Sex Toys in song and film – Tim Minchin, Dresden Dolls, Ryan Gosling, Charlie Brooker

I’ve always liked Tim Minchin’s comedy songs, particularly ‘Storm’. I once saw him on a bus in North London. I was hungover and he was teaching his toddler about bacteria. He looked a tad hungover too, but who’s to speculate?

Dresden Dolls were an American band consisting of Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione, who described themselves as ‘Brechtian Punk Cabaret’. Their song ‘Girl Anachronism’ scared a 14 year old me, but a chance reintroduction via this critical New Yorker article got me hooked. I now totally love them (as well as Amanda’s solo work), and wish I’d had the sense to see them when they were around.

Enough gushing, onto the CUTTING EDGE GENDER ACADEMIA.

One of Dresden Dolls’ breakout songs was called ‘Coin Operated Boy’. By dint of my towering creative intellect, I have recreated the lyrics below, but have switched gender roles,* and invite you to imagine them being sung by a similarly punk-not-goth male lead singer.

Coin Operated Girl
Coin operated girl,
sitting on the shelf,
she is just a toy
but I turn her on
and she comes to life:
Automatic joy,
that is why I want
a coin operated girl

Made of plastic and elastic,
she is rugged and long-lasting.
Who could ever ever ask for more?
Love without complications galore…
Many shapes and weights to choose from,
I will never leave my bedroom,
I will never cry at night again.
Wrap my arms around her and pretend….

Coin operated girl,
All the other real ones that I destroy
cannot hold a candle to my new girl and I’ll never let her go
and I’ll never be alone (x4)
(and I’ll never be loco),
not with my coin operated girl……

This bridge was written to make you feel smitten
with my sad picture of ‘boy getting bitterer’.
Can you extract me from my plastic fantasy?
I didn’t think so but I’m still convincible.
Will you persist even after I bet you
a billion dollars that I’ll never love you?
Will you persist even after I kiss you
goodbye for the last time?
Will you keep on trying
to prove it?
I’m dying to lose it…
I want it
I want a
I want a
I want a coin operated girl.

If I had a star to wish on,
for my life I can’t imagine
any flesh and blood could be her match.
I can even take her in the bath,
I can even fuck her in the ass.

Coin operated girl –
she may not be real, experienced with men
but I know she feels like a girl should feel.
Isn’t that the point?
That is what I want:
A coin operated girl
with her pretty coin operated voice
saying that she loves me,
that she’s thinking of me,
straight and to the point,
that is why I want
a coin operated girl.

I could well be wrong, but it seems to me that simply switching the song’s gender has a dramatic impact on how we’d understand the song. The original is a touching reflection on the difficulty of relationships, the complexity of compromise, Amanda’s longing for simplicity and sexual empowerment.

You turn it around, imagine a band like The Cure or Green Day kicking out the lyrics in a universe wherein Dresden Dolls hadn’t sung it first. Then it is fucking creepy. You have a long, selfish song about complete objectification, dislike of female personalities, a narcissist need for obedience and affirmation. You have extensive sexual dysfunction and a backward fetish for virginity and dominance. At least, that’s how The Daily Mail or Closer would describe it if such a song got popular enough to deserve a review, which is unlikely. Certainly, if I heard it my knee-jerk reaction would be to dismiss the song as simplistic misogynist crap.

This certainly isn’t to critique Palmer’s songwriting abilities or to accuse her of under-the-radar misanthropy. I just think it’s interesting.

Compare Coin Operated Boy to Tim Minchin’s ditty ‘Inflatable You’. The topic is virtually identical – the singer buying a blow-up sex doll. Minchin comes across much better, however, because the comedic musings of his lyrics are so extreme that there’s no danger of the audience thinking it’s something any sane person would want:

Your love for me is not debatable
Your sexual appetite’s insatiable
You never ever make me waitable
Delectable, inflatable you.

You don’t have problems with your weight at all
You never steal food off my plate at all
I never have to masturbate at all
Unstoppable, inflatable you.

You never seem to menstruate at all
So you’re not angry when I’m late at all
I feel permanently felatable
Unpoppable, inflatable you.

With you in my arms I feel we could just fly away
With the right kind of gas I might even try it some day
In this ocean of life I’m never afraid we might drown
We could just float forever whatever the weather
Whenever my inflatable lover’s around.

Your thighs and buttocks are so holdable
You always do what you are toldable
And if we argue you just foldable
Controllable consolable you.

My mates all reckon you are suitable
I took you ‘round to watch the footable
And Steve and Gary said you’re rootable
Commutable, refutable you.

You’re never sensitive or tickley
When I rub you my skin goes prickerly
It’s know an static electricity
Felicity when I’m kissing you.

Your skin is so smooth, I couldn’t afford you with hair
You have all the holes real girls have got plus one for the air
Your problems are simple, I don’t need my Masters in Psych
To know if you get down I just perk you right up
With a couple of squirts from the pump off my bike.

You never wake up when I snore at all
A trait which I find quite adorable
You have a box and you are storable
Ignorable, back-doorable you.

Any sexual position’s feasible
Although you don’t bend at the knees at all
Your hooters are so firm and squeezable
Increasable, un-creasable you.

You don’t complain about my hairy back
Or ’bout the inches that downstairs I lack
You’re not disgusted by my furry crack
Burt Bacharach, Jack Kerouac, ooo.

Now birth control is not an issue
I clean it all up with a tissue
I bet my jealous friend all wish you
Were insatiably inflatably theirs.

Don’t let me down.
Don’t let me down.
Don’t let me down.
And I won’t let you down.

By talking about pumping her up, using her as a balloon, wiping her etc, Minchin’s song makes it utterly clear that he (the song’s narrator) would never really consider the doll a ‘person’.

This is much less obvious in Coin Operated Boy. Palmer’s intonation suggests a ‘real’ relationship with her boy, and a longing for the genuine affection a mechanic/AI/automata could pretend to give. In this sense, then, Palmer’s song is much more believable, and offers a more nuanced understanding of why someone would purchase a doll or invent an imaginary friend beyond the basic masturbatory need. This reflects the far deeper issues explored in Ryan Gosling’s little known and excellent film Lars and the Real Girl, and Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror episode Be Right Back.

The two films underline the tensions described above: in Lars, the titular character is i) male and ii) socially dysfunctional, and the small-town inhabitants initially react with horror and derision to his new girlfriend Bianca. In Black Mirror, we feel much more sympathy for Martha than for Minchin or even Lars/Gosling in that she recreates her dead husband for a whole host of reasons. Her relationship with the revenant is holistic and complex, including emotional support, companionship, help in raising their child (and pneumatic ecstatic fucking).

I’m not sure where exactly I’m going with all this, and it’d feel insincere to twist the four pieces of art into a grand conclusion. From the songs, I’d say it’s important to consider quite how strongly our gender binaries and the roles and assumptions we attach to them colour and shape our wider interpretations of a person’s actions. From the films, I’d say: watch them.

* Blandly assuming an incorrect two-gender universe.

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3 thoughts on “Sex Toys in song and film – Tim Minchin, Dresden Dolls, Ryan Gosling, Charlie Brooker

  1. Pingback: Love the Machine – Review of Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ | Haywire Thought

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