In my explorations of the scriptive actions of salt and pepper shakers over the past while, I’ve considered everything but the most obvious action they imply–the one implied by their name: shaking. Salt and pepper shakers are made to be shaken. Furthermore, as I think about it, I see that the act of shaking is the one that might be most productive of insights in terms of how Robin Bernstein herself explores the concept of scriptive things that she develops in her book Radical Innocence. Salt and pepper shakers are made to be shaken, i.e., to be treated with a certain amount of violence: you aren’t going to be getting all that much of the salt and pepper you’re hoping for from shakers so fragile that the action of shaking might break them. And while most of the novelty salt and pepper shakers in my collection are made of some kind of potentially breakable earthenware, it’s a very durable, not-really-all-that-easily breakable kind. Most of my shakers are pretty old by now, probably from the fifties or sixties, but most of them are intact, the few exceptions being the occasional dog or cat’s tail or canoe paddle or other small projecting part that’s been broken off. I’ve dropped a few of them from fairly substantial heights, with no apparent damage. They are tough. They can take it. They invite being shaken. Shaking them makes food taste better.
All of that develops other resonances when we consider what the shakers represent. Here we are, in a world full of adorable, cute, petite little doggies and humanized carrots and aboriginal children, and what are we being asked to do to them? Shake them–that’s what. We are being invited to give all these theoretically adorable things a darn good shaking, an act that will make our food more enjoyable. So why would we want to shake the things we find so adorable? Why would anyone want to shake these doggies, for instance?
They are so gosh-darned, all-fired cute. They simper or respond to simpering. They have weirdly human-looking, eminently batable eyelashes. And yet there appears to be an invitation to the expression of a probably otherwise unacknowledged hostility towards them–perhaps the same hostility that might be inherent in the act of perceiving someone or something as cute, a need to give the object less power over us than its adorability might appear to be demanding.
In fact, I can’t deny an urge to give these particular poodles a good shake. They are so busy inviting my cooing response to their adorability that I find myself loathing them. Shaking is what they deserve. A whole lot of shaking. Shaking all over.
They poodle shakers are clearly less dangerous and more dismissably harmless than actual poodles, a further diminishing of the inherent wolfness that gets constrained in the very existence of poodles. If you shake a cute little poodle, you are adding a layer of implied physical violence to the violence against the threatening nature of animals that the cuteness of the shakers being shaken already implies. The major emotional or psychological purpose of novelty shakers depicting cute things, as I’ve suggested in a number of earlier posts, is to minimize and constrain and imply control over what we must otherwise find to be threatening. Shaking such already minimized objects just seems to add more intensity to the minimization and control. We are being invited, it seems, to buy and make use specifically of shakers that represent particular things we do feel threatened by–by, say, the bodies of women (see earlier posts on breasts and amputees), or animals and animality generally (in regard to shakers depicting lions or cats or lobsters or poodles) or by “savages” (the cute aboriginals) or other people of colour (Aunt Jemima). Shaking of shakers is inevitable. Violence against the object they depict is, it seems, mandated and allowable–and often, for a lot of us, I suspect, very, very satisfying.
Just how satisfying might be revealed by this set of shakers I own:
At first glance, they might seem kind of boring–a pair of plastic shakers in the shape of traditional old-fashioned glass shakers, each in in the colour of the seasoning that might be found in such an old-fashioned set: black and white. But that little loop visible on the white one reveals their secret:
Those are loops attached to pull strings, and when you pull the loops out from the shakers, the shakers begin to shake all by themselves, as is visible in this video. The thing is, watching them shake all by themselves is no fun. No fun at all. And furthermore, letting them shake all by themselves puts no salt and no pepper on anybody’s food. They are both fairly boring and completely useless, in ways that reveal the deep ugly secret hidden at the heart of more conventional shakers: shaking, the sheer energetic, violent, satisfying act of shaking, is what they are all about.