When I was younger, I had the biggest crush on Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. What can I say, I had a penchant for bad boys from a very young age, and let me tell you, Gaston was the bad boy. In my heart of hearts, I knew it was a little weird from the get-go, but at the same time, I also wholeheartedly agreed that no one was quite as slick or quick as him.
I knew many other people who held similar torches for different Disney characters. Some wanted to run their hands through Simba's mane, others had a thing for redheads, aka Ariel from The Little Mermaid, and a whole lot of them had an urge to travel to France and meet a smooth-talking, rough around the edges cat, ahem man, named Thomas O'Malley.
Needless to say, we were all pretty certain that we could graph puberty from the moment we set eyes on our own individual cartoon crush. But is it messed up to have a crush on an animated character? I never thought so; given the fact that pretty much everyone seemed to have one character that they went weak at the knees for, it seemed relatively acceptable in the grand scheme of things.
However, it turns out that attraction to animated characters is actually a glorified condition - well, kind of. Known as "Schediaphilia" or "Toonophilia", the idea is defined as "sexual and romantic attraction of a human being toward a cartoon or anime character". The condition is a form of something else called Fictiophilia, the attraction to fictional characters, both animated and human. In addition, it can then be linked to paraphilia, a condition generally involving "nonhuman objects, the suffering or humiliation of oneself or one's partner, or children or other non-consenting persons that occurs over a period of six months."
At the current time, the desire for an animated character is poorly researched and not officially medically-recognised, although one quick search on the internet and you'll stumble upon many a blog and discussion page exchanging views on it. For example, on a thread entitled "How can I stop my schediaphilia (attraction to cartoons)", a poster going by the name of "Simontheo" described their Toonophilia as a "burning desire". They wrote:
"I am very strongly attracted to some cartoon characters. (For some reason only animal cartoons though... sometimes I wish so damn badly that the cartoon were real so that we might have a chance at a relationship. :P But that will obviously never happen. And It's funny because I remember that these feelings of attraction towards cartoons came on at the same time that my same sex attractions started; when I was 14, and I thought that it was normal, and didn't really think much about it beyond that.It just kind of sucks because I have to ignore these feelings which is really hard to do, and sometimes it causes me to become depressed."
As there is such little analysis on the slightly bizarre subject, it's up for debate whether the condition refers to people who have exclusive sexual attraction to animated beings, or whether you can be pegged as a "sufferer" if you simply held a flame for a cartoon while maintaining romantic relationships with real human beings. However, what we do know is that a lot of people are taking their relationships with animated characters way too far.
In 2017, it was made clear that love in the 21st century certainly has no boundaries when men began marrying anime characters in virtual reality weddings in (where else?) Japan. A video of an intimate chapel ceremony made the headlines after Niitzuma LovelyxCation, a game developed by Japanese studio Hibiki Works, enabled its players to court any one of its three anime characters. The "marriage" was made possible by attaching a Virtual Reality headset to the Japanese man's head, in order for him to fulfil his marital vows to his cartoon wife.
Described on the website as "a romance and dating simulator", the game was the textbook definition of taking love for fictional characters too far and prompted some powerful reactions from onlookers. While some were thrilled that uniting in matrimony - marriage certificate and all - with someone that doesn't actually exist was an option, others understandably didn't take kindly to the idea, insisting that the world had gone crazy.
Leilah El Hanbaly expressed her revulsion to the unorthodox incident on Facebook writing: "It disgusts me where this world is going, satisfied by robotic life that has no meaning, no emotions. We're un-humanizing ourselves more and more every day." In addition, others were horrified that unions with fictional characters were an option, but the world still hadn't sorted out its abundance of other issues. Andrew Bent wrote: "I love how this is legal but there's still places in the world where two real human beings of the same gender can't get married."
So, is Toonophilia healthy? Well, experts claim that it depends on how far you're taking it. Amy Lang, a parenting and sexuality expert and the founder of Birds+Bees+Kids, a Seattle organization that helps parents talk to children about sex, insists that having these infatuations is only natural for kids, stating they are a natural extension of imagination-based play: “It happens all the time. Kids have crushes on comic book characters, and why shouldn’t they?" she said. "Kid's imaginations can take them to places that adults can’t go. Maybe we [adults] feel weird about the fact that we have a crush on Spider-Man, but kids don’t have those filters.”
Her comments highlight the theory that watching fictional relationships on-screen can help young people form social ideas as they grow and test out romantic ideas in a safe way, too. In addition, characters of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities and races are seen on screen, broadening their horizons. As Sharon Lamb, professor of counselling psychology at the University of Massachusetts says: “The more [kids] have a variety of cartoon characters, the better off everyone is, because I think that we’re made physically and psychologically to be attracted to a variety of kinds of people.”
However, the problem begins when people begin focusing not on the idea of the character, but the character itself. It's then that they begin living in the fictional world, with a flagrant disregard for reality. Surely this behaviour must be unhealthy, right? At the end of the day, it seems you can look at it one of two ways, either agreeing that people can have a harmless crush on whoever they want - real or animated - or being of the opinion that getting attached to an animated character will only isolate you from real relationships and healthy interactions with other humans.
As Walt Disney said himself, it's always fun to do the impossible. And, as some would say, if the impossible is marrying an animated character, then Hakuna Matata.