One of the things I find fascinating about shaker sets is how their basic purpose–to contain two different condiments–becomes the basis of an ongoing confirmation, not only of the difference between salt and pepper, but indeed, of their oppositeness. They’re not just different flavors. One is black and one is white. Black is not just different from white, it seems; many of us won’t be satisfied unless we understand them as opposites, a habit that underscores a lot of thoughtless racist discourse; white is good, black is evil, etc. And that becomes the basis of all the opposites shaker sets represent once they become representational figures: cats and dogs, hens and roosters, etc. Once we have associated different things together, we humans seem to have some sort of innate urge not just to understand them as different, but as exactly and completely opposite.
Thus, most obviously, the inherent physical difference between males and females very quickly in conventional thinking turns into an assertion of oppositeness: men are strong, so women are weak, men at reasonable, so women are emotional, etc.,etc., most of which amount to the assertion that men are inherently superior and more evolved in every conceivable way. While I do own a number of salt and pepper sets which consist of two duplicate examples of the same object, most of my sets find ways of distinguishing between their two component parts–and more often than not they do so by including details that imply an opposition in gender. In an earlier post, I discussed this set:
As viewed from a respectful distance by most humans, a male bear and a female bear generally look much like each other. But as this set insists, that’s not enough. We humans need to underline the importance of the gender distinction by dressing the bears up as humans in human garments in colors that conventionally represent and reinforce the gender distinction. He’s in blue,she’s in pink.
The same thing happens here, perhaps more obviously:
This time it’s an actual boy and an actual girl; but nevertheless, there’s an underlining of the gender difference in the clothing: once more, he’s in blue and she’s in pink.
You might be wondering why their mouths are so shiny. Is it a celebration of orthodontia? No. This pairs are what are known in the shaker world as kissers. The round silver bits are actually magnets, and hold them together at the mouth once they are brought close to each other.
The magnets are pretty powerful, as evidenced here:
Perhaps it’s the power of this implied attraction that mandates the underlining of maleness and femaleness–a possibly homophobic insistence on the conventionality and appropriateness of the coupling. Above all, I keep realizing in different ways, salt and pepper shakers, made for a conventional-minded middle class market, are all about asserting the triumph and tyranny of the norm.