoughts would be all that interesting? But you might want to find someone who can touch on kinning, which is like this taken to the Nth degree.

  2. I think I’m weird on this one… Or maybe my definitions are just unusual.

    I generally haven’t had many celebrity or character crushes. But this doesn’t mean I don’t find characters or celebrities incredibly hot or that there aren’t any I’d likely fuck in a New York Minute, if the opportunity arose. But I don’t think about them much outside of the show I’m watching them in. I rarely think “Oh, I should watch Ghostbusters again because Holtzmann gets my gears going”. Or “Wow! Johnny Depp is in it, I have to see it no matter how bad it looks.”

    (For the record, the only celebrity I remember ever fantasizing about was Weird Al in his “hair looks kinda like Alanis” phase.)

    Relatedly, though, growing up bisexual without even knowing the word existed (until college), I definitely wanted to be like a bunch of the female characters that, looking back, I probably felt attracted to. So your comment about exploring in fantasies really intrigues me, since that’s not how mine worked.

  3. Oh, wow. There’s so much I could say on this topic! But I’ll try — TRY — to be concise. (…okay, that totally failed.)

    Firstly, I used to ponder the nature of fictional crushes quite a bit, especially while I was in college. At the time, I really got into Japanese animation — I joined (er, actually, helped found) the college’s anime and gaming club, read manga, went to cons, cosplayed, etc. — and there was no shortage of women cosplaying as male characters. Something about the convergence of anime-watching, my own crushes, and my blossoming dating opportunities made me start to wonder: am I actually attracted to the people I think I’m attracted to? Or is there more at work, here?

    My conclusion, after lots of thought and talking to my peers, was that it seems like women, specifically, are often attracted to characters — and/or real, live people — that they wish they could be more like in some way, rather than feeling a genuinely strong romantic or sexual attraction to them. I’m pretty sure this is because of our world’s sad truth that Men Are Main Characters. Subconsciously, throughout our lives, as we absorb books, films, TV shows, cartoons, comics, religion, mythology, and history, women internalize the feeling that men are the protagonists, the movers and shakers, the “interesting” ones, while women are generally relegated to the sidelines as “the mom,” “the love interest,” “the embarrassingly ugly/obnoxious pursuer,” “the daughter,” “the girl version,” “the prize.” Female characters, by and large, tend to sport oversimplified tropes where their personalities should be. In general, I don’t think a lot of men are starving for a sense of *mattering* or *being real* in that same way; they certainly have no lack of interesting male characters to emulate, or to imagine themselves in the shoes of.

    So, two thoughts on the above: first, I think men probably sometimes DO get a “man crush” because of a desire to emulate something about said crush: maybe Bowie’s freedom to explore androgyny and femininity, or Freddy Mercury’s just not giving a flying f*** about what you think of him. Whereas if you like the Khal Drogo type, hey — maybe what you want is to imagine NOT “being the man” in a romantic encounter, but to imagine being more passive, receptive, responsive, nurturing, etc. than how you feel your usual romantic role has played out in the past…who knows?

    Second, here’s a detailed example of the crush-or-role-model? phenomenon. It’s a bit silly; it’s from my teenage years, so bear with me. In college, I watched all of the space-mecha-warfare-teen-heroes anime series Gundam Wing. It was often…”less than stellar,” shall we say, falling prey to many of the usual derivative clichés of the genre: reused animation, pointless fan service, accidental racism, 5 teenagers inexplicably being the best pilots in the universe (okay, so Hiiro was raised for it from childhood, but the rest?), maybe like 3 out of 60 characters are women, absurdly 80s gravity-defying hair, and so on. At the same time, it had a lot of great content in terms of moral dilemmas, clashing personalities, psychological profiles to be deduced by seeing characters’ worst fears realized, melodramatic scripting, stylized theatrical moments of facing off like samurai… loads of that delicious meaty story stuff! Delicious enough that I often watched it with a friend twice daily, first at 5:30 and then again at midnight, uncut. Sooo…

    Watching a show about 5 young soldiers with vastly differing personalities, fluctuating friend/frenemy/enemy statuses, and a host of mental disorders and traumas obviously spawned many late-night conversations about the nature of warfare, sci-fi as collective cultural memory, parallels with Vietnam and other wars, and, of course, who was the most crushworthy. Hiiro and Wufei were clearly out of the running, as Hiiro is an emotionally-stunted, assassin-raised, unstable killing machine, and Wufei basically does nothing but fly around space in a set of inexplicably pristine white pajamas, routinely switching sides, refusing to make allies, yelling “Integrity!” at regular intervals.

    On the other hand, Duo is a humanitarian forced into conflict, who somewhat consciously develops a dissociative disorder to cope with being a skilled killer. In his mecha, he’s the “God of Death;” he can’t help it, it’s fated: all who see him have to die. But outside of battle, he’s a consummate wisecracker, a “class clown” whose optimism keeps people’s spirits up, a firm believer in the value of individual lives and the possibility of a future peace. (I had a black cap in those days that I dubbed my “Duo hat” and wore around whenever I was feeling particularly confident. That right there is an example; I kiiind of had a crush on Duo, but it was definitely more that I wanted to be as boisterous, confident, funny, and self-assured as he was.)

    Trowa is an introvert, a relatively normal guy who was born and raised in an ever-changing war zone. He grew up fighting, joined some mercenaries, took a side in the war. He’s lost his family, goes by “No-Name,” has a cover identity as a circus acrobat (!?!), and gets increasingly shelled-out and suicidal as the casualties mount and the war seems neverending. He’s stoic, but it’s less from courage and more from numbness and a possible death wish. What he needs more than anything is some form of human connection; a friend or family member to fight for, someone to make it back alive for. Scary mutha, Trowa.

    Then there’s Quatre, the empath, the sensitive one; Quatre, who has led a land-bound fighting force in small skirmishes but has no idea what he’s in for, in outer space; Quatre, who wears pink and purple with impunity, plays the violin, and wants to make friends with everyone he meets. He’s a strange combination of leader and holy innocent, the educated, responsible only son of a huge business mogul and head of his own fighting platoon, yet he’s also wide-eyed, gentle, inexperienced, idealistic; very much like a young English officer from the countryside in WWI, eager to go “do his bit,” unironically in love with his homeland.

    Here’s the thing about Gundam Wing. Its female characters aren’t as bad as those in a LOT of other anime series, especially given when it was made. That said, they’re still boring as hell. Relena Peacecraft, a silver-spoon-fed teenage girl whom Hiiro was originally sent to assassinate, ultimately decides to found a pacifìstic, anti-war space colony (as a teen??), whose new existence is still being defended by rogue pilots in space battles offworld. Another female character, a military officer, has had a long-suffering quiet unrequited love for her boss; a third befriends the pilot Duo, discovers his role in the wars, and ultimately tries to help him in his part of the war effort. There was maybe a fourth, who was also in a military position and full of unrequited love for a more unhinged pilot than the other, but I can’t quite recall. The point is, these roles aren’t FUN. They aren’t compelling. Imagine you’re one of a group of kids, playing pretend: would you rather be the split-personalitied God of Death/goofy comedian, the world’s best fighter pilot disguised as an acrobatic clown while crying on the inside, the rich-as-balls but wildly naïve beloved leader of a mini-army, or… the woman in love with an oblivious warmonger, the other woman in love with a more different oblivious warmonger, the wannabe sidekick girl, or the president of a colony who does nothing but pray that the pilots survive and the war ends?

    In the end, I think a LOT of women’s childhood — and adult! — crushes are a manifestation of our yearning for a sense of our own narrative worth. Especially in high school and college, when a lot of us are more openly confronted with misogyny and sexism than we were as children, and we become more aware of the fact that most of our written history, laws, culture, norms, etc. are codified in books by men, about men, for men… we start striving for way to insert ourselves into the story of human existence as equals.

    Well, that was barely about my crushes at all! More like the phenomenon of crushes. At any rate, I hope it’s some interesting food for thought!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *