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.

Polyamory

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.

armless

And this one:

briefcase and newspaper

Polyamorous perversity then leads me to this combo:

Polyandry

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.

All Nature Is But Art

Image

This is another set of salt-and-pepper shakers that my son Asa made me, this one a few years ago. As you can see from this view of their tops, he made them of modelling clay formed around an already-existing set of plain ceramic shakers.

Image

I’ve asked Asa for an explanation of what he intended them to represent, but he tells me he’d rather hear how I interpret them. So here goes:

To me, this set is the ultimate expression of the idea of binary opposites. They are an animal–most likely a bear?–and a robot. And they are wearing boxing gloves, as if ready to start a match. What can they be but symbolic representations of the most basic conflicts at the heart of our view of life for us on this planet? The bear, clearly, is nature, the wild. The robot represents what we make of the natural–civilization, perhaps, or artifice–what people create as opposed to what remains as we found it. Asa was clearly intending to make a profound statement about our relationship to the environment, right?

Except, of course, that’s not quite right: for a bear in the wild does not smile, as this one appears to be doing. And a bear in the wild does not put on boxing gloves, or for that matter, what appear to be boxing trunks or any other form of human clothing. Meanwhile, also, robots are equally unlikely to be programmed for boxing. And if they were, how likely is it that they put on human-type boxing gloves? Wouldn’t battering rams be better? So while the two things these creatures represent might be understood as being in a conflict, at war with each other, in an eternal and ongoing symbolic boxing match, the characteristics of the actual creatures they represent have been distorted in order to make them express that conflict symbolically. In this way, then, they are more like allegories or political cartoons than like representations of actual creatures. Or perhaps more likely, they are more like typical creatures of the salt and pepper miniverse than like real bears and robots. They are humanized. They are cute. Despite whatever sizeable dangerous forces they represent, they appear to be entirely and completely harmless. Unlike the ship and wave I discussed in my last post, this pair seem to fit quite readily into my collection. They are, alas, and unlike that ship and wave, not art.

One other thing about this pair: they remind me of my days as a grad student in literature studies many decades ago, before structuralism or deconstruction or cultural studies or feminist studies or queer studies existed,when what was still then called “the New Criticism” was at the height of its power. As New Critics, what we literature students did above all (or even exclusively) was produce close readings, detailed interpretations of poems and novels that teased out the structure or pattern of images and ideas that sustained their plots and stories. And we always wrote essays that had two opposites in their title, like “Love and Hate in Hamlet” or “Appearance and Reality in ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn.'” Back then, there was a common belief amongst the students I knew that, if you couldn’t think of anything else, you could always write an essay about “Appearance and Reality in–” well, in whatever text you’d been assigned to write about. But it was also true that, if all else failed, you could also always write a persuasive essay about “Nature and Artifice in” whatever text you’d been assigned to write about it. We did a lot of talking about nature and artifice, a whole lot. It came naturally to us, and it was the basis of our critical art.  So for me, these shakers of Asa’s remind me of what it was like to be a graduate student back in the sixties.

And come to think of it, maybe it was my grad school training in binary opposites that lies behind my interest in novelty salt and pepper shakers?

And hey, maybe Asa’s set of shakers is actually a clever New Critical interpretation of a favorite of my grad school days, Yeats’s poem “Sailing to Byzantium,” with the bear as the dying generations and the robot as the artificial bird:

The young In one another’s arms, birds in the trees —

Those dying generations—at their song,

The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long

Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

. . . . . . . . . .

Once out of nature I shall never take

My bodily form from any natural thing,

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling

To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;

Or set upon a golden bough to sing

To lords and ladies of Byzantium

Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

I totally could write an essay about that. Actually, maybe I just did.

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:

frisbeenuns

There are the feminized buttocks of another earlier post, happily eyeing each other across the gulf that divides them:

DSCN0259

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:

Calgary_Tower_with_flame_1-cropped

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.

Bøsse: In Danish, Both ‘Shaker’ and ‘Gay’

Having opened the possible closet of implication hidden in the all-male sets of salt and pepper shakers I’ve been looking at in my last few posts, I’ve found myself wondering if indeed there are any out and openly gay shaker sets in existence.  A little bit of Googling led me to this pair:

Friends_Salt_-_Pepper_Side_TH vs HMN 1
Photo: Normann-Copenhagen

According to the “Excerpt from the press release” about them reprinted on the website where I found them, this pair are, if not openly and proudly gay, certainly willing to tease people about the possibility:

The anonymous artist, HuskMitNavn, and designer, Troels Øder Hansen, have created yet another quirky design for Normann Copenhagen–one with both edge and a twinkle in its eye.  The pair of salt and pepper shakers–which have been nicknamed Gordon & Andreas–belong to the Friends series which stands out as having personality, humour and character. The design plays on the double meaning of the Danish word ‘bøsse’ (which means both ‘shaker’ and ‘gay’), and the two friends come with or without a painted leather vest, signifying either the salt or the pepper shaker.

http://www.dulldays.dk/Friends-Salt-Pepper

How can an artist with a name simultaneously be anonymous, you ask?  It’s because his or her name means “Remember My Name”  in Danish: see his or her website here.  While this not-all-that-ambiguously gay duo is currently out of stock as I write this, they are usually for sale on the Normann website for $40 US.  Normann offers this excellent reason for purchasing them: “one cannot help but smile when the two Friends appear on the table.”

It’d be interesting to consider why.  What’s so funny?  Especially, what kinds of gay stereotypes does this pair engage and expresse and/or satirize?  And anyway, exactly what is it about them that specifically implies gayness?  What makes handlebar moustaches and bare chests and a black vest more clearly gay than, say a couple of raincoats and a sou’wester (a la the aging sailors of an earlier post) or an eyepatch and a wooden leg (a la the aging pirates of my last post)?

But what most fascinates me here is the idea that in Danish, the same word means both “shaker” and “gay.”   Who knew?  This put a whole different light on the implications of the act of shaking shakers that I discussed a couple of months ago.   As I said then:

Shaking such already minimized objects just seems to add more intensity to the minimization and control.  We are being invited, it seems, to buy and make use specifically of shakers that represent particular things we do feel threatened by–by, say, the bodies of women (see earlier posts on breasts and amputees), or animals and animality generally (in regard to shakers depicting lions or cats or lobsters or poodles) or by “savages” (the cute aboriginals) or other people of colour (Aunt Jemima).  Shaking of shakers is inevitable.  Violence against the object they depict is, it seems, mandated and allowable–and often, for a lot of us, I suspect, very, very satisfying.

So now, I guess, I have to add gay people to the list of those who deserve a good shaking?  The Danes, apparently think so.  Or maybe the Danes are thinking about a different kind of shaking?  Like in shake it up, baby, or shake your bootie, etc.?

Well, no, apparently they don’t.  According to Wiktionary:

bøsse c (singular definite bøssenplural indefinite bøsser)

  1. shotgun
  2. gay, (homosexual male)
    Vi har jo længe vidst, at han var bøsse.

    We’ve known for a long time that he was gay.
  3. castorcaster, (shaker with perforated top)

That last one is definitely a salt or pepper shaker.  But wait a minute–a gun?  So now it appears that a gun is a “bøsse,” too, along with a salt-and-pepper-like shaker and being gay.  So what it it about these three things that allows them to share a word?  One shoots, one invites shaking, and the third . . .?  ‘Tis a mystery, at least to me.

Adam and Steve After All

This post stands as a warning about never making a generalization.  In my last post, commenting on how salt and pepper shakers represent the gender of the characters they represent, I suggested that  “once gender has been signified . . . then it is always, as far as I can tell, one shaker of one gender and one of the opposite gender.  One male, one female–that is the strict order of the world of shakers.  No Adam and Steve here.”  And then, as soon as I posted that, I took a look through my collection and immediately found this set:

sailors

Well, hello, sailors.  Hello, Adam and Steve, otherwise known as the writing on their pedestals says, as “Old Salt” and “Cap’n Pepper.”

This is not to say that my generalization is not generally true.  The vast majority of salt and pepper shakers that imply the gender of the characters they represent do include just one male and just one female.  The oddity of Old Salt and Cap’n Pepper is noticeable enough that I realize I usually refer to this set as “the gay sailors”–the mere fact of the set consisting of two males seems almost inevitably, in the context of the heteronormativity so stringently enforced in the salt and pepper miniverse, to be a statement about their sexuality.

This set, incidentally, is one of the few I own that is made of moulded plastic, rather than the usual ceramic or, occasionally, wood.