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.


About This Blog, and How to Find My Discussions of Some of Its Key Ideas

NOTE: I stopped actively adding to this blog in 2013.

A quote from my first post on this blog:

The purpose of this blog is to make a record of the salts and pepper sets I have collected–to account for why I collect them, to think about why they interest me both as individual sets and all together as a collection, to explore what my having this collection might say about the culture that has produced and then purchased, given as gifts, used, and collected the salts and peppers over the last century or so–and perhaps, even, what the collection might say about who I am myself.

For more information about how this collection of salt and pepper shakers came into existence, take a look at that first post.  For a little on the history of novelty shakers, this post might help.

For more information about my sometimes conflicted feelings about owning these shakers and having them on display in my house, see  this post, in which I identify myself as  an “ironic collector,”  and this one on “oppositional curating.”

For some key explorations of theoretical contexts that have become important to me as I think about shakers, see this post on “scriptive things” and the five posts that follow it chronologically on the same subject (or follow the tag “scriptive things), this post on kitsch, and this post on cuteness.

The Power of Demotic Objects to Tell Grand Narratives

Be patient, please.  Eventually I am going to get around to talking about this set of salt and pepper shakers:

casa loma

But first, I need some context.

A friend who knows of my interest in shaker sets sent me a link to a review in the New York Times Book Review of The Innocence of Objects, a book describing a museum the novelist Orhan Pamuk created while writing his 2008 novel The Museum of Innocence.  In the novel, it seems, after a brief love affair with a distant cousin, the narrator Kemal obsessively amasses objects that evoke their relationship in 1970s Istanbul. He has become, he says, “the anthropologist of my own experience.”  The reviewer, potter and writer Edmund de Waal, suggests that Kemal realizes that “objects beget narrative, just as stories need objects.”  Apparently Pamuk realized that, too, for he collected objects to recreate the museum his character created.  One of the vitrines in the museum he made actually includes a salt shaker: “this saltshaker: Just as she picked it up a rusty Soviet tanker rumbled past the window, the violence of its propeller shaking the bottles and glasses on our table, and she held it for a good long time.”

de Waal calls The Innocence of Objects “a manifesto for the power of demotic objects to tell grand narratives,” and quotes Pamuk:

If objects are not uprooted from their environs and their streets, but are situated with care and ingenuity in their natural homes, they will already portray their own stories.

Well, then: my salt and pepper shakers are objects.  I have collected them.  Can this museum of Pamuk’s help me to understand them better?  Is there a way in which they, too, portray a story?

The most obvious answer to that question is: no.  What Pamuk described in the novel and what he then created in his own reality was a collection of objects with personal resonances for his character and himself–things that had power for him as an evocation of a personal past because his character or he himself had once interacted with them, in times that now figure prominently in memory.  The shakers in my collection tell me nothing about my own past, for they never figured in that past.  They didn’t enter my life until they became part of my collection.  Some of them have been in that collection since it began, maybe ten years ago now–and so they carry with them my personal memories of when I got them, who gave them to me–things like that.  They tell the story of some moments of my past, then.  But all those memories are related to the collection itself.  They are not a collection of memories, but rather, memories of collecting.  Ok, so maybe they are then a collection of memories of collecting.  But that makes them quite different form the kind of “museum” of the personal past that Pamuk made.

But while my shakers don’t have any long-standing personal resonances for me, there is still something evocative about them.  They do still, in a way, evoke or maybe just imply a kind of grand narrative of an earlier time, even if it is not my grand narrative.

Once, on the original British version of The Antiques Roadshow, a woman came on to show her collection of children’s shoes.  She had shoes from the eighteenth century onwards, and she said that what made them so interesting to her was in what bad repair they were.  They had signs of use, spots of dirt, holes worn in them, and such.  They had clearly ended up on sale in antique stores and junk shops because they were no longer of use to their previous owners.  But they carried with them signs of that use, evidence of that previous ownership.  The collector then found them deeply evocative, signs of children’s lives once led and now gone.  They were for her, then, powerful demotic objects, ordinary everyday things that implied the grand narrative of people she had never known in a way that seemed to bring those people, and their childhoods and the ends of the childhoods, closer to her.  They were leftovers after the feast that spoke of what the feast was, reminders of  lives once lived.

And in a sense so are my shakers.  For most of them, I think, I was not the first purchaser.  They belonged to someone else–and some of them come with signs of wear, their tails or limbs broken off and such.  they carry with them something of the story of how they were used–evidence of their history.

But more to the point:  even if they did belong to someone else, I have no idea who it was, or what they might have done with them, or why they might have parted with them.  If they are a museum of the past, they are a museum without identifying labels or captions or explanations.  There is no guidebook.  They evoke an absence, a memory wiped out.  As ephemera, cheap souvenirs easily bought and just as easily discarded, they have come to me from somewhere forgotten  and thus become, somehow, a kind of powerful marker of forgetting, a reminder of what is not remembered, what might not even be particularly memorable,  The evoke what they do not and cannot in fact speak of–the absence of memory.

Nor does my “museum” try to place them in their ‘natural’ homes, whatever those were.  For I don’t in fact know what those homes were.  My museum is the set of shelves I’ve placed them on  in my study (as can be seen in the second post on this blog), where they sit en masse and unlabeled, more or less indiscriminately grouped together  They have a new context in my museum–they are there, not primarily as dispensers of salt and pepper, not even as aides-memoires that those of them bought as souvenirs of particular times and places were or as the signs of affection or duty that those of them that have been gifts were.  They are now primarily representatives of binary opposites and racial stereotypes and gender roles and such.  They are, above all, each set of them, just individual components of a collection–another, different set of salt and pepper shakers, another representative of the nature of that peculiar miniverse.

Which brings me back to that set of Casa Loma shakers.

casa loma close

What most interests me about them in the context of “the power of demotic objects to tell grand narratives” is how little access I have to any narrative they might once have told to the right audience, grand or not.   Who once bought this set?  I don’t know.  When and where did they buy it?  I don’t know.  And above all, why did they buy it?  I don’t know.

I actually can’t even begin to figure out why.  It’s identified, literally identified, as a “souvenir of Casa Loma, Canada.”  It’s interesting that it actually says that–that it was made exclusively for the purpose of being a souvenir, and that its self-identification as such presumably led it to be available in a place where someone might be seeking such a souvenir.  But what I don’t get is how, other than its telling us so, it could actually be a souvenir of Casa Loma.  It has nothing to do with Casa Loma in any other way I can think of.  What do two folksy-looking wooden lampposts with pictures of roosters on them have to do with Casa Loma, a noble pile of a mansion built to house a late Victorian Toronto millionaire:

CasaLoma castle

There are no similar lanterns at Casa Loma that I’m aware of .  And there are surely no roosters there either. So what’s the connection?

I found the answer to that question while looking for evidence of distinctive lanterns at Casa Loma online.  While I didn’t find any, I did find this salt and pepper shaker set:

casa loma not

Yes, it’s more or less the same set of lampposts, and with the same roosters.  Only this time, it’s a souvenir, not of Casa Loma, but of an entirely different place: Riviėre de Loup, a town in the province of Quebec.  So the set is apparently, a generic souvenir–once purchasable as a souvenir of a variety of places that it represents or evokes only because it says so, not because of any actual connection between what it represents and the place it stands for.   If my Casa Loma set once evoked a memory of a visit to a previous purchaser of it, it was not, then, because lampposts and roosters ever had anything to do with Casa Loma.  Kt’s because that was the place where the lampposts were purchased.  The imagery, the thing represented is meaningless–the word “souvenir” imprinted on the lampposts tells it all.  If my salt-and-pepper shaker sets don’t evoke their specific past for me, it might be exactly because, as in this case here, they actually don;t even try to evoke anything of significance about the places and occasions they claim to be representing at all.

With thanks to Jerry Griswold for the connection to de Waal and Pamuk.

Asa’s Ship Comes In

This is the salt and pepper shaker set my son Asa recently made and gave me as a Christmas present:
ship and waveIt actually does work as a set of shakers: as the picture reveals, the mast is held in place by a cork that stops the hole where you can put salt (or pepper), and the bottom of the wave has an opening for a similar cork to allow for the insertion of pepper (or salt); and there are smaller seasoning-sprinkling holes on the deck of the ship and in the indentation on top of the wave where the ship sits.  But for all that, I’m not really sure that this set does fit into my collection, for a number of reasons:

First, it’s unique.  There is in existence only one such ship and one such wave, made by hand by a local artist and fired in a local kiln.  All the other shakers in my collection are individual examples of assembly-line runs, the same or very similar to thousands of other shakers made from the same moulds.  I hadn’t realized it before, but as I think about it now after receiving this new set, I am realizing that knowledge of the run-of-mill shakers’ lack of uniqueness is part both of what makes the shakers interesting to me and what allows me to make fun of them, as I often do.  They represent what their manufacturers thought would be popular enough and sell widely enough to be manufactured in multiples, and so they’re evidence either of mass taste or of someone’s commercially-oriented idea of mass taste.  They are meant to speak to a lot of people (albeit probably not very loudly or very distressingly), and so reveal something about popular values and or a manufacturer’s ideas about popular values.  But Asas’s ship and wave are made to suit just me and my values and my tastes, or maybe even not that–to suit Asa’s values as tastes, with his hope that I’ll like them, too.  They are not making any claim to mass appeal.  Making fun of them (which I don’t want to do anyway, because i really do like them a lot) would not possess the saving grace of being evidence of  more discerning taste or expressing a critique of less discerning taste.

Second, and as quite logically follows from that: Asa’s ship and wave are not cute or adorable.  There is no obvious joke here, and no attempt to make me or any other viewer think of how charmingly vulnerable the ship or the wave are.  The ship has no eyes, the wave no lips or limbs.  While they are miniature versions of a small ship and an ocean wave, there is nothing about the ways in which they are diminished that implies an attitude of defensive superiority or offensive belittling of them.  They are simply small but to scale–and I get no sense from them that part of my response to them should be emerging from their defusing of the power of the ocean or its waves.  While small, the set still conveys a sense of the power of the sea and the relative littleness of the ship in relation to that power.  The jaunty little ship on its own might seem a little cute–but accompanied by  the wave,its littleness has quite other implications.

Third: this shaker set does not in any way seem to invite or imply its inclusion in a larger group of shaker sets–in a collection.  If Asa made more shaker sets representing different objects, I can see how I might want to have those, too.   But I suspect it’d seem wrong to place them all together on the same shelf in a way that advertised their similar collectibility and the fact that someone had committed himself or herself to the act of collecting them. Their point is in no way their participation in a larger group of like objects.  They are not really collectibles.

Fourth, Asa’s shaker captures something that seems quite real, especially about the wave, and yet paradoxically, it really doesn’t look much like a real wave at all.  It seems more like an expression of the movement of a wave–a way of capturing not just what a wave might look like but also what it might feel like to be in a wave’s presence.  Also: a ship and a wave are not the kind of binaries or pairs you usually find in a salt and pepper shaker set because they are in fact, not just in relationship to each or opposite to each other but, as depicted here, I think, in conflict with each other.  The shape and swoop of the wave capture the roiling energy and immense power of the sea,so that the the littleness of the ship perched perilously atop the wave tells a story of the apparent inequality of the battle between ship and stormy sea and perhaps even the indomitability of the invisible sailors on the ship.  The pair seems to me to say something about the relationship between little humans and big natural forces.

Or in other words:  the set is expressive of larger and subtler meanings beyond the fairly obvious ones of most of my shaker sets.  It doesn’t only represent a ship and a wave, or only ask us to consider how cute tiny versions of a ship and a wave can be. It seems to be expressive of the feelings and meanings of the ship, the wave, and their relationship.  Or perhaps it is just expressive in a way that invites interpretations because as a unique product of an imaginative and thoughtful mind it is expressive of the personality that shaped it. It expresses uniqueness.

Or to put it another way: the set aspires to be something more than merely ornamental–to be, in fact, art.  And in my admittedly prejudiced paternal opinion, I think it succeeds at that.  I think it succeeds because it seems to be conveying emotions in a way that invites thoughtfulness about them.  And it is beautiful.  Looking at it is, for me, an aesthetic pleasure.

I think the wave is particularly beautiful–full of energy and implied danger, and yet, at the same time, its energy caught in a fixed moment that allows for contemplation of the sheer visceral pleasure of its subtle and shifting colour combinations and its complex lines.   As I said earlier, it conveys its own uniqueness–as does the ship, in its tidiness and fragility.

And so, much as I like this set, and as pleased as I am to have had it made for me, I have to conclude that it’s a failure as an addition to my shaker set collection.  It’s much too good to belong there.

More of Asa’s work is on view on his website.

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.