A Lobster Dressed for Lobster Fishing.

Here’s an addition to my series of posts on animals in human clothing that introduces a new hat but begins with a memory of some old ones. Some time ago, I wrote a post on this blog about these lobsters and their participation in their own death by boiling (see earlier post here):


Back then, I didn’t say all that much about their clothing. These lobster are wearing both chef’s hats and aprons–which bizarrely, makes them human enough to be cute enough so that the fact that they are preparing themselves to be eaten seems somehow perfectly acceptable. That acquiescence in their murderous fate is quality they share with another jolly lobster:
lobster 2This time, the lobster wears a sou’wester, just as does the fisherman who accompanies him. And he seems perfectly happy to sit by that fisherman while carrying one of the tools of the fisher’s lobster-catching trade, an anchor. The fisherman himself carries something that I recognize as another lobster-fishing-related tool–although I had no idea about what it was called or for that matter, what it was for, until Google identified it for me as a float for a lobster pot–i.e., a trap like the one the lobster in this shaker set is so casually and happily sitting on.

Like the two lobsters sitting in the pot, this one appears to be smiling like a human, using the backward-j-shaped slot below and to the left of its eyes. And yet, of course, as I pointed out in my earlier post about the pot-sitters, lobsters mouths are actually at the front-end of their bodies, i.e., in this case, somewhere under the sou’wester. that these lobster should have been provided with an extra and more-human looking (and smiling) mouth is another way beside their hats that helps to humanize them, and make them seem somehow less alien and more like us. Although, of course, I have to ask why we would want to think that way about something we eat. Imagine this shaker set sitting on the table on which you are serving a meal of lobster. It seems to be a way of turning a tasty feast into a horrific act of cannibalism. And yet, somehow, it is meant to, and in actual fact seems to, actually make the lobster less monstrous, and the act of eating it more a matter of just accepting its charitable gift of its own delicious self. That’s intriguingly paradoxical; why would we rather ingest something we can think of as human than something we can think of as clearly not human? Why is pseudo-cannibalism preferable to eating the Other?

A sticker on the bottom of the lobster says that this set was made in China. The writing on the lobster trap identifies it as a souvenir of Halifax NS.

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.

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:


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.

Shaker. Sculpture. Shaker Sculpture.

In my last post, after discussing the unsettling disproportion of a shaker set that contains a human figure accompanied by some relatively giant shakers (or perhaps, some normal-sized shakers accompanied by a decidedly tiny human figure, I promised to talk about another set I have that consists of the usual shaker-sized miniature human figure and a proportionally giant (or in terms of my real world, normally life-size) shaker–but this time the set makes perfectly good sense. Here it is:

The miniature figure is a sculptor, and what he is sculpting is a giant pepper shaker–a truly inspired work of art in the context of a salt and pepper set.  The clever joke here is that what is to me a normal-sized shaker that actually looks like (and can actually be used like) a normal-sized pepper shaker has come to represent, placed beside its supposed sculptor, a weird artistic take on the shaker world–the depiction of something usually quite small as immense.  There’s something Dada about it.  Or may something Pop-Artish.  One or the other.  either way, the sculptor is clearly a genius, his eyes fixed on unsettling reality.  And on focussing attention on the disproportion between the figures represented in shakers and the people who use them–something we surely usually take for granted and don’t even begin to think about.

It’s interesting, in the light of the string of posts about chubby chefs that I’ve been doing lately, that this non-chef shaker figure should also be fairly rotund, and have some pretty puffy cheeks, too.  If the figures who inhabit the imaginary world represented by salt and pepper shakers could actually come to life, we’d probably be wanting to be putting a goodly proportion of them in a sever calorie-lowering diet.   There is rarely ever anything angular about them. They are safely and unthreateningly rounded–as are so many of things we like to call cute; and so, they are safely utopian, the cute harmless way things ought to be, if things were perfect.  Cute means vulnerable, and  for no clear reason I can think of, chubbiness tends to seem sort of vulnerable.  The evidence of the existence of bones and muscles under the skin is the end of cuteness.

Chubby Chef Goes Solo, and Apparently Sings Solo, Too

This not-so-svelte cook is all on his own:

With a moustache similar to the gentleman in the set I discussed a couple of posts ago, he seems to be aspring to the Italian-chef stereotype: not just large-tummied and round-cheeked (and cherubically round-nosed), but with a moustache, another perky handlebar moustache.   And from the look of his mouth, he appears to be raising his voice in song–possibly a Verdi aria or a song in praise of pasta fazool.

He is not himself a shaker: but the cart he is wheeling contains two objects almost as large as he is but shaped like a fairly conventional set of non-representational shakers–so there is a sort of disruption of the usual binarism of the shaker world: here we have three separate entities representing four major objects: one cook, one wagon, one salt marked S , one pepper marked P.

There’s another disruption also.  The shakers are giant ones for the chef, in scale for would-be users like me.  And there’s maybe something a little disconcerting about the inconsistency of scale; like, why is this tiny chef carting around these gigantic salt-and-pepper shakers?  Is he really that tiny?  Are they really so large, and if so, why?  It might make more sense if they looked like large barrels of flour or something like that, something large enough to be pulled in a cart that size by a figure that size.  But they don’t.  They just look like boring but gigantic shakers.

And yet this set is similar to another set I have that consists of a miniature human figure and a proportionally giant shaker–and this time the set makes perfectly good sense.  How, you ask?  More about it in my next post.

Chubby Chefs Cooking for Campbells

Yet another set of chubby-cheeked chefs:

This wide-eyed pair works for  certain soup company, it seems.  They are sitting on their cans.  Their cute chubbiness confirms the chubby cuteness cliché.

An odd thing about this set is the variant shape of the containers of condiments against which the two chefs lean.  He leans against a cylindrical container marked “salt,” she against a square container labelled “pepper.”  I’m tempted to explore the connections: why is a male associated with pepper and cylindricity (is that a word?) and why is a female associated with squareness and salt?  I can think of some reasons for the shapes, although they seem all too obvious to spell out here.  But I have no idea why salt might be more masculine than pepper is.

Chubby Chefs

Speaking of stereotypes (as I have doing in recent posts about salt-and-pepper depictions of Asiatics): did you notice how chubby all those chefs are, in the set I talked about in my last post?  And indeed, not really very much to my surprise, other sets depicting non-Asiatic chefs are equally chubby–like this one:

This time around, the racial or ethnic marking seems to be Italian–consider the ridiculous comic opera moustache.  And those things they are holding that look like pretzels in the shape of an S and a P must therefore be Italian taralli.  But the ethnicity hardly matters, for if they are salt and pepper shakers, clearly, and if they are chefs, then they must be chubby.  Very very chubby.  So cutely chubby that you want to hug them or hit them.  More examples to follow.