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?

One of Chicken’s Children Got Shoes

The fifth or sixth egg of the eleven in my salt and pepper shaker collection is most notable for its footwear:

egg shoesThis freak of nature was born with its shoes already on, it seems. How the shoes got inside the shell is unclear–unless perhaps, those are not shoes at all, but this particular chick’s actual lower appendages. Perhaps, before giving birth to it, its mother had a passionate encounter with a stranger of the Adidas or Reebok persuasion.

And who knows what else will emerge as its shell breaks further open? A chick in jogging shorts? A tiny human in jogging shorts who has somehow been imprisoned in an egg? On the face of it rather cheerful, this egg and its apparently more ordinary companion are really kind of creepy. I mean, maybe I’m reading the scale all wrong. Maybe it’s actually a miniaturized version of a human-being-sized set of eggs, in which case, the one on the left is just a person wearing people shoes enclosed in a giant eggshell, whereas the creature on the right then seems to be a giant chick about to emerge from an equally giant shell and wreak havoc on horrified bystanders. Or maybe those are just fake chicken feet after all, and the two are just plain human children in unsettling Halloween costumes. Or hey, wait a minute, maybe it’s just a person in jogging shoes and a giant chicken who happened to be just standing there when two huge egg-shaped spheres flew down out of the sky and almost completely surrounded them. It might be a fifties movies called The Attack of the Alien Layers or something.

The point is, the shoes included in what would otherwise be just a pair of chicks beginning to emerge from their shells are a strange and unsettling detail that just doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the picture this pair of shakers creates. The result is a kind of absurdist theatre, a surreal form of wit that I wouldn’t have expected in the context of the salt-and-pepper miniverse.

Note, also, the ongoing humanizing of the animals of the miniverse. Without the presence of chick faces to put lashes around the eyes of and pinkish blush on the cheeks of, the maker of this pair has chosen to add a pair of human shoes–a detail that implies far more than the more conventionally cute blush or lashes do that this is a creature somehow on the border between human and animal, a transitional being neither human nor animal nor humanized animal, and therefore, a disturber of established categories and very unsettling. Deliberately unsettling, or just trying to be cute? I do not know. I just know it’s way too disturbing to be successfully cute.


Recently, my friend Joseph Thomas made a comment on Facebook that relates to my interest in salt and pepper shakers:

What I think is wonderful about salt n pepper shakers: although they come as a pair, they so often aren’t bound together, save by their maker’s intent or owner’s whim. Thus, even pairs “meant for each other” can have dalliances with other shakers or mills, and should one’s mate be smashed, the remaining mill (or shaker) can make a nice home with a crew of very different shakers. A metaphor for polyamory, these anthropomorphized little critters.

As I thought about that, I realized how very true it is.  Earlier last year, I wrote a number of posts here exploring my particular fascination with the “go-with” aspect of shaker sets, and how it takes some insight into the mental activity of the person who chose them to go with each other to understand just what it is that connects them.  As I said then,

Some of the more interesting sets of salt and pepper shakers I’ve seen in antique shops are ones that are not in fact, clearly sets–or at least were not necessarily designed to be the sets they now are being sold as.  Not surprisingly, for salt-and-peppers consist of two objects that are in fact physically detached from each other.  It’s quite possible, then, that one of the two might break, or that the two might end up somehow separated from each other–a result of a nasty divorce settlement, perhaps, or a simple error in packing when a roommate leaves, or a salt incorrectly grabbed up along with the remains of dinner and thrown in the garbage, while it’s now sadly lonely pepper partner remains behind.  What more obvious thing for a store owner to do when such a sad single shows up in the shop but  to find some other woeful isolate that might by some stretch of the imagination be considered to go with it, and try to sell them as a pair?  And lo, as if by magic, they do, sort of become a pair, as would-be purchasers like me look at them and, more or less inevitably, I think, try to decide what is the intended connection between these two objects now identified on their sales tag as a pair.

The paradigm of the pair is powerful.  It can join what some man (or woman or child) has put asunder.  In the shaker universe, linguistic binarism rules.

As Joseph suggests, and if it’s true that the paradigm of the pair is powerful, then paradoxically, then you can defy the connections made by manufacturers and shopkeepers just as easily as you can observe them–be your own deliriously postmodern creator of new pairs, new combinations, new possibilities.  You can become the new god of the shaker miniverse.

Thinking about all that, and in celebration of Joseph’s idea of polyamory, I remember two particular sets I’ve discussed in earlier posts, this one.


And this one:

briefcase and newspaper

Polyamorous perversity then leads me to this combo:


The sexual politics here are pretty astonishing.  Think about it.

I should also say that I have also indulged in some mismatching of pairs in a previous post–the one about Santa Claus giving a big smack to a bunch of bad guys.

Bluish Women

And speaking of exotic Orientalism, how about these?

When I first looked at them, I thought that they were supposed to the sort of imaginary Africans who used to appear in the cartoons and comic books of my long-ago youth–the kind whose strange customs included various sorts of bodily mutilation, including the use of too many necklaces to elongate their necks.  A short Google search, however, reveals that the originals of this cartoon stereotype were not African at all, but rather, Burmese  (thus confirming the extent to which Ortentalist thinking removes distinctions like those between Africa and South East Asia and as in those old cartoons, just turns everything Out There into the mysterious East).  In Burma, according to Wikipedia,

Women of the various Kayan tribes identify themselves by their different form of dress. Women of the Kayan Lahwi tribe are well-known for wearing neck rings, brass coils that are placed around the neck, appearing to lengthen it. The women wearing these coils are known as giraffewomen to tourists.

Girls first start to wear rings when they are around five years old.  Over the years the coil is replaced by a longer one, and more turns are added. The weight of the brass pushes the collar bone down and compresses the rib cage. The neck itself is not lengthened; the appearance of a stretched neck is created by the deformation of the clavicle.

Here’s an example:

The Wikipedia article goes on to offer a range of explanations for this practice, none of them necessarily accurate, and so I won’t repeat them here.

So maybe my shaker set is not so completely Orientalist after all, but merely anthropological.  Except for one thing:  they make no claims to being Kayan or anthropological or anything else specific at all.  They exist in a void of specific explanation easily filled by generalized assumptions like those of my memories of Africans in cartoons.

Oh, and one other thing: unlike my shakers, the Kayan woman in the Wikipedia photograph is not blue.

So why are my shakers blue?  Good question–and one for which I really don’t have an answer.  Except, of course, that it makes the women depicted yet more exotic, yet more alien (and these shakers were, I’m sure, made long before the James Cameron movie Avatar raised blue exotica to new heights and new popular acceptability).

Another possible answer also occurs to me: making the shakers blue is an additional way of dehumanizing them, of making them into ornamental decor that elides their reference to an actual existing group of people, none of whom are actually blue–thus allowing the kind of responses to them that my parents had and expected others to have to the wall plaques I discussed in a previous post.  My parents didn’t see those plaques as actually representing real people in any important way, but just as the kinds of things you hang on a wall because they’re sort of like art, sort of just vaguely mysteriously Eastern and sort of like what people usually do hang on their wall as artistic decor. Not buying into their stereotypical nature, then, but implying the perhaps even worse sin of erasing the actual humanity of the kind people they claim to represent altogether and not even thinking about the real people they supposedly depict even enough to be aware of a stereotype.

And truly, these bluish women would go so well with a modernistic 1950’s turquoise colour scheme, on top of a kidney-shaped coffee table, maybe.

Perfectly Armless

Some months ago, I did a series of posts about shaker sets that represent women with various limbs, etc., missing.  I described this set:

The Feminine Ideal?

And this set:

But I somehow managed to forget about this set:

Here we have two more versions of what appears to be a certain sort of masculine ideal of womanhood: no mouth-equipped head to yammer away at you on and on day and night, yadda yadda yadda.  No arms to hit you with for no reason whatsoever at all.  No legs to walk (or run) away from you with.  Just the essential equipment to be a sexy doormat.  But with, of course, that essential sexy equipment in spectacular supply: ginormous boobs.  And despite their thrusting ginormity being so spectacularly on display, a little bit of modesty about the other sexy parts–something a little ladylike, a little valentine-y–as the matching pink heart necklaces also imply.  This is all about love, see, not just sheer rutting lust at all.

There’s something sort of evocative of the Venus de Milo here–a depiction of female torsos without arms.  It’s deeply peculiar that the accidental loss of arms on ancient statues like that one seems to have mandated the production of armless images of women like these shakers as a form of art, and evocative of artiness.  There is, of course, nothing the least bit arty or artful about these shakers–but their lack of limbs does somehow evoke the seriousness and solemnity of a museum, in a way that justifies or allows for the crude randiness they are actually in the business of evoking.

Being receptacles of differing condiments, salt and pepper, it’s not surprising that these two ladies should each be of a different skin tone.  what is surprising is that the skin tones in question should be white and, well, whiter.  Once more, as I suggested in earlier posts about shakers and skin colour, there is no representation of “white” skin in the same set as a depiction of “black” skin–of European pigmentation as opposed to and in conjunction with African pigmentation.  The world of salt and pepper sets remains more or less completely segregated in terms of race.  The offensive racist stereotypes remain in one sort of set, quite isolated from the offensive female stereotypes in sets like this one.

Perhaps a Tinge of Sexual Innuendo?

Writing my last post about the hot dog and wiener nesters, I found myself being reminded of a scene in one of my favourite books for young people, Brian Doyle’s Angel Square, and especially this scene describing a conversation the main character has with one of his classmates:

I was remembering something that happened with Fleurette Featherstone Fitchell in my laneway one time.

She drew an oval in the dirt with a stick. Then she cut it in half with another line. It looked like the side view of a hamburger bun.

She asked me if I knew what it was.

“It’s a hamburger bun from the side,” I said.

“No it isn’t, silly!” she said. “It’s something I’ve got that you haven’t got.” Then she drew what looked like a cigar in the dirt with her stick.

“Guess what that is,” she said.

“A cigar,” I said.

“No it isn’t, silly!” she said.

Then she asked me if I wanted to see hers.

He never does get to see hers; it’s a novel for children.  But anyone who wants to can look at my hot dog by viewing my last post.  And, for that matter, my hot dog bun.  And by the way, I intended no sexual innuendo in the reference to my last post.  It was purely accidental.

Once More for Old Times Sake

The chain of go-withs continues.  First an egg with a goose, then a goose with an old lady, and now, an old lady with . . what?

One old lady–no, let us say one mature lady–goes, first of all, with another mature lady:And then, one mature lady clearly goes with a mature gentleman.  Well, if you’ve read the lady’s apron, a not-really-all-that mature gentleman:If you’re mature enough to be having trouble reading the small print on the apron, this is what it says close up:“You and Your ‘One More For Old Times Sake'”!!

It’s a joke, see?  She’s a pregnant mature lady, see?  Sex still happens after the age of 35, see?  Hilarious, right?  As my own slightly immature parents used to say, “Laugh?  I thought I’d never start.”

On the evidence of my collection, salt-and-pepper shaker sets tend more toward the cute than the jokey; and when there are jokes, they tend, as here and as in the two sets of aboriginals with poems in what is supposedly hilariously ungrammatical English that I discuss here and here, they tend to be verbal rather than visual jokes.  I do, however, have a few other pairs that offer the kind of visual humour represented here by the mature lady’s large belly, which I’ll get around to discussing sometime soon, maybe.

Meanwhile:  it’s interesting how these two shakers evoke the advanced age of this couple by providing both of them, not only with the stereotypical huge glasses of old age, but also, by propping those huge glasses stereotypically below their eyes, so that they can both peer over them as old people in their far-sighted cynicism supposedly always do.  It’s also interesting in the context of this couple’s theoretical defiance of commonplace ideas about old people and sex that in spite of their daring rebelliousness, he still wears  conventionally masculine blue and she conventionally feminine pink–not to mention a typical old lady’s hair in a bun and an apron.  In salt-and-pepper world, stereotypes are forever.  And yet, still, and always, ever so cute, for despite the suggestive humour and the stereotypes, this couple is finally, more than anything, simply adorable.  And bound to have the cutest of cute babies.