For a Spicy Experience, First Take the Pants Off

Here’s a little guessing game.  This is a salt or pepper shaker:
blob man

So what do you think its companion shaker might be?  I suspect that most people would guess the other part of this pair would be another similarly doughy creature–possibly, in the light of the associations between salt and pepper and black and white, a black doughy creature.

In point of fact, however, the other shaker turns out to be an item of clothing.  In my last post, I described a set of shakers depicting somebody taking his pants off.  This time, it turns out, we’re dealing with a creature who has his or her pants off already.  And I know that because the other shaker is its pants:

blob pantsThe pants are much too big for the little guy, and indeed, with the set stacked as intended, as in the photo above, it actually seems that what the creature is doing is standing in an oddly-shaped barrel.  But the set was sold in a box identifying it as Salt & Pants.   That black barrel-like thing is, really, supposed to be a pair of pants, as can be confirmed by various web pages currently selling this set:

salt and pants

As the copy in this offering from http://www.perpetualkid.com/ suggests “This spicy little guy dispenses salt from the top of his head and he’s got something special in his trousers… pepper!”

Salt & Pants is the kind of shaker set known to collectors as stackers or, more specifically, nesters:  The salty guy fits onto, or actually, into the pants.  You can, then, actually put the creature into the pants–dress the creature up just like a little doll.  Or, if your pleasure tends more in the opposite direction, you can start with the pants on and then remove the creature from them.  Actually, come to think of it, and as the Perpetual Kids ad copy suggests, you have to separate the creature from its pants in order to help yourself to pepper–maybe even salt.  So this set then consists of what Robin Bernstein calls scriptive things”  that imply a strangely salacious script of actions for those who might choose to use them to season their food: an act of depantsing.  You don’t get to experience the pepper without first removing the clothing.  Such is life.

My thanks to Asa Nodelman for the recent addition of this set to my collection.

Shake Your Booty

In recent posts, I’ve been talking about animals and other objects depicted in salt and pepper shakers as wearing various items of human clothing.  This time, I’m going to look at  a set that depicts a more or less human-like being who isn’t wearing quite enough clothing.

I begin with the actual shakers:

gnome cheeksReaders who have been following this blog for some time might be reminded of an earlier set of similarly-shaped and equally mysterious shakers:

Not Cute?

These, you may recall, turned out to be the detachable breasts of a peculiarly incomplete woman who was not completed even by them:

The Feminine Ideal?

This time, the strange objects are not breasts–no nipples, right?  But they do in fact turn out to be representations of naked body parts:

gnome

Yup, it’s some sort of gnome in the process of mooning us–a vision particularly disturbing from a certain angle:gnome back

This is a shaker set that makes me (and others I’ve shown it to) particularly curious about the answer to the question, “Why would you ever want to have a thing like this on your dining table?  And also in this case, related questions, such as, “Why would you want to shake stuff that comes from buttocks–even imaginary ceramic buttocks–onto your food?  On the other hand, thinking about these buttocks as what Robin Bernstein calls scriptive things, as I’ve discussed in a number of previous posts, I might have to add some further considerations to my earlier suggestion that there might be some pleasure in the imagined violence of shaking shakers that represent things like Aunt Jemima and Asiatic and Aboriginal stereotypes.  What are we to make of the imaginary act scripted  by these things of shaking your miniature booty?

This set, like a few others I’ve discussed in earlier posts, has magnets that keep the buttocks attached to the gnome they belong to.  You can see them here:gnome plus two

I guess that makes them a particularly attractive set of buttocks.


An Odd (Really Odd) Couple in Lots of Clothing

I’m fairly well convinced that this pair was always intended as a shaker set, because their colour palette is more or less the same:  the same dark green, with dark pink accents–and the smaller one’s face is the same brown as the larger one’s hair and shoes:    
Odd Couple

But for all that, they are surprisingly unlike each other.  One is a bunny, maybe, or perhaps  a mouse–or at least so its perky ears would suggest.  The other?  Well, not only does it not seem as bunny-like as its companion, but if we turn it around, we can see that it has wings like a bug:

Odd Couple Back

So then, is this pair a fairy small bunny and a bug-sized bug?  Or is it a very large bug and  a bunny-sized bunny?  One way or the other, I can think of no explanation for what these two might have to do with each other, or why one is wearing a clown hat and sucking a sucker.

The clown hat might well be the only piece of clothing the bug is wearing–the rest of it might be just naked bug surface.  Oh, except what seem to be a pair of brown shoes.  The bunny, on the other hand, has on, not only a similar pair of brown shoes, but what might a pair of fancy patterned bloomers, a shirt the same green colour as the bug’s bugskin (but which seems to be a shirt because it stoops at the wrists and reveal hands of a different colour, unlike the still-green hands of the bug), an apron, and a bow in the hair near her (I’m assuming) ear.

To add to the strangeness of this pair, the brown dots on the bug’s hat are exactly the same as the ones on his wings.  So perhaps I am wrong in assuming that the cone of his head is a detachable hat; maybe it’s just the permanent shape of his head.  Or more likely, maybe those aren’t real wings at all, but just a costume, another item of clothing that is disguising an actually non-bug-like bunny child.  The two figures do have similar pudgy cheeks and half-moon eyes.

Or maybe not.  Once more, I have to conclude that these animal-like creature wearing items of human clothing in shaker sets are neither animal nor human, but often occupy an eerily ambivalent state of in-between, creatures apparently in the process of morphing from one species to another.  Seen in those terms, they are more like nightmares from horror movies than the apparently harmless cutie-poos a first glance at them would suggest.  Maybe looking too closely at novelty salt and pepper shaker sets like this is not actually a good idea after all.

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?

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.

Pantlessness

One of the ways in which salt-and-pepper shaker sets humanize the figures they depict who are not in reality human beings is by means of clothing.  They have hats on, or scarves, or shoes.  I thought it might be interesting to look at some sets in which that happens, in a series of posts beginning with this one.

This first set is actually not all that interesting: it’s just a couple of pigs wearing hats:
pigs in hats 2

And yet:  saying it isn’t all that interesting merely confirms how much, based on my past experience of many salt-and-pepper shaker sets,  I am taking the oddities of this set for granted–for it is merely odd in the ways that things often and usually tend to be odd in the salt-and-pepper miniverse.

So what is odd about this set, then?  Or rather, what is typically odd about it as a set of novelty salt and pepper shakers?  Most obviously, in terms of the topic of this series of posts, the pigs are wearing items of human clothing, a hat and scarf in one case, a kerchief and scarf in the other.  The kerchief becomes more visible when viewed from a slightly different angel, as here:

pigs in hats

Perhaps a little less obviously, these two pigs, somewhat humanized by their headgear and scarves, are nevertheless otherwise unclothed.  They have chosen to cover the tops of their heads and their necks, but not all the other regions of their anatomy that, if they were in fact humans, they would surely have seen as a first priority for coverage: for warmth perhaps, or perhaps most humanly, for the sake of modesty.  But here these two are, happily showing off their fancy hats and also flaunting the lack of coverage elsewhere.

I took that for granted because it tends to be a convention of “cute” depictions of humanized animals.  To cite a popular example:  Donald Duck, as usually depicted, wears a hat and a jacket, but no pants.  Mickey Mouse, alternately, often wears pants but no shirt.  But Paddington the Bear, who is usually seen in a raincoat and a slicker,  replicates Unca Donald’s pantlessness:

paddingtonWhy it might seem appropriate and/or cute for animals to walk around dressed partially in human clothing but without any pants on I do not know.  Perhaps it implies a theoretically charming kind of innocence, a lack of concern about modesty or conformity.  These salt-and-pepper pigs and Donald and Paddington seem quite blithely contented–either unaware of their pantlessness or serenely unconcerned about it.  Nor do the pigs particularly seem to need their hats and scarves.  I mean, why wear a scarf to keep your neck warm if you don’t care about exposing the rest of yourself to the harsh wind or rain?  The scarfs are not for warmth.  Indeed, the impracticality of the few items worn seems to suggest a kind of dress-up playacting–an evocation of cute animals as cute kiddies or feckless impractical adults at play.  That often seems to be the effect of salt-and-pepper humanizing cuteness. I can easily imagine a set of salt and pepper shakers representing the Biblical lilies of the field, which, Jesus said, neither sow nor spin. and don’t care at all about clothing–in a shaker set depiction, they’d probably have adorable wooly scarves around their stems. And, of course, wear nothing else.

As well as wearing hats and scarves, these pig shakers are additionally humanized by means of human-like clues about their gender. Specifically, his scarf is blue and hers, while not pink, is a colour close to pink, i.e., red. i.e., really really intense pink.  (Note how I make my case by already assuming that the one in the blue is a he.)  Furthermore, the female is surely, the one with the eyes seductively shut in order to reveal her long humanly feminine lashes.  He, with eyes wide open is a traditional gazer, a dominant male with the power to gaze.  She, eyes shut and with a very contented smile, seems to imply an appreciation of being subject to that gaze, rendered powerless by it, pr perhaps, being empowered by her ability to attract the gaze.

His hat seems to be straw.  Her scarf makes her seem equivalently rural.  It seems appropriate that pigs would dress like farm folk.

Bath, Beneath, and Beyond

Continuing on with shaker sets that imply an invisible beneath, there is this pair:Bathers

Once more, the shakers represent something that is standing in water, this time two bathers.  We see only the top third or so of their bodies, but knowledge of the way things usually are allows us  to assume that the expectably normal other two-thirds nevertheless exists, hidden under the surface of the water their apparent nakedness, bathcap and washcloth, and the bubbles surrounding them imply.  Once more, they turn the surface they sit on into an implied body of water that they sit in–one that appears to continue under the impenetrable surface that  they seem to penetrate merely by being placed on top of it. 

For a long time after receiving the gift of this pair, I’d imagined they represent two somewhat cherubically sizeable ladies.  A clearly mistaken assumption, as my first closer look at their backs quickly revealed:

Bathers Back

Unless the one on the left is an unusually bald lady, he is clearly just an ordinarily bald gentleman.  So why didn’t I realize that sooner?   I think it’s because, in the miniverse of salt and pepper shakers and in the kitschy world of popular culture more generally,  nudes tend to be exclusively female: witness my postings earlier last year about shakers representing a variety of naked bodies and body parts, all of them female.  A quick Google search reveals a number of different shaker sets representing parts or all of female bodies, but only a very few of naked male torsos.

Once I did realize that one of these bathers was male, I also realized the rarity of this one being depicted as old enough to be bald.  Once more, there are occasional very stereotyped depictions of old people in salt and pepper shakers–see earlier posts showing some–but not all that many middle-aged ones.  Both older people and young people can easily be understood to be, and depicted as, cute.  It’s harder to depict middle-aged people as cute.

Unless they’re chubby enough to look roundish and adorable.  As these two do.  And that makes them fitting residents of the salt and pepper world, all set to mildly scandalize us by taking a bath together before (or maybe after) who knows what.