Shirtless and Pantless, but with a Hat

Continuing with this series of posts about salt and pepper shaker sets that represent animals and the clothing that they do and do not wear, there is this set, which trumps the various pantless and/or shirtless sets I have been describing by depicting creatures wearing nothing but hats (and glasses):

owls

They are, I assume, owls, I assume that in part because they have bird-like beaks and claws and wings (albeit wings that can also act like arms and hands and hold packages–or are those things that they are holding labelled “salt” and “pepper” meant to be academic degrees? Degrees in salt-and-pepper-ology, perhaps? Or doctorates in the seasoning arts?). I also assume these two are owls in part because of their hats and glasses. The hats look something like academic mortar boards, although without the tassels. That, and the fact that this pair are wearing glasses, an evocation of the stereotype that only smart nerdish people–“four-eyes,” as people used to say in my long-ago youth– need glasses, almost automatically identifies them as wise professors–as wise, as the saying goes, as owls.

Curiously, therefore, the few visually-represented human wardrobe items of this pair can identify them as being representations of a specific kind of human being because their visual representation of these particular items of clothing evokes a verbal phrase, and therefore a language-based stereotype. They are owls because owls are representatives of wisdom in folk culture. They can be identified as especially wise (or marked with the visual signs of wisdom) because they have the hats of professors and because professors are, of course, wise. As a former professor myself I can readily confirm that professors generally exhibit a truly terrifying degree of wisdom. All it takes is a hat and pair of glasses, and two mere birds become two humanly wise ones.

Or perhaps it goes the other way. Perhaps it takes only a hat and a pair of glasses to change two birds from being just birds to becoming symbolic representations of a certain kind of human. It’s this latter possibility that might drive someone to give the gift of a shaker set like this one to a professorial (or merely brainy) friend as a symbolic representation of that friend. “Here’s some owlish representations of your high IQ, smartie-pants. Enjoy.” Well, in the absence thereof, I guess not “smartie-pants.” Smartie-hat, maybe.

The other odd feature of this set is the fact that the eyes inside the frames of the glasses are not made of the ceramic material that the rest of the pieces consist of. Instead, they appear to be rhinestone or some other form of fake diamond, glued on to the surface. They are, therefore, especially sparkly, and give the two owly professors an entirely suitable look of zoned-out derangement.

The bottom of one of these pieces identifies them as coming from Japan, and there is also a glued-on label saying, “Napco Originals by Giftcraft.” According to this website,

The Napco Company, or National Potteries Corporation, began production in 1938 and their products were extremely popular in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Napco produced figurines, collectibles, decorative glass and porcelain ceramics. Napco is still one of the most famous names for porcelain ceramics, antique pottery, vintage products and other collectibles. As collectors’ items, it is important to identify NAPCO Ceramics by their marks and numbers.

In the light of that importance, I therefore also record here that my owls are identified on the bottom of the pepper shaker as Napco no. 2T2927.

And incidentally: I am finding it very odd that a company named “Giftcraft” exists, with its announced purpose being to produce objects exactly and only intended to be gifts, and apparently, with no other specific use or purpose. Isn’t that just a teensy bit weird? Gifts of giftware? And were “giftcraft” sets like these owls ever actually intended to be salt and pepper dispensers or anything else but just plain gifts?

Pantless and Topless, But with a Strategically Placed Towel

In response to my earlier post about a pantless pair of pigs and the phenomenon of pantlessness in humanized depictions of animals in cartoons, children’s books, and elsewhere, my friend Tina Hanlon made this comment:

I wonder if it has something to do with pants being a more recent invention than cloaks/shirts/robes of various kinds. I wondered years ago why Porky Pig has these habits you describe–some clothes but not pants, yet when he got out of the shower he covered the lower part of his body with a towel.

I have some doubts about the significance of the relatively recent historical development of pants, mainly because I can’t see how that would affect what artists would choose to draw.  Pantless Porky represents an earlier stage of human evolutionary development?   When we were more like pigs and less like the gods we’re gradually turning into (according to the poet Tennyson, anyway)?  Well, Tina might well be right about the historical connection, then; but if so, I’d like to understand more about why and how that  history would come into play here.  And actually, I suspect that for most artists who choose to depict an animal with a shirt and/or a hat but no pants on, it’s just a more or less unconscious choice, a matter of allowing conventions and knowledge of previous artists’ work to take over  (although there is, of course, always the question of what you do about a tail when the animal attached to it has pants on.  A back bulge?  A tail hole?).

But here’s what is most interesting me now: I wasn’t aware of Porky Pig’s after-bath wrapping options. Tina is, of course, right about those.  Here’s Porky as he is usually dressed:

porky_pig  2

And now here’s a series of moments in a sequence in the Looney Tunes cartoon Porky’s Pooch, released in 1941, in which Porky’s bath is interrupted by his door bell ringing:

porky bath 1

porky bath 2 porky bath 3 porky bath 4

Okay, so Porky, who usually wears only a jacket to cover his upper torso, emerges from the tub feeling the need to hide, not his upper torso, but the lower, usually exposed lower parts of it. Why?

Well, let see.  First off, apparently, he has to wear something.  If he were completely without clothing, he would just look like a pig, and not like the humanized Porky at all.  To be Porky is to be partially covered.

Second, though, why not wrap the towel around his neck and leave his bottom as bare as usual?  I think that this might have something to do with the ways in which we perceive nakedness. Porky in a jacket but without pants does in fact not seem to express the idea of nakedness–although why he doesn’t continues to remain something of a mystery.  But I suspect that Porky emerging from a bath and choosing to wrap a towel around his upper body, but with his lower torso exposed as in his usual clothed state, would indeed seem to be naked still–perhaps because we have to get naked to take baths, and thus the significant and usually taboo bits of nakedness need to be covered when baths are over, if Porky is to continue seeming human. Also, since he just came out of a human bathtub in a human bathroom, his nakedness would almost inevitably seem to be a human, i.e., forbidden or tantalizing, form of nakedness.  Having been established as a human-like creature, he would not, without clothes, just be an ordinarily and unsalaciously naked pig.

There’s also another complication  in Porky’s Pooch, the cartoon in which Porky’s bath is interrupted, the dog who rings the doorbell is there to try to persuade the humanized pig to take him on as a pet.  He is merely a dog then–even though he does speak human English–and as a mere and only minimally humanized dog, he of course wears no clothes–as dogs usually don’t.  Their pethood and animality are confirmed by a lack of clothing. But later in the cartoon, in an effort to persuade Porky that he’d make a good pet, the dog pulls a tablecloth from under a potful of flowers, wraps it around his lower torso like a skirt (or–and here’s the thing–like Porky’s bath towel) and, the flower-pot having landed on his head, does an imitation of the South-of-the-Border singer Carmen Miranda:

porky dog

So the dog is now dressed similarly to Porky in the towel–but we are to understand that it means something quite different.  The humanized pig has simply wrapped himself in an after-bath towel, the way human beings do, whereas the dog is doing a masquerade, only putting on an act–pretending to be a human while remaining a more or less unhumanized dog (except, again, for the ability to communicate in human language).  Weirder and weirder, eh?

Or maybe this business of Porky’s towel has nothing to do with any of that at all.  I’m really just doing a lot of guessing here.  All other suggestions gratefully received and considered.  And thanks to Tina for suggesting this aspect of this fascinating topic.  Even if it only relates peripherally to salt and pepper shaker sets.

Incidentally, a perusal of my salt and pepper shaker collection reveals not a single depiction of any creature in a towel–although the two bathers of an earlier post might be near one?

Wholly Cow, Partly Human

As did one of the flamingos of my last post, this cow is wearing sunglasses.

milk cow 1

But in this case, sunglasses is almost all she wears, except for what might be some grey fur on top of her head but what is probably intended to represent some sort of a motorcycle helmet . But like the pigs in scarves and hats of a few posts ago, she wears nothing below the neck.

It seems that the sunglasses are the helmet are necessary because the milk delivery vehicle is, it seems, a topless convertible.  The cow would get grit in his or her eyes if it weren’t for the sunglasses, and presumably needs some head protection in case of an accidental roll.

It is, however, still somewhat strange that a cow–or for that matter, any creature–might choose to wear sunglasses and a helmet but absolutely nothing else, Well, perhaps a human being in a hurry to get to or on the lam from at a nudist park might wear those things?  But it does seem odd enough to suggest once more how very little it takes to humanize an animal,  One scarf and hat, or as here, one little pair of sunglasses and the mere suggestion of a helmet, and suddenly the creature is transformed from a farm animal very much stuck in the wrong place behind the wheel of a vehicle to a dashing driver whom we can think of as being pretty well completely human, even without pants. Or a shirt  And what was just bovine is now throughly and completely cute.

Even cuter, the vehicle being driven here is in the shape of a milk bottle, as can more readily be seen here:milk cow 2

And also here, where we can see the label on the milk bottle top:

milk cow 3

That’s a milk delivery vehicle for sure.  I suppose that the ability to drive it is an additional way of humanizing the driver, on top of the sunglasses.  Cows don’t generally have their driver’s licences.  (Mind you, cars don’t usually look like bottles of milk.  But that’s a whole other issue–the cutification of non-humanized physical objects, perhaps?)

This is, incidentally, the kind of shaker set known as a go-with: the cow goes with the milk bottle truck.  and it is also a stacker, since the cow sits on top of the truck.

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:

DSCN1271

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.

Pantlessness

One of the ways in which salt-and-pepper shaker sets humanize the figures they depict who are not in reality human beings is by means of clothing.  They have hats on, or scarves, or shoes.  I thought it might be interesting to look at some sets in which that happens, in a series of posts beginning with this one.

This first set is actually not all that interesting: it’s just a couple of pigs wearing hats:
pigs in hats 2

And yet:  saying it isn’t all that interesting merely confirms how much, based on my past experience of many salt-and-pepper shaker sets,  I am taking the oddities of this set for granted–for it is merely odd in the ways that things often and usually tend to be odd in the salt-and-pepper miniverse.

So what is odd about this set, then?  Or rather, what is typically odd about it as a set of novelty salt and pepper shakers?  Most obviously, in terms of the topic of this series of posts, the pigs are wearing items of human clothing, a hat and scarf in one case, a kerchief and scarf in the other.  The kerchief becomes more visible when viewed from a slightly different angel, as here:

pigs in hats

Perhaps a little less obviously, these two pigs, somewhat humanized by their headgear and scarves, are nevertheless otherwise unclothed.  They have chosen to cover the tops of their heads and their necks, but not all the other regions of their anatomy that, if they were in fact humans, they would surely have seen as a first priority for coverage: for warmth perhaps, or perhaps most humanly, for the sake of modesty.  But here these two are, happily showing off their fancy hats and also flaunting the lack of coverage elsewhere.

I took that for granted because it tends to be a convention of “cute” depictions of humanized animals.  To cite a popular example:  Donald Duck, as usually depicted, wears a hat and a jacket, but no pants.  Mickey Mouse, alternately, often wears pants but no shirt.  But Paddington the Bear, who is usually seen in a raincoat and a slicker,  replicates Unca Donald’s pantlessness:

paddingtonWhy it might seem appropriate and/or cute for animals to walk around dressed partially in human clothing but without any pants on I do not know.  Perhaps it implies a theoretically charming kind of innocence, a lack of concern about modesty or conformity.  These salt-and-pepper pigs and Donald and Paddington seem quite blithely contented–either unaware of their pantlessness or serenely unconcerned about it.  Nor do the pigs particularly seem to need their hats and scarves.  I mean, why wear a scarf to keep your neck warm if you don’t care about exposing the rest of yourself to the harsh wind or rain?  The scarfs are not for warmth.  Indeed, the impracticality of the few items worn seems to suggest a kind of dress-up playacting–an evocation of cute animals as cute kiddies or feckless impractical adults at play.  That often seems to be the effect of salt-and-pepper humanizing cuteness. I can easily imagine a set of salt and pepper shakers representing the Biblical lilies of the field, which, Jesus said, neither sow nor spin. and don’t care at all about clothing–in a shaker set depiction, they’d probably have adorable wooly scarves around their stems. And, of course, wear nothing else.

As well as wearing hats and scarves, these pig shakers are additionally humanized by means of human-like clues about their gender. Specifically, his scarf is blue and hers, while not pink, is a colour close to pink, i.e., red. i.e., really really intense pink.  (Note how I make my case by already assuming that the one in the blue is a he.)  Furthermore, the female is surely, the one with the eyes seductively shut in order to reveal her long humanly feminine lashes.  He, with eyes wide open is a traditional gazer, a dominant male with the power to gaze.  She, eyes shut and with a very contented smile, seems to imply an appreciation of being subject to that gaze, rendered powerless by it, pr perhaps, being empowered by her ability to attract the gaze.

His hat seems to be straw.  Her scarf makes her seem equivalently rural.  It seems appropriate that pigs would dress like farm folk.