A Lobster Dressed for Lobster Fishing.

Here’s an addition to my series of posts on animals in human clothing that introduces a new hat but begins with a memory of some old ones. Some time ago, I wrote a post on this blog about these lobsters and their participation in their own death by boiling (see earlier post here):


Back then, I didn’t say all that much about their clothing. These lobster are wearing both chef’s hats and aprons–which bizarrely, makes them human enough to be cute enough so that the fact that they are preparing themselves to be eaten seems somehow perfectly acceptable. That acquiescence in their murderous fate is quality they share with another jolly lobster:
lobster 2This time, the lobster wears a sou’wester, just as does the fisherman who accompanies him. And he seems perfectly happy to sit by that fisherman while carrying one of the tools of the fisher’s lobster-catching trade, an anchor. The fisherman himself carries something that I recognize as another lobster-fishing-related tool–although I had no idea about what it was called or for that matter, what it was for, until Google identified it for me as a float for a lobster pot–i.e., a trap like the one the lobster in this shaker set is so casually and happily sitting on.

Like the two lobsters sitting in the pot, this one appears to be smiling like a human, using the backward-j-shaped slot below and to the left of its eyes. And yet, of course, as I pointed out in my earlier post about the pot-sitters, lobsters mouths are actually at the front-end of their bodies, i.e., in this case, somewhere under the sou’wester. that these lobster should have been provided with an extra and more-human looking (and smiling) mouth is another way beside their hats that helps to humanize them, and make them seem somehow less alien and more like us. Although, of course, I have to ask why we would want to think that way about something we eat. Imagine this shaker set sitting on the table on which you are serving a meal of lobster. It seems to be a way of turning a tasty feast into a horrific act of cannibalism. And yet, somehow, it is meant to, and in actual fact seems to, actually make the lobster less monstrous, and the act of eating it more a matter of just accepting its charitable gift of its own delicious self. That’s intriguingly paradoxical; why would we rather ingest something we can think of as human than something we can think of as clearly not human? Why is pseudo-cannibalism preferable to eating the Other?

A sticker on the bottom of the lobster says that this set was made in China. The writing on the lobster trap identifies it as a souvenir of Halifax NS.

Cute as a Bug in a Rugged Shirt and a Pair of Trousers

Here’s another set of nonhuman creatures wearing human clothing.  At first glance, indeed, this pair of shakers appears to be quite completely clothed:

bugsThey seem to be wearing black shirts with white stripes–their shirthood implied by the fact that their hands emerge from the arms of them.  And on top of their shirts are what certainly seem to be the straps of two pairs of pants–red pants with black polka dots on them. The creatures seem to be holding onto those straps like a pair of yacky old cartoon farmers holding on to their suspenders while they gossip about the weather and the evil guv’ment and kids these days.

And yet: look again.  This pair are meant to represent bugs, I think–possibly ladybugs:

ladybugThe shakers have two protuberances emerging from the tops if each of their heads, sort of like ladybugs, and they have shell-shaped wings–again, sort of like ladybugs, although if those shell-like wings or wing-covers are their ladybug-like parts, then what are we to make of their trousers?  Actual ladybugs are black down there, not reddy-orange and polka-dotted like their backs are.

But in any case:  if those things that emerge from their back are indeed something buggily winglike, or something like the coverings of ladybugs, then their pants can’t be pants, for they are of the same colour and have the same dots on them and so must be an integral part of their bug-like bodies. But then, the pants must be pants, because they have straps that go over their shirts.  But then if they are pants, the winglike or shell-like things on their backs must be fake, not authentic bug parts at all, but merely removable add-ons.  They are merely something else pretending to be bugs.  And yet their face are distressingly bug-like–or rather, distressingly like conventional cartoon versions of bugs with semi-humanized faces.

Oh, and I suddenly just now see that I’ve been taking for granted the fact that these supposed bugs do in fact have hands and arms.  And are capable of holding flowers in the hands.

Okay, then so what are these things?  Not bugs, certainly.  But not not bugs, just as certainly.  Amorphous creatures, then, ambivalently existing somewhere in the mysterious space between pure bughood and pure humanity. They are cute as a bug, certainly, at least on the surface.  But having now taken a closer and more observing view of them I have to admit that I’m beginning to find them more than a little disturbing. Like many creepy-crawly creatures who don’t wear pants, they are pretty creepy, and mostly because they may or may not have pants on.

Shirtless and Pantless, but with a Hat

Continuing with this series of posts about salt and pepper shaker sets that represent animals and the clothing that they do and do not wear, there is this set, which trumps the various pantless and/or shirtless sets I have been describing by depicting creatures wearing nothing but hats (and glasses):


They are, I assume, owls, I assume that in part because they have bird-like beaks and claws and wings (albeit wings that can also act like arms and hands and hold packages–or are those things that they are holding labelled “salt” and “pepper” meant to be academic degrees? Degrees in salt-and-pepper-ology, perhaps? Or doctorates in the seasoning arts?). I also assume these two are owls in part because of their hats and glasses. The hats look something like academic mortar boards, although without the tassels. That, and the fact that this pair are wearing glasses, an evocation of the stereotype that only smart nerdish people–“four-eyes,” as people used to say in my long-ago youth– need glasses, almost automatically identifies them as wise professors–as wise, as the saying goes, as owls.

Curiously, therefore, the few visually-represented human wardrobe items of this pair can identify them as being representations of a specific kind of human being because their visual representation of these particular items of clothing evokes a verbal phrase, and therefore a language-based stereotype. They are owls because owls are representatives of wisdom in folk culture. They can be identified as especially wise (or marked with the visual signs of wisdom) because they have the hats of professors and because professors are, of course, wise. As a former professor myself I can readily confirm that professors generally exhibit a truly terrifying degree of wisdom. All it takes is a hat and pair of glasses, and two mere birds become two humanly wise ones.

Or perhaps it goes the other way. Perhaps it takes only a hat and a pair of glasses to change two birds from being just birds to becoming symbolic representations of a certain kind of human. It’s this latter possibility that might drive someone to give the gift of a shaker set like this one to a professorial (or merely brainy) friend as a symbolic representation of that friend. “Here’s some owlish representations of your high IQ, smartie-pants. Enjoy.” Well, in the absence thereof, I guess not “smartie-pants.” Smartie-hat, maybe.

The other odd feature of this set is the fact that the eyes inside the frames of the glasses are not made of the ceramic material that the rest of the pieces consist of. Instead, they appear to be rhinestone or some other form of fake diamond, glued on to the surface. They are, therefore, especially sparkly, and give the two owly professors an entirely suitable look of zoned-out derangement.

The bottom of one of these pieces identifies them as coming from Japan, and there is also a glued-on label saying, “Napco Originals by Giftcraft.” According to this website,

The Napco Company, or National Potteries Corporation, began production in 1938 and their products were extremely popular in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Napco produced figurines, collectibles, decorative glass and porcelain ceramics. Napco is still one of the most famous names for porcelain ceramics, antique pottery, vintage products and other collectibles. As collectors’ items, it is important to identify NAPCO Ceramics by their marks and numbers.

In the light of that importance, I therefore also record here that my owls are identified on the bottom of the pepper shaker as Napco no. 2T2927.

And incidentally: I am finding it very odd that a company named “Giftcraft” exists, with its announced purpose being to produce objects exactly and only intended to be gifts, and apparently, with no other specific use or purpose. Isn’t that just a teensy bit weird? Gifts of giftware? And were “giftcraft” sets like these owls ever actually intended to be salt and pepper dispensers or anything else but just plain gifts?

Pantless and Topless, But with a Strategically Placed Towel

In response to my earlier post about a pantless pair of pigs and the phenomenon of pantlessness in humanized depictions of animals in cartoons, children’s books, and elsewhere, my friend Tina Hanlon made this comment:

I wonder if it has something to do with pants being a more recent invention than cloaks/shirts/robes of various kinds. I wondered years ago why Porky Pig has these habits you describe–some clothes but not pants, yet when he got out of the shower he covered the lower part of his body with a towel.

I have some doubts about the significance of the relatively recent historical development of pants, mainly because I can’t see how that would affect what artists would choose to draw.  Pantless Porky represents an earlier stage of human evolutionary development?   When we were more like pigs and less like the gods we’re gradually turning into (according to the poet Tennyson, anyway)?  Well, Tina might well be right about the historical connection, then; but if so, I’d like to understand more about why and how that  history would come into play here.  And actually, I suspect that for most artists who choose to depict an animal with a shirt and/or a hat but no pants on, it’s just a more or less unconscious choice, a matter of allowing conventions and knowledge of previous artists’ work to take over  (although there is, of course, always the question of what you do about a tail when the animal attached to it has pants on.  A back bulge?  A tail hole?).

But here’s what is most interesting me now: I wasn’t aware of Porky Pig’s after-bath wrapping options. Tina is, of course, right about those.  Here’s Porky as he is usually dressed:

porky_pig  2

And now here’s a series of moments in a sequence in the Looney Tunes cartoon Porky’s Pooch, released in 1941, in which Porky’s bath is interrupted by his door bell ringing:

porky bath 1

porky bath 2 porky bath 3 porky bath 4

Okay, so Porky, who usually wears only a jacket to cover his upper torso, emerges from the tub feeling the need to hide, not his upper torso, but the lower, usually exposed lower parts of it. Why?

Well, let see.  First off, apparently, he has to wear something.  If he were completely without clothing, he would just look like a pig, and not like the humanized Porky at all.  To be Porky is to be partially covered.

Second, though, why not wrap the towel around his neck and leave his bottom as bare as usual?  I think that this might have something to do with the ways in which we perceive nakedness. Porky in a jacket but without pants does in fact not seem to express the idea of nakedness–although why he doesn’t continues to remain something of a mystery.  But I suspect that Porky emerging from a bath and choosing to wrap a towel around his upper body, but with his lower torso exposed as in his usual clothed state, would indeed seem to be naked still–perhaps because we have to get naked to take baths, and thus the significant and usually taboo bits of nakedness need to be covered when baths are over, if Porky is to continue seeming human. Also, since he just came out of a human bathtub in a human bathroom, his nakedness would almost inevitably seem to be a human, i.e., forbidden or tantalizing, form of nakedness.  Having been established as a human-like creature, he would not, without clothes, just be an ordinarily and unsalaciously naked pig.

There’s also another complication  in Porky’s Pooch, the cartoon in which Porky’s bath is interrupted, the dog who rings the doorbell is there to try to persuade the humanized pig to take him on as a pet.  He is merely a dog then–even though he does speak human English–and as a mere and only minimally humanized dog, he of course wears no clothes–as dogs usually don’t.  Their pethood and animality are confirmed by a lack of clothing. But later in the cartoon, in an effort to persuade Porky that he’d make a good pet, the dog pulls a tablecloth from under a potful of flowers, wraps it around his lower torso like a skirt (or–and here’s the thing–like Porky’s bath towel) and, the flower-pot having landed on his head, does an imitation of the South-of-the-Border singer Carmen Miranda:

porky dog

So the dog is now dressed similarly to Porky in the towel–but we are to understand that it means something quite different.  The humanized pig has simply wrapped himself in an after-bath towel, the way human beings do, whereas the dog is doing a masquerade, only putting on an act–pretending to be a human while remaining a more or less unhumanized dog (except, again, for the ability to communicate in human language).  Weirder and weirder, eh?

Or maybe this business of Porky’s towel has nothing to do with any of that at all.  I’m really just doing a lot of guessing here.  All other suggestions gratefully received and considered.  And thanks to Tina for suggesting this aspect of this fascinating topic.  Even if it only relates peripherally to salt and pepper shaker sets.

Incidentally, a perusal of my salt and pepper shaker collection reveals not a single depiction of any creature in a towel–although the two bathers of an earlier post might be near one?

Wholly Cow, Partly Human

As did one of the flamingos of my last post, this cow is wearing sunglasses.

milk cow 1

But in this case, sunglasses is almost all she wears, except for what might be some grey fur on top of her head but what is probably intended to represent some sort of a motorcycle helmet . But like the pigs in scarves and hats of a few posts ago, she wears nothing below the neck.

It seems that the sunglasses are the helmet are necessary because the milk delivery vehicle is, it seems, a topless convertible.  The cow would get grit in his or her eyes if it weren’t for the sunglasses, and presumably needs some head protection in case of an accidental roll.

It is, however, still somewhat strange that a cow–or for that matter, any creature–might choose to wear sunglasses and a helmet but absolutely nothing else, Well, perhaps a human being in a hurry to get to or on the lam from at a nudist park might wear those things?  But it does seem odd enough to suggest once more how very little it takes to humanize an animal,  One scarf and hat, or as here, one little pair of sunglasses and the mere suggestion of a helmet, and suddenly the creature is transformed from a farm animal very much stuck in the wrong place behind the wheel of a vehicle to a dashing driver whom we can think of as being pretty well completely human, even without pants. Or a shirt  And what was just bovine is now throughly and completely cute.

Even cuter, the vehicle being driven here is in the shape of a milk bottle, as can more readily be seen here:milk cow 2

And also here, where we can see the label on the milk bottle top:

milk cow 3

That’s a milk delivery vehicle for sure.  I suppose that the ability to drive it is an additional way of humanizing the driver, on top of the sunglasses.  Cows don’t generally have their driver’s licences.  (Mind you, cars don’t usually look like bottles of milk.  But that’s a whole other issue–the cutification of non-humanized physical objects, perhaps?)

This is, incidentally, the kind of shaker set known as a go-with: the cow goes with the milk bottle truck.  and it is also a stacker, since the cow sits on top of the truck.

Discriminatory Pantlessness

In an earlier post, I talked about some pantless pigs, and noticed the number of cartoon picture book animals who are similarly pantless.  Now here’s a shaker set in which both the figures are pantless, but only one of them is shirtless:

flamingosSurprisingly, it is the male who wears a shirt–at least if I am guessing correctly in identifying the one with a shirt on as a male.  I am doing so because, even though it has large flowers printed on it, the shirt looks like the kind of tropical ones usually worn by males; and also, because the other (shirtless) figure has long lashes and the kind of seductive come-hither look we tend to associate with female pinup photos.  And also, she carries a purse.   Nevertheless, this seductively lashed and come-hithery female does in fact not have a shirt, just what looks like a lei.  Furthermore, the male is carrying a camera and all ready to shoot, and  considering that seductive gaze of the lei-wearer, the two appear to be in the kind of male/female relationship that John Berger suggests in Ways of Seeing is common in classical oil paintings: a vulnerably naked female who is willingly and submissively available to to be gazed at and is is being aggressively gazed  at by a clothed male.

In this case, of course, the male is not fully clothed.  He is pantless, just like those pigs I talked about earlier.  That does not, however, imply that he is dangerously unclothed, or getting ready for the kind of acts that might require him to be pantless.  It just means he’s a humanized animal.  He wears a shirt.  He is clothed.  He is male, and in power.  For all her eyelashes, meanwhile, she is just a natural bird, prey for the male gaze.

In this case, the animal in question is a bird.  These are clearly a pair of flamingos.  And they are, strangely, dressed up like northern tourists to tropical climes, accoutred in all the usual tourist equipment: sunglasses, straw sun-hats, camera, cool drinks, loud shirts–and a lei.  Why, you might ask, are flamingos, which I tend to think of as a tropical bird, dressed up like visitors to the tropics?  Perhaps they represent the desire of northern tourists to fit in, to live like the locals, to be as flamingoish as the flamingos are.  For this shaker set certainly does seem to be intended as a gift for tourists to remind them of their hot times in the tropics, when they were as free and as tropical as flamingos are.

Scarfs Make the Man. And the Manly Bear.

Like the pigs in my last post, these creatures are also wearing headgear and scarfs:


What I find particularly interesting here is that wearing a hat and a scarf is merely a generic condition for one of these two, and not all surprising.  A hat and a scarf is what snowmen often wear, and I am assuming the one on the right with a carrot for a nose is just that, a generic, typical snowman, wearing a typical snowman’s scarf.

But them what am I to make of the fact that wearing a scarf makes him a pair with another scarf-wearing creature?  This one is, I think, meant to be a bear–a bear who, like the pair of pigs I discussed in my last post, is humanized by a scarf and headgear, in this case earmuffs (I think that’s what those red blobs by the ears are supposed to be) and a hat.  Wearing a scarf (and a hat) is, really what makes a pile of snow into a snow man–what humanizes it.  So, therefore, I think, wearing a scarf and a hat is what humanizes a bear–but if the equivalency to the snowman means anything, then the presence of the scarf and hat on a bear reveals to extent to which clothing on animals, in salt and pepper sets or elsewhere, is always a sort of masquerade, a way of implying humanness that depends on exterior signs and a sort of playacting.  And maybe, reveals how significant an element of defining humanness the wearing of clothing is.

Does that make any sense?  Probably not, since I’m having a hard time understanding it myself, and a hard time finding words to say what it is that’s concerning me here.  It has something to do with the way both an apparently living bear and an inanimate pile of snow can become equally humanized, equal partners, by putting on similar items of human clothing.  Their humanity is then a matter of what they wear, but more than that, it is only what they wear.  You could, presumably, put a scarf and a hat on a book or a sofa or a lamppost, with the exact same results.  The scholar Judith Butler has suggested that gender is a matter of performance–something we perform and that we recognize in each other’s performance of it.  And the performance is often a matter of clothing:  dressing young girls in pink frills is a way of getting them to perform gender and communicate the significance of their own presumed gender to themselves and others.  Wear enough pink frills and you will eventually learn to think of yourself as inherently girlish and teach others to think so, too.  This snowman and this bear make me wonder if being human is also in some important way a matter of performance, a performance signalled by the right articles of clothing.  Humanity as form of drag?

On another matter: what makes a snowman and a bear a pair, a suitable pair of binary opposites?  Well, it seems to be a polar bear, and it’s white, like the snowman, so that both pieces of this set are associated with cold northern places.  But it still remains strange that one should be a representation of a real, living creature and the other a representation of a representation, not an actual man but a man represented in snow.  There appears to be a binary opposition between what’s alive and what’s actually dead, then, or what’s real and what just an artistic imitation.  And yet, what is most striking about this set is how similarly round and chubby and jolly-looking this pair are.  Their significant differences seem to be subsumed, finally, by their overriding cuteness.  That what one represents might bite your head off and what the other represents merely melt hardly matters at all.  They are equally and perfectly harmless.