Even a year ago, the idea of thousands of women lusting online after a spoon or a simple, silver necklace would have seemed like a concept straight out of a Black Mirror episode reject pile. But today, that libido-driven conversation is not only dominating social media, but seems likely to be a harbinger of even more fetishized on-screen objects to come.
Since the show first came out on Christmas Day, my Twitter feed has been flooded with opinions about the Jane Austen-meets-Gossip Girl bodice-ripper known as Bridgerton. And while an impassioned discussion surrounding the series is pretty impossible to avoid given its no-cutaway sex scenes and a woman’s confusion about the purpose of cum being a central plot device, one thing I didn’t expect to come out of all of this is just how horny everyone would get over a spoon.
Lately, the internet has become flooded with GIFs of the actor Regé-Jean Page eating very ineffectively by swirling an empty spoon around his mouth. News outlets have proclaimed the utensil to be the breakout star of the show, driving fans into a sexual frenzy, and it already has its own dedicated Instagram account. This dramatic outpouring of online thirst called to mind our other early quarantine prop fetishization—Connell’s chain necklace in Normal People.
Normal People is another steamy, if heart-breaking, series that follows two teenagers as they navigate their evolving relationship as it’s repeatedly thwarted by small miscommunications, bad timing, and suppressed emotions. But while there’s nothing stable about Connell and Marianne’s relationship, there is one constant throughout the show: that chain. The piece of jewelry took such a powerful hold over the public’s imagination that it inspired numerous screeds on its sexual potency, launched its own hugely popular Instagram account dedicated to chronicalling its many on-screen appearances, and even sparked a real-life men’s accessory craze.
These two examples occurring within such short succession of one another got me thinking: Why are we all suddenly sexually attracted to inanimate objects?
No, we haven’t all developed the same sexual proclivities as that woman who married the Eiffel Tower. Our attraction to these objects is not due to anything intrinsically sexy about the object itself, but rather the horned-up symbolism we’ve attached to them. We’ve transformed these items into a shorthand for our desire, the ephemerality of our lust made tangible. Of course, this behavior is nothing new. Giving a lover a token of your affection has been a common practice for centuries. However, it does feel like a more modern cinematic phenomenon.
2019 gave us Chris Evans’s tattered fisherman’s sweater in Knives Out, but perhaps an even more readily apparent progenitor of our newfound object fixation can be found in the 2017 film Call Me By Your Name. Here again, we have a highly fetishized object—Elio’s peach—but instead of enjoying the subtle ideological treatment of the chain, spoon, or sweater, the sex appeal the peach is embued with is quite literal. But, regardles, it too became an instantly recognizable symbol of the film’s love story.
One reading of our transformation of these commonplace things into turned-on totems could be seen as a direct response to the male gaze. To vastly oversimplify film critic Laura Mulvey’s theory, all media we consume is depicted from the heterosexual male perspective. Thus, taking this to be true, all women on-screen become sexual objects intended exclusively for the pleasure of the gaze. Through this oversexualization and objectification, the female is neutralized and no longer perceived as a (Oedipal) threat to the straight male viewer.
So when literal objects are being sexualized rather than the feminine, that obviously complicates this gendered power dynamic. Instead of simply objectifying men in turn, it seems that this “female gaze,” so to speak, actually excludes them entirely. In lieu of latching onto and neturalizing the oversexualized male form, under the female gaze the viewer instead elevates the everyday objects these characters engage with—turning them into inanimate sex symbols in their own right. While the viewer could very easily focus on to the overt sexual acts taking place on-screen, instead, their gaze repeatedly gravitates towards these physical incapsulations of the ineffable. The way a necklace spills out of a shirt collar or the frission of hard metal smoothly gliding across a tongue. These objects become not a literal fantasy but a talisman to unlock that aspect of self and sexuality,
But another, less Freudian reading of this trend is that in a wildly unpredictable time in history that seems to only be getting wilder by the day, objects have become our constant companions. A physical guarantee. By aligning your sexual desire with a necklace, a sweater, or a spoon, you save yourself the pain of discovering your favorite mini-series heartthrob wrote a racist tweet five years ago, attended a maskless pandemic party, is facing a #MeToo reckoning, or just has a bad personality. Since these objects have no autonomy outside our imagination, we can safely project our desire onto them and have it mirrored back without fear of contradiction or the heartbreak of fantasy colliding with sobering reality. In a world where women expressing their sexuality is often unwelcome, if not outright life-threatening, these objects become a safe-haven.
Of course, an even simpler explanation might be that after almost a full year spent inside thanks to the pandemic we’re all so horny that not even the jewelry box or the silverware drawer are safe anymore.