These are new additions to my collection this week, with many thanks to those who thought of salt and pepper shaker sets at Christmas. I’m sure I will have way too much more to say about some of them in later posts. Watch this space.
And yet, of course, this makes no sense, no sense at all. There can only be one Santa Claus, surely. Other shakers, operating safely within the logic of a rigidly binary world, represent various ways of solving the problem of representing the right jolly old elf in a salt and pepper set. Here, for instance, Santa has a surprising companion:
It’s a polar bear, I think–a logical pet for a North Pole resident. And here, a very young Santa (or Santa imitator?) has a Mrs. Santa-or perhaps, given her age, a Miss Santa–to accompany him:
They seem to be singing–some carol that makes Santa swing his hips, it seems.
But I have no idea about what to make of a set consisting of two, count ’em, two Santas. Maybe Santa has a secret twin brother named Eugene Claus or Luigi Claus or Klaus Claus that nobody ever told us about? Or maybe the set is depicting an incident at a convention of department store Santas, and so it’s two different Santa pretenders? Or maybe these two are supposed to be just the one same Santa, but caught in different moments, like a series of photographs of the same subject? Figurines that represent different times?
One way or the other, I have found myself unable to resist the implications of that one Santa’s raised arm.
I’m not sure I know what the raised arm is supposed to mean. Is this Santa in the midst of belting out a loud chorus of “Here Comes Santa Claus”? Is he pointing to yonder star? Whatever it’s supposed to be, the raised hand does offer some fascinating possibilities in relation to a few of the other shakers in my collection. Especially because those mittens look like boxing gloves.
For instance: the Santa who has no use for clowns:
Or the racist Santa, being defied by a jovial club-bearing native of Banff:
No question about it: this raised-arm Santa clearly knows who’s been bad or good and knows exactly how to encourage everyone to be good for goodness sake.
Be good. Have a merry Christmas.
After generalizing about there being no same-sex pairs in my salt and pepper shaker collection, and then being surprised to find all the many male pairs I’ve been discussing in my posts over the last week or so, I decided it was about time to see what I could find in the way of female pairs. The results are pretty depressing.
There are the two mixed-race nuns or market-going peasant ladies of an earlier post:
There are the feminized buttocks of another earlier post, happily eyeing each other across the gulf that divides them:
And after that? Well, I could find just one more set of two females–this one:
Two chickens. No rooster.
So that means that after those nuns (or peasants), there are no other pairs of female humans in my collection. Nor for that matter, no other female pairs but buttocks and chickens. Oh, and I almost forgot: these breasts:
So pairs of body parts and birds, but hardly any pairs of female humans. An intriguing absence.
As for those chicks: they roost together in a wire nest.
The nest contains a cardboard insert, covered in plastic wrap, that identifies them as a souvenir of a particular place:
This is the Calgary Tower, which was, according to its website, “built to honour Canada’s centennial and . . . intended to promote the downtown core as a part of a Calgary urban renewal program.” An apparently successful program: the Tower now stands amongst much taller buildings than those depicted in the image on the chicken basket:
But what does this structure in the heart of a large city have to do with poultry? What do chicks in a basket have to do with urban renewal? Excellent questions, for which I have no answer. As often appears to be the case, the salt-and-pepper souvenirs once (and maybe still) available to memorialize visits to particular places represent objects that have nothing whatsoever to do with that place.
This shaker set is not necessarily ambiguously gay–more like ambiguously gendered.
The shaker on the left wears a pink hat, which might be a sign of femaleness, and similarly, the blue hat of the shaker on the right might signify maleness. But then, the pink hat goes with a blue collar, the blue hat with pink stripes on the player’s outfit–so both figure’s clothing contain bits of pink and bits of blue–albeit more pink for the batter, more blue for the catcher. And while the catcher wears long pants and what look like blue stockings, the batter seems to have shorts on–or maybe even a skirt? And a closer look suggests that the catcher appears to be wearing less eyeliner that the batter, or even none at all (although on the other hand, the catcher appears to be wearing lipstick, unlike the batter. Unless that’s just a big sore on the middle of his/her lips.) So they might then represent a male and a female–a grumpy male and a grumpy female, but a male and a female nevertheless.
Or maybe they’re just two guys (or two girls) dressed up in the colours of their opposing teams, which happen to be primarily pink and primarily blue.
So what are we to make of a pair of ambiguously gendered ball players? And if the batter’s a woman and the catcher a man, are there gender implications in relation to their batting and their catching? And if so, what are they? Why do women specifically bat and men specifically catch? And why is the one in the pink hat the one wielding the phallic symbol? Where are the balls (well, actually, that’s sort of what this entire post is about)? And for that matter, what do we then make of the invisible pitcher they are both implying an awareness of and a response to? And why does the set consist of a batter and a catcher rather than the surely more conventionally binary batter and pitcher or catcher and pitcher? And why would anyone ever want these menacingly grimacing and hardly cute or adorable folks on their dining table? Who ever thought a set like this would sell, and who ever bought it? (I mean, of course, before someone with a sense of irony bought it second-hand as a gift for me.)
Another mysterious shaker set, then, that raises more questions than it answers.
Since I’m on the subject of pigs on top of other pigs (see my last post), consider these:
As you can tell from the expression on his/her face, the pig on the bottom either is not happy about being piled on or is so happy about it that it’s put her or him into a state of utter bliss. Note the expression on her/his face:
In this case, however, even in spite of that potential zoned-out bliss, I don’t think there’s anything gay going on here, ambiguously or otherwise. There is nothing whatsoever that would mark these pigs as either male or female. no trousers, no lipstick. There is, however, something ambiguous happening–ambiguously sexual. Especially because of the lack of trousers.
But what’s most interested about these two are that they are not in fact a salt and pepper shaker set. The two of them together are just one piece, and make up just one shaker. As part of a set along with their partner, they look like this:
And not only that, but they are a pair of stackers. The underside of the solo pig is curved in such a way as to allow him to perch on top of the other two:
So, not only ambiguously sexually, but experimentally and wildly so. A ménage à trois petits cochons.
This is also, intriguingly, the only shaker set I own that disrupts the usual pattern of binary opposites, by depicting three figures rather than the usual two. In doing so, it does something even more wildly transgressive than the possible implications of the actions it depicts. Not tow but three pigs in a shaker set? As a collector of salt and pepper shakers, I have to say that this is just wrong. Completely and totally wrong. It defies the logic of the salt-and-pepper miniverse. And that confirms how important the almost universal binarism of this miniverse is. Salt and pepper shakers are all about twoness.
Technical notes: this set is among the few I own that identifies the company responsible for them. The labels on this pair say “PAPEL® ©FREELANCE . The internet (http://www.toydirectory.com/PapelFreelance/) informs me that, “Headquarter [sic] in Monroe, NJ, Papel Giftware designs, manufacturers, and distributes a variety of social expression giftware for everyday occasions and holiday [sic].” The company itself appears to have no website. The label also tells me that the shakers are “Made in Srilanka”–meaning, I assume, Sri Lanka. As for what “social expression giftware” is–I have no idea.
And yet more sets of ambiguously gay male pairs! Two more pairs, in fact. I’ll talk about them together here because they are surprisingly similar to each other.
First, these are these two:
They are pigs, clearly, cute chubby-cheeked smiling pigs. And even though they are wearing pink (a pink jacket in one case, a pink tie and trousers in the other) I find it hard not to think of them as male pigs–boars rather than sows–I think because in the very conservative salt-and-pepper miniverse, the females usually wear skirts or dresses to mark their femininity, and so things like trousers and ties seem inherently manly. Furthermore, and despite the pink-tinged foppishness of their clothing, these are boisterously boyish pigs, not ladylike at all. They even play piggyback:
But see, that’s the thing.. What are we to think of two more-than-likely male pigs, one of whom is happily perched on top of the other? Especially after having recently looked st that pair of rabbits I talked about a few posts ago:
On the other hand, the two cavorting piggies are, as I said, undeniably cute, apparently harmless. There’s nothing sexual about them at all, surely. There are surely not as intentionally scandalous as, say, a depraved kind of mind-in-the-gutter might imagine them to be:
Unless, perhaps they are in the business of making sexuality cute and harmless. Unless they are just a couple of happily out chubby pigs after all.
If they are (or for that matter, if they aren’t) they might make friends with another couple of ambiguous animals at play. These two are ambiguous in more ways than one. First of all, they might be kittens, or they might be teddy bears. Ort they might be mice. I honestly can’t decide which:
They are so soft-eyed and vulnerable-looking and adorable that they might be just about any animal at all, as long as it’s a cute harmless one with a tiny black nose. Teddies or kittens or mice or just generic cute little creatures, they share the same kinds of clothing affectations as the ambiguous cute piggies: the neon trousers, the snazzy loud sports jackets, the bow ties. So they appear to be males, albeit rather foppish ones. And also like the piggies, they are intentionally arrangeable as engaging in a specific kind of horseplay (or kitty-play, or teddy-play, or mouse-play) that involves climbing on top of each other:
So once more: too cute to be sexual? Or so sexual as to make the sexuality they might be representing cute? Or merely ambiguous?
A technical note: these are, of course, the kinds of shakers known amongst collectors as stackers.
Having opened the possible closet of implication hidden in the all-male sets of salt and pepper shakers I’ve been looking at in my last few posts, I’ve found myself wondering if indeed there are any out and openly gay shaker sets in existence. A little bit of Googling led me to this pair:
According to the “Excerpt from the press release” about them reprinted on the website where I found them, this pair are, if not openly and proudly gay, certainly willing to tease people about the possibility:
The anonymous artist, HuskMitNavn, and designer, Troels Øder Hansen, have created yet another quirky design for Normann Copenhagen–one with both edge and a twinkle in its eye. The pair of salt and pepper shakers–which have been nicknamed Gordon & Andreas–belong to the Friends series which stands out as having personality, humour and character. The design plays on the double meaning of the Danish word ‘bøsse’ (which means both ‘shaker’ and ‘gay’), and the two friends come with or without a painted leather vest, signifying either the salt or the pepper shaker.
How can an artist with a name simultaneously be anonymous, you ask? It’s because his or her name means “Remember My Name” in Danish: see his or her website here. While this not-all-that-ambiguously gay duo is currently out of stock as I write this, they are usually for sale on the Normann website for $40 US. Normann offers this excellent reason for purchasing them: “one cannot help but smile when the two Friends appear on the table.”
It’d be interesting to consider why. What’s so funny? Especially, what kinds of gay stereotypes does this pair engage and expresse and/or satirize? And anyway, exactly what is it about them that specifically implies gayness? What makes handlebar moustaches and bare chests and a black vest more clearly gay than, say a couple of raincoats and a sou’wester (a la the aging sailors of an earlier post) or an eyepatch and a wooden leg (a la the aging pirates of my last post)?
But what most fascinates me here is the idea that in Danish, the same word means both “shaker” and “gay.” Who knew? This put a whole different light on the implications of the act of shaking shakers that I discussed a couple of months ago. As I said then:
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.
So now, I guess, I have to add gay people to the list of those who deserve a good shaking? The Danes, apparently think so. Or maybe the Danes are thinking about a different kind of shaking? Like in shake it up, baby, or shake your bootie, etc.?
Well, no, apparently they don’t. According to Wiktionary:
That last one is definitely a salt or pepper shaker. But wait a minute–a gun? So now it appears that a gun is a “bøsse,” too, along with a salt-and-pepper-like shaker and being gay. So what it it about these three things that allows them to share a word? One shoots, one invites shaking, and the third . . .? ‘Tis a mystery, at least to me.