Discriminatory Pantlessness

In an earlier post, I talked about some pantless pigs, and noticed the number of cartoon picture book animals who are similarly pantless.  Now here’s a shaker set in which both the figures are pantless, but only one of them is shirtless:

flamingosSurprisingly, it is the male who wears a shirt–at least if I am guessing correctly in identifying the one with a shirt on as a male.  I am doing so because, even though it has large flowers printed on it, the shirt looks like the kind of tropical ones usually worn by males; and also, because the other (shirtless) figure has long lashes and the kind of seductive come-hither look we tend to associate with female pinup photos.  And also, she carries a purse.   Nevertheless, this seductively lashed and come-hithery female does in fact not have a shirt, just what looks like a lei.  Furthermore, the male is carrying a camera and all ready to shoot, and  considering that seductive gaze of the lei-wearer, the two appear to be in the kind of male/female relationship that John Berger suggests in Ways of Seeing is common in classical oil paintings: a vulnerably naked female who is willingly and submissively available to to be gazed at and is is being aggressively gazed  at by a clothed male.

In this case, of course, the male is not fully clothed.  He is pantless, just like those pigs I talked about earlier.  That does not, however, imply that he is dangerously unclothed, or getting ready for the kind of acts that might require him to be pantless.  It just means he’s a humanized animal.  He wears a shirt.  He is clothed.  He is male, and in power.  For all her eyelashes, meanwhile, she is just a natural bird, prey for the male gaze.

In this case, the animal in question is a bird.  These are clearly a pair of flamingos.  And they are, strangely, dressed up like northern tourists to tropical climes, accoutred in all the usual tourist equipment: sunglasses, straw sun-hats, camera, cool drinks, loud shirts–and a lei.  Why, you might ask, are flamingos, which I tend to think of as a tropical bird, dressed up like visitors to the tropics?  Perhaps they represent the desire of northern tourists to fit in, to live like the locals, to be as flamingoish as the flamingos are.  For this shaker set certainly does seem to be intended as a gift for tourists to remind them of their hot times in the tropics, when they were as free and as tropical as flamingos are.

Scarfs Make the Man. And the Manly Bear.

Like the pigs in my last post, these creatures are also wearing headgear and scarfs:


What I find particularly interesting here is that wearing a hat and a scarf is merely a generic condition for one of these two, and not all surprising.  A hat and a scarf is what snowmen often wear, and I am assuming the one on the right with a carrot for a nose is just that, a generic, typical snowman, wearing a typical snowman’s scarf.

But them what am I to make of the fact that wearing a scarf makes him a pair with another scarf-wearing creature?  This one is, I think, meant to be a bear–a bear who, like the pair of pigs I discussed in my last post, is humanized by a scarf and headgear, in this case earmuffs (I think that’s what those red blobs by the ears are supposed to be) and a hat.  Wearing a scarf (and a hat) is, really what makes a pile of snow into a snow man–what humanizes it.  So, therefore, I think, wearing a scarf and a hat is what humanizes a bear–but if the equivalency to the snowman means anything, then the presence of the scarf and hat on a bear reveals to extent to which clothing on animals, in salt and pepper sets or elsewhere, is always a sort of masquerade, a way of implying humanness that depends on exterior signs and a sort of playacting.  And maybe, reveals how significant an element of defining humanness the wearing of clothing is.

Does that make any sense?  Probably not, since I’m having a hard time understanding it myself, and a hard time finding words to say what it is that’s concerning me here.  It has something to do with the way both an apparently living bear and an inanimate pile of snow can become equally humanized, equal partners, by putting on similar items of human clothing.  Their humanity is then a matter of what they wear, but more than that, it is only what they wear.  You could, presumably, put a scarf and a hat on a book or a sofa or a lamppost, with the exact same results.  The scholar Judith Butler has suggested that gender is a matter of performance–something we perform and that we recognize in each other’s performance of it.  And the performance is often a matter of clothing:  dressing young girls in pink frills is a way of getting them to perform gender and communicate the significance of their own presumed gender to themselves and others.  Wear enough pink frills and you will eventually learn to think of yourself as inherently girlish and teach others to think so, too.  This snowman and this bear make me wonder if being human is also in some important way a matter of performance, a performance signalled by the right articles of clothing.  Humanity as form of drag?

On another matter: what makes a snowman and a bear a pair, a suitable pair of binary opposites?  Well, it seems to be a polar bear, and it’s white, like the snowman, so that both pieces of this set are associated with cold northern places.  But it still remains strange that one should be a representation of a real, living creature and the other a representation of a representation, not an actual man but a man represented in snow.  There appears to be a binary opposition between what’s alive and what’s actually dead, then, or what’s real and what just an artistic imitation.  And yet, what is most striking about this set is how similarly round and chubby and jolly-looking this pair are.  Their significant differences seem to be subsumed, finally, by their overriding cuteness.  That what one represents might bite your head off and what the other represents merely melt hardly matters at all.  They are equally and perfectly harmless.

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.


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.

Both Elegant and Kitschy

My favourite salt and pepper shaker set that transforms the surface it sits on from a hard surface to one that implies the surface’s permeability is this one:


It consists of just those two quite elegant and curvy triangular shapes–each on their own an interestingly abstract sculpture, perhaps.  But somehow, together, their representational intent becomes clear:  they are, in fact, shark’s fins, and thus imply the remainder of two sharks lurking just under the surface.

This pair has an economy rarely found in novelty salt and pepper shaker sets: it is a decidedly simple and understated evocation of the objects it represents.  What is surprisingly, therefore, is that there is still a novelty salt and pepper shaker set kind of vibe to it.  That vibe comes, I think, from the fact that the set is just a tiny bit of a witty joke, or maybe more accurately a puzzle.  You have to look at it for a while before you see what objects these apparently abstract shapes does quite literally represent.  There’s something cute about that–something very salt-and-peppery.  There’s the sense that the invisible sharks lurking beneath that surface might have luxurious eyelashes and lipstick around their mouths.  And yet, still, the aesthetically pleasing simplicity of the shapes remain.  So this, then, is a paradoxical set, somehow both elegant and kitschy.  Only in the weirder reaches of the salt and pepper shaker set miniverse could you find that particularly weird combination.

Bath, Beneath, and Beyond

Continuing on with shaker sets that imply an invisible beneath, there is this pair:Bathers

Once more, the shakers represent something that is standing in water, this time two bathers.  We see only the top third or so of their bodies, but knowledge of the way things usually are allows us  to assume that the expectably normal other two-thirds nevertheless exists, hidden under the surface of the water their apparent nakedness, bathcap and washcloth, and the bubbles surrounding them imply.  Once more, they turn the surface they sit on into an implied body of water that they sit in–one that appears to continue under the impenetrable surface that  they seem to penetrate merely by being placed on top of it. 

For a long time after receiving the gift of this pair, I’d imagined they represent two somewhat cherubically sizeable ladies.  A clearly mistaken assumption, as my first closer look at their backs quickly revealed:

Bathers Back

Unless the one on the left is an unusually bald lady, he is clearly just an ordinarily bald gentleman.  So why didn’t I realize that sooner?   I think it’s because, in the miniverse of salt and pepper shakers and in the kitschy world of popular culture more generally,  nudes tend to be exclusively female: witness my postings earlier last year about shakers representing a variety of naked bodies and body parts, all of them female.  A quick Google search reveals a number of different shaker sets representing parts or all of female bodies, but only a very few of naked male torsos.

Once I did realize that one of these bathers was male, I also realized the rarity of this one being depicted as old enough to be bald.  Once more, there are occasional very stereotyped depictions of old people in salt and pepper shakers–see earlier posts showing some–but not all that many middle-aged ones.  Both older people and young people can easily be understood to be, and depicted as, cute.  It’s harder to depict middle-aged people as cute.

Unless they’re chubby enough to look roundish and adorable.  As these two do.  And that makes them fitting residents of the salt and pepper world, all set to mildly scandalize us by taking a bath together before (or maybe after) who knows what.

Duck, Ducking

Here is a mysterious object:Half Duck

Some kind of abstract sculpture, perhaps?  Or is it a ghost or an alien or a member of the Ku Klux Klan carrying scrolls?  Or are those sausages, perhaps, or maybe cat-tails?

Cat-tails they are.  For if I place this shaker beside its partner, all is revealed:

Two Ducks

Those are in fact, cat-tails, or some similar sort of reed, and they are the backdrop for a depiction of a duck–a duck in the process of dipping its head underwater.  The presence of one mostly whole, and more or less wholly visible, duck makes it clear that the other, formerly abstract object is to be interpreted as another, albeit not quite so visible duck.

And interpreting the half-duck as in fact part of a duck means that this set performs the same visual trick as the Bluenose schooner I discussed in my last post.  By implying that more of it exists below what can in fact be seen, it transforms the surface it sits on into the top of a body of water, with the illusion of depth beneath it.  In this case, the illusion is somewhat qualified by the sculptor’s decision to actually include a layer of blue water around the ducks for them to sit in and on.  But it is still a satisfying illusion, an intriguing way of making a hard surface seem to be penetrable simply by placing the right sort of object on top of it.

The Smithsonian.com on Salt-and-Pepper Shaker Collecting

As well as describing the Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, this article has a few things to say about the history of novelty shakers.


 Would You Like Some Salt and Pepper? How About 80,000 Shakers’ Worth? | Travel | Smithsonian Magazine.

The Implied Beneath

While it might not be apparent on first glance, this is a salt and pepper shaker set:


This set represents the Bluenose, the Canadian fishing and racing schooner from Nova Scotia that has been appearing on Canadian dimes for many decades:


While it’s a little hard to make out, since it consists of slightly raised brown letters on the same brown background, the side of the shaker schooner proudly announces its name:

Bluenose name

Well, actually, the name on the shakers specifies that it not the original Bluenose, but rather, Bluenose II, the replica of the original Bluenose built in the sixties.  That replica has itself recently been in the process of being restored at a shipyard in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, as this photograph shows:


What this photograph also reveals is what might not first be apparent when you look at the shaker version:  the shaker version does not depict the complete schooner.   It shows only what would be visible above the water if the schooner were at sea.  In other words, the shaker set implies that part if it, actually not seen, is nevertheless there, under whatever surface you might happen to put it on. 

I like the idea of the implication of something beneath, something unseen but that a viewer can know is there.  Something like that does, of course, occur again and again in photographs, painting, sculptures.  A bronze bust implies the rest of a  body that comes below the parts it actually depicts.  A painting of a figure looking out, even a full length one, implies a back that isn’t actually there.  We viewers are assumed to be willing and able to extrapolate beyond the borders, to assume they represent not the actual edges of whatever is being depicted, but just a point beyond which what still exists nevertheless cannot be seen.

But there’s something special, something unique, about the way in which these shakers do that.  I’m not exactly sure about this, but I think it’s that, in cutting off the bottom part of the ship that would in fact not be visible if it were a real ship floating in actual water,  the shaker Bluenose II magically transforms the surface it sits on into a representation of water.  There is no water, and the shakers contain no depiction of water–and yet they manage to transform part of their environment into something that has a quality of water.  In other words: the magic is that in putting them in relationship to something else, a mere flat surface, a tabletop or window sill, they have the ability to transform that flat surface into something else, something different and more meaningful than it ever was before.  And they imply a depth beyond the surface of a solid object, an apparently but nevertheless impossibly penetrable depth that the unseen underside of a ship might float in.

Again, that the kind of magic a painting often performs–it suggests that the flat wall it hangs on is actually a window into another world beyond and behind the flat surface.  But that’s a magical aspect of paintings that many of us are so used to that we simply take it for granted.  It happens less often with three-dimensional objects like my Bluenose shakers than it does with two-dimensional ones like paintings or drawings.  And painting don’t appear to turn the still visible surfaces of the walls they hang  on that surround their frames into something else.

For those who might be wondering why I keep identifying what appears to be just a single object, a depiction of a schooner, as a set of shakers: it is actually a set.  It does consist of two separate and separable pieces, as can be seen here:

half blueThe designer of this set has solved the problem of turning one schooner into two shakers through the simple act of just dividing the ship in two, right down the middle, and making each of its separate parts a separate shaker, two fragments that become one whole ship if probably placed beside each other  It is, then, an example of what I identified in a previous post an example of bisectionality.  I have a number of other strangely bisectional shaker sets, which I might get around to discussing in later posts.

Eggs Past and/or Eggs to Come

Once more, no eggs are visible in this salt and pepper shaker set

chicken and roosterBut clearly, you can’t have a chicken (or a rooster) without an egg first, right?  And if you have a chicken (and, of course, a rooster) then there is a good possibility that you might some time soon have an egg or two.  So there are, here, implications of past eggs, and implications of eggs to come.

This set has a very complex colour palate–much more so than your average novelty salt and pepper shaker set.  As well as having bright red combs, yellow legs,  and black  and pink tails, these birds have feathers in a complex inter-mixture of brown, pink, yellow, and white.  Much more artistic and impressionistic than your average novelty shaker–more impressionistic in fact, than cute.  Which is very unusual.