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.

Non-Specific Exotica

Since I’ve been looking at orientalist stereotypes, evocations of the mysterious East, this seems like a good time to take a look at this set:

Not Asiatic, but still evocative of orientalism and the mysterious other.  I think these are maybe supposed to represent some kind of Africans–or Polynesians, or Indonesians or native South Americans, something equally else exotic.  Whoever they are, they are defined  by the fact that they are “not like us,” us in this case being the people who these shakers might unironically appeal to.  While fairly simple and uncomplicated figures, they reveal a surprising range of the signs that mark a person as alien and other.  they appear to be naked.  They carry bowls on their head or have bones in their hair, as supposed savages often do in cartoons. They are dark-complected and thick-lipped enough that I suspect that real people with darker complexions, even those who collect salt and paper sets, are unlikely to be anything but distressed by the cliched nature of their depiction of people of colour.  In confirmation of their orientalism, furthermore one appears to be staring blankly in wide-eyed idiocy while the other closes her eyes as proof of her inherent sloth and laziness.

They raise, once more, the question of why, if you might actually give any credence to the negative stereotypes these figures evoke, would you want to have such depictions on your dining table and shake salt and/or pepper from them on your food?  (Unless, of course, you are an oppositional curator like me–see my earlier posting on that topic.  And even at that I have to worry about my willingness to own and display such objects even if I feel a vast distance from the values they represent and evoke–am I confirming in my implied faith that they can withstand or endure an ironic oppositional glance my sense of the stereotypical willingness of the groups they represent to take punishment and less than humanly survive it?).  There’s certainly a element of supercilious superiority in the way in which these figures act to diminish the reality of people of other countries and cultures: the depiction of them in such a miniaturized form, the implied cuteness of their being so harmlessly exotic and abnormal, the safely colonialist freedom to mark them as exotic and other and yet harmless enough to own and use for mundane purposes like seasoning food, the fact that as hard ceramic figures they can be safely manhandled without much threat to the person doing the manhandling.  Or even, given the lack of fragility of the material they’re made of, the fact that manhandling is little threat to the objects themselves.  And if you drop them and they should happen by chance to actually break, well, so what, they were just cheap ornaments anyway and can easily be replaced by a pair of equally long-suffering and othered aboriginals or cute harmless children.

Shit, Kitsch, and Other Things that Stink

In my last post, I suggested that one of the actions scripted by novelty salt and pepper shakers is conversing about them as artistic objects: the invitation to “observe them more closely–perhaps in something like the way we look at paintings or other art objects, with an eye to understanding both what they represent and the possible implications of the ways they represent it.”  I’d just like to qualify that comment a little, for it’s clear that while these shakers operate as something “like” art, the response they seem to invite is not the same as the ones invited by, say, a conventional portrait or landscape painting or an abstract presentation of non-representational forms and colours. There’s something about their littleness and their cuteness that’s asking for something different from more standard forms of aesthetic observation and openness to being affected by what one views aesthetically.

That something different seems to be an awareness of how small and how harmless the shakers are, how unlikely they are to actually produce deeply involved or emotive responses. Ion other words, they’re inviting a kind of safe simulation of aestheticism, an indulgence in the act of opening oneself up to the potential of art  to affect one, but within a safely narrow range of possibilities: you know when you choose to look at a novelty salt and pepper shaker as an object of aesthetic contemplation that it’s not going to alarm you in its potential to make you think new thoughts or to change your life forever.

In this way, I suspect, novelty shakers represent the kind of art (or non-art?) that the Czech novelist Milan Kundera calls, in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, kitsch:  Talking about an acknowledgement of defecation and its products as an acceptance of the human condition as it is, Kundera says that not acknowledging such things in a claim to see nothing but goodness in the world is a form of agreement with the way things are that actually denies them:

It follows, then, that the aesthetic ideal of the categorical agreement with being is a world in which shit is denied and everyone acts as though it did not exist. This aesthetic ideal is called kitsch… Kitsch is the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and the figurative senses of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable to human existence.

Denying shit–or perhaps, preferring and willing oneself not to be aware of it–is an insistence on a sort of perversely inhuman utopia–a place imagined as ideal because it is not connected with bodily functions and their implications of mortality.  Kitsch represents a denial of what the character Crazy Jane in a poem by William Butler Yeats once exuberantly proclaimed:

‘Fair and foul are near of kin,
And fair needs foul,’ I cried.
‘My friends are gone, but that’s a truth
Nor grave nor bed denied,
Learned in bodily lowliness
And in the heart’s pride.

‘A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent;
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.’

Viewed as this sort of kitsch, novelty shakers not only deny the existence of shit and the place of excrement in their safely miniatured cuteness and ceramic hardness. They also actively proclaim the importance of not paying attention to shit–of immersing oneself in the cutely miniature as a sort of safely diminished and relatively passionless diminution of a more complex reality as it actually is–a way of denying or perhaps more likely, conscientiously ignoring, the painful or pleasurable limitations of the human condition by replacing it with something less disconcerting.  In this enclosed and safely lifeless world, even skunks don’t smell, and are safely enjoyable as just plain cute:

With their clearly visible and normatively conventional gender distinctions (one wears lipstick, the other carries what appears to be a phallic green carrot) these googly-eyed creatures are hardly even animal at all; both have a pink blush on what surely must be their fur cheeks.  Blushing fur?  Really?  Diminished and de-shitted and made less alienly animal and more like us, these skunks represent an apparently safe escape from what we actually know to be a more complex and shittier and stinkier world, and therefore, they offer a not-so-safely disinfected world after all, but instead, an invitation to a life-denying willed blindness to the messier way and stinkier things actually  are.

Not suprisingly, Kundera goers on to read totalitarian political implications into kitsch, calling it totalitarian:

But whenever a single political movement corners power, we find ourselves in the realm of totalitarian kitsch. When I say “totalitarian,” what I mean is that everything that infringes on kitsch must be banished for life: every display of individualism (because a deviation from the collective is a spit in the eye of the smiling brotherhood); every doubt (be-cause anyone who starts doubting details will end by doubting life itself); all irony (because in the realm of kitsch everything must be taken quite seriously).

In the worlds of kitsch and novelty salt and pepper shakers, “all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions.”  In that way, in fact, the shakers really don’t invite the intense gaze of works of art; they invite merely the kind of quick glance that notes a comforting cuteness and familiar recognizability and then, satisfied by the confirmation of painlessness, slides off and away from details.  They offer, in other words, an invitation to not look too closely, to look without seeing too much.  The kinds of close looks I give to the shaker sets I’m describing in this blog are not, in fact, scriptive actions they invite.  I’m noticing too much, in too much detail, to preserve my complacent semi-blind and blinding appreciation of them.  Seeing them as totalitarian kitsch is to deny the efficacy of their totalitarianism and their kitschiness.

Scriptive Things, Fifth Verse: A Little Bit Louder, A Little Bit Diverse

The question remains the same.  Generally speaking, what actions or responses do novelty salt and pepper shakers invite when they appear as part of a table setting for a meal?  Most obviously of course, they invite those at the table to shake them, i.e., to put salt and/or pepper on their food–and whatever kind of shakers they are, plain or fancy, they bring with them the range of  implications and invite something like the kinds of responses I’ve tried to outline in my last few posts.  But in addition to all that, their novelty aspects add yet more nuances.  In order to explore those in as non-specific a way as possible, I’ve chosen a set of shakers that are even less distinct or unusual than the pair of bear of my last post.  This time it’s pigs:

These two are one of the few sets I own that are actually carbon copies of each other–exact duplicates, except for the fact that one has two holes (for salt, I’m guessing) in its snout, and the other has three holes in its mouth (for peppers, since I understand that the one with more holes is usually understand as supposed to be the pepper).  They’re just a pair of simply formed and mostly pink pig shapes–a vaguely cute evocation of pigginess, with a bit of cleverness in the placing of the holes in the snout where the snout holes would be in one instance and in the teeth where gaps would be in the other.  but still, you wouldn’t want a real pig on your dining table.  Why these, or things like these more generally?

Most obviously, I think, they evoke a kind of lightheartedness, or whimsy, a sense that this is a relatively informal and congenial kind of table to be dining at.  They convey the idea that the person who chose to put these on the table doesn’t take things too seriously, likes to have fun.  in that way, too, they reveal a personal taste.  In doing so, clearly, the action they most clearly script (beyond the action of salting and peppering one’s food) is a response to that perosnal taste, ideally, of course, a positive one, like, “My, how adorable,” or “What cute pigs.”

In other words,  they exist significantly as potential topics of conversation–things to comment on.  And the more novel they are, the weirder or more sexy or more bizarre they are, the more they invite a conversation about their uniqueness or novelty.   They exist, to a great extent, primarily to be noted and commented upon.   And the fact that someone chooses to make something so novel or noteworthy a part of the dining experience  makes them markers of a unique or novel selfhood.  They ask us to think positively about the specialness of the person who chose them: “Ooh, what adorable little pigs, Samantha.  You have such good taste.”  Or “Where did you find these pigs, you clever thing?”  Or “Pigs?  Really?  Is it one of your clever little jokes, Sam?  Because I do plan to pig out on that pot roast–it smells divine.”

All of that leads to what I suspect is the primary action encrypted in the existence of purchases like this–an urge to desire them and, when they appear in stores or garage sales or on eBay, to want to purchase them and have them for one’s own.  As more or less impractical novelties that defy the important design principal of less is more and exude more whimsy than utilitarian practicality, they script an invitation to ownership, to possess them for their cuteness and their novelty.

And apparently, given my two hundred or so sets, they seem to script that urge to possession in terms of multiples.  One set of novelty shakers, obviously, cannot in and for itself imply a desire for a larger number of others to go along with it.   But I think that the fact of their coming in such a range of different shapes and sizes and representations of different animals, people, and things does imply an urge to moreness–to having more than just one set of shakers, and indeed, more than just twenty or two hundred.  There are pictures showing surprisingly large collections of them all over the internet–collections of many thousands arranged in voluminous crowds.

So what it is about them that makes them so eminently collectible?  How do they script collectibility?

One, they are relatively expensive–you can usually always afford to get yourself a few more without going into serious debt. So why not go out and get more, right now?

Two, they are small, and you can have a surprisingly large number of them in a surprisingly small place.  Indeed, they are small enough that you can almost always manage to squeeze a few more into the same shelf space, where they end up looking like the Tokyo subway in rush hour .

Three, they represent things–a variety of things, thus encouraging those who have some shakers that represent some things to want other shakers that represent other things

Three, they all basically do the same thing–contain and distribute salt and pepper–and thus,  they are very much alike each other in general shape and size and conformation; and yet at the same time, in their act of representation, they can be surprisingly different from each other.  In other words, they are the same sort of object but with clearly obvious (or sometimes even not so obvious) differences from each other–a combination of sameness and difference that allows a collector to focus on just the one kind of object (“I only collect salt and pepper shakers” or even “I only collect salt and paper shakers that represents pigs”) but to keep adding different individual objects to the general category in order to represent the scope of the category more completely. Like stamps or coins or Tiffany lamps, shaker sets represent an ongoing and therefore eminently collectible series of variations on each other.

As collectibles, the action novelty shakers more urgently encsript is putting them on display in groups and inviting other people to look at them, first as a group (“You have so many!”) and then, once having a first impression of admirable bulk and mutititudinousness, to pick out ones that appear specially interesting and observe them more closely–perhaps in something like the way we look at paintings or other art objects, with an eye to understanding both what they represent and the possible implications of the ways they represent it.  in other words, once more, they script discussions of themselves and their interesting novelty.

How the discussion goes can obviously be various.  Most of the members of the Novelty Salt and Pepper Shaker Club seem, as the club’s web site suggests, be motivated by a pure and unmediated  “love of collecting novelty and figural salt and pepper shakers,” for, it seems their own sake, as intended. As I’ve suggested in earlier posts, though, my own interest tends to have more to do with a kind of mean-spirited feeling of superiority to many of the shakers I own–an ironic enjoyment of just how tasteless and silly and awful they can be.  Even so, I’m not totally convinced  that the shakers themselves don’t actually script at least the potential for that sort of ironic and theoretically disengaged response to them.   Some of my sets are trying very hard to elicit a kind of objection to them–to be offensive or crude or otherwise disruptive of conventional niceness in ways that are meant to be humorous or otherwise pleasing.  Like a range of comedy in greeting cards and night clubs and on T-shirts and coffee mugs, they do often seem to be scripting a supposedly negative response, or at least, a response that confirms the responder’s awareness of their antisocial tendencies and a positive or negative attitude toward them.  They are made to be objected to, or to be perceived as satisfyingly objectionable.

And I also have to acknowledge, as I think about it, that my own ironic and superior response is also often accompanied by a more positive appreciation of the attempt at jocular playfulness that arouses that feeling of superiority.  Their awfulness makes me smile, or even, sometimes, to manipulate them in ways that either help me to express how foul I think they are or reveal even deeper levels of double entendre.  Think, for instance, of what you might tempted to do with a pair of detachable breasts; think of the verbal scripts of pidgin English you might invent as you imagine what some offensively stereotypical Indian shakers might say.  Many novelty shakers are playful and a lot more of them invite playfulness–even the act of actually playing with them, as revealed by the shoebox and larger displays created by contest winners at the Novelty Salt and Pepper Shaker Club convention and depicted on the club’s website.  These are scenes using a number of different shakers that club members create by playing with them and playfully arranging them into groups and in settings–check them out here.

There’s more to be said about how the shakers encourage playfulness, and what sort of interactions that playfulness enscripts–like, for instance, shaking little pigs to put salt on your spuds?  More next time.