Scarfs Make the Man. And the Manly Bear.

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

DSCN1271

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.

Published by pernodel

Children’s literature critic and author of books for children

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