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.


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.

A Coupla Chicks Sitting Around

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

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:

Not Cute?
See their separable body here.

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.

chicks in a basket

The nest contains a cardboard insert, covered in plastic wrap, that identifies them as a souvenir of a particular place:

Calgary Tower

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.

Ambiguously Gendered: Batting for Which Team?

This shaker set is not necessarily ambiguously gay–more like ambiguously gendered.

batter and catcher closeup

Its two baseball players (who each look a little like stereotyped angry codgers wearing too much eyeliner), might be either both male or both female or a combination of one male and one female.
batter and catcher2

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.

Ménage à trois petits cochons

Since I’m on the subject of pigs on top of other pigs (see my last post), consider these:two pig stack

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:
two pigs front on

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:

three pigs

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:

three pigs stack

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.