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.

All Nature Is But Art


This is another set of salt-and-pepper shakers that my son Asa made me, this one a few years ago. As you can see from this view of their tops, he made them of modelling clay formed around an already-existing set of plain ceramic shakers.


I’ve asked Asa for an explanation of what he intended them to represent, but he tells me he’d rather hear how I interpret them. So here goes:

To me, this set is the ultimate expression of the idea of binary opposites. They are an animal–most likely a bear?–and a robot. And they are wearing boxing gloves, as if ready to start a match. What can they be but symbolic representations of the most basic conflicts at the heart of our view of life for us on this planet? The bear, clearly, is nature, the wild. The robot represents what we make of the natural–civilization, perhaps, or artifice–what people create as opposed to what remains as we found it. Asa was clearly intending to make a profound statement about our relationship to the environment, right?

Except, of course, that’s not quite right: for a bear in the wild does not smile, as this one appears to be doing. And a bear in the wild does not put on boxing gloves, or for that matter, what appear to be boxing trunks or any other form of human clothing. Meanwhile, also, robots are equally unlikely to be programmed for boxing. And if they were, how likely is it that they put on human-type boxing gloves? Wouldn’t battering rams be better? So while the two things these creatures represent might be understood as being in a conflict, at war with each other, in an eternal and ongoing symbolic boxing match, the characteristics of the actual creatures they represent have been distorted in order to make them express that conflict symbolically. In this way, then, they are more like allegories or political cartoons than like representations of actual creatures. Or perhaps more likely, they are more like typical creatures of the salt and pepper miniverse than like real bears and robots. They are humanized. They are cute. Despite whatever sizeable dangerous forces they represent, they appear to be entirely and completely harmless. Unlike the ship and wave I discussed in my last post, this pair seem to fit quite readily into my collection. They are, alas, and unlike that ship and wave, not art.

One other thing about this pair: they remind me of my days as a grad student in literature studies many decades ago, before structuralism or deconstruction or cultural studies or feminist studies or queer studies existed,when what was still then called “the New Criticism” was at the height of its power. As New Critics, what we literature students did above all (or even exclusively) was produce close readings, detailed interpretations of poems and novels that teased out the structure or pattern of images and ideas that sustained their plots and stories. And we always wrote essays that had two opposites in their title, like “Love and Hate in Hamlet” or “Appearance and Reality in ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn.'” Back then, there was a common belief amongst the students I knew that, if you couldn’t think of anything else, you could always write an essay about “Appearance and Reality in–” well, in whatever text you’d been assigned to write about. But it was also true that, if all else failed, you could also always write a persuasive essay about “Nature and Artifice in” whatever text you’d been assigned to write about it. We did a lot of talking about nature and artifice, a whole lot. It came naturally to us, and it was the basis of our critical art.  So for me, these shakers of Asa’s remind me of what it was like to be a graduate student back in the sixties.

And come to think of it, maybe it was my grad school training in binary opposites that lies behind my interest in novelty salt and pepper shakers?

And hey, maybe Asa’s set of shakers is actually a clever New Critical interpretation of a favorite of my grad school days, Yeats’s poem “Sailing to Byzantium,” with the bear as the dying generations and the robot as the artificial bird:

The young In one another’s arms, birds in the trees —

Those dying generations—at their song,

The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long

Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

. . . . . . . . . .

Once out of nature I shall never take

My bodily form from any natural thing,

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling

To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;

Or set upon a golden bough to sing

To lords and ladies of Byzantium

Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

I totally could write an essay about that. Actually, maybe I just did.

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.

Two Santas, and Some Guys Who Haven’t Been Good

In honour of the season, I offer yet another salt and pepper shaker set that consists of two male figures:Two Santas

Two Santas.

And yet, of course, this makes no sense, no sense at all.  There can only be one Santa Claus, surely. Other shakers, operating safely within the logic of a rigidly binary world, represent various ways of solving the problem of representing the right jolly old elf in a salt and pepper set.  Here, for instance, Santa has a surprising companion:

santa bear

It’s a polar bear, I think–a logical pet for a North Pole resident.  And here, a very young Santa (or Santa imitator?) has a Mrs. Santa-or perhaps, given her age, a Miss Santa–to accompany him:

santa and santess

They seem to be singing–some carol that makes Santa swing his hips, it seems.

But I have no idea about what to make of a set consisting of two, count ’em, two Santas.  Maybe Santa has a secret twin brother named Eugene Claus or Luigi Claus or Klaus Claus that nobody ever told us about?  Or maybe the set is depicting an incident at a convention of department store Santas, and so it’s two different Santa pretenders?  Or maybe these two are supposed to be just the one same Santa, but caught in different moments, like a series of photographs of the same subject?  Figurines that represent different times?

One way or the other, I have found myself unable to resist the implications of that one Santa’s raised arm.

santa close

I’m not sure I know what the raised arm is supposed to mean.  Is this Santa in the midst of belting out a loud chorus of “Here Comes Santa Claus”?  Is he pointing to yonder star?  Whatever it’s supposed to be, the raised hand does offer some fascinating possibilities in relation to a few of the other shakers in my collection.  Especially because those mittens look like boxing gloves.

For instance:  the Santa who has no use for clowns:

Santa and Clown

Or the racist Santa, being defied by a jovial club-bearing native of Banff:

Santa and African

Or the Santa who isn’t afraid of the sizeable Paul  Bunyan:
Paul and Santa

Or, finally, the Santa who gets into a brawl with an angry computer user:santa and computer guy

No question about it: this raised-arm Santa clearly knows who’s been bad or good and knows exactly how to encourage everyone to be good for goodness sake.

Be good.  Have a merry Christmas.

A Coupla Chicks Sitting Around

After generalizing about there being no same-sex pairs in my salt and pepper shaker collection, and then being surprised to find all the many male pairs I’ve been discussing in my posts over the last week or so, I decided it was about time to see what I could find in the way of female pairs.  The results are pretty depressing.

There are the two mixed-race nuns or market-going peasant ladies of an earlier post:


There are the feminized buttocks of another earlier post, happily eyeing each other across the gulf that divides them:


And after that?  Well, I could find just one more set of two females–this one:

Two Chickens

Two chickens.  No rooster.

So that means that after those nuns (or peasants), there are no other pairs of female humans in my collection.  Nor for that matter, no other female pairs but buttocks and chickens.  Oh, and I almost forgot:  these breasts:

Not Cute?
See their separable body here.

So pairs of body parts and birds, but hardly any pairs of female humans.  An intriguing absence.

As for those chicks: they roost together in a wire nest.

chicks in a basket

The nest contains a cardboard insert, covered in plastic wrap, that identifies them as a souvenir of a particular place:

Calgary Tower

This is the Calgary Tower, which was, according to its website, “built to honour Canada’s centennial and . . . intended to promote the downtown core as a part of a Calgary urban renewal program.”  An apparently successful program: the Tower now stands  amongst much taller buildings than those depicted in the image on the chicken basket:


But what does this structure in the heart of a large city have to do with poultry?  What do chicks in a basket have to do with urban renewal?  Excellent questions, for which I have no answer.  As often appears to be the case, the salt-and-pepper souvenirs once (and maybe still) available to memorialize visits to particular places represent objects that have nothing whatsoever to do with that place.

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.

Ménage à trois petits cochons

Since I’m on the subject of pigs on top of other pigs (see my last post), consider these:two pig stack

As you can tell from the expression on his/her face, the pig on the bottom either is not happy about being piled on or is so happy about it that it’s put her or him into a state of utter bliss. Note the expression on her/his face:
two pigs front on

In this case, however, even in spite of that potential zoned-out bliss, I don’t think there’s anything gay going on here, ambiguously or otherwise. There is nothing whatsoever that would mark these pigs as either male or female. no trousers, no lipstick. There is, however, something ambiguous happening–ambiguously sexual. Especially because of the lack of trousers.

But what’s most interested about these two are that they are not in fact a salt and pepper shaker set. The two of them together are just one piece, and make up just one shaker. As part of a set along with their partner, they look like this:

three pigs

And not only that, but they are a pair of stackers. The underside of the solo pig is curved in such a way as to allow him to perch on top of the other two:

three pigs stack

So, not only ambiguously sexually, but experimentally and wildly so. A ménage à trois petits cochons.

This is also, intriguingly, the only shaker set I own that disrupts the usual pattern of binary opposites, by depicting three figures rather than the usual two. In doing so, it does something even more wildly transgressive than the possible implications of the actions it depicts. Not tow but three pigs in a shaker set? As a collector of salt and pepper shakers, I have to say that this is just wrong. Completely and totally wrong. It defies the logic of the salt-and-pepper miniverse. And that confirms how important the almost universal binarism of this miniverse is. Salt and pepper shakers are all about twoness.

Technical notes: this set is among the few I own that identifies the company responsible for them. The labels on this pair say “PAPEL® ©FREELANCE . The internet ( informs me that, “Headquarter [sic] in Monroe, NJ, Papel Giftware designs, manufacturers, and distributes a variety of social expression giftware for everyday occasions and holiday [sic].” The company itself appears to have no website. The label also tells me that the shakers are “Made in Srilanka”–meaning, I assume, Sri Lanka. As for what “social expression giftware” is–I have no idea.

Ambiguously Gay Pigs and Kitties (or Bears)

And yet more sets of ambiguously gay male pairs!   Two more pairs, in fact.  I’ll talk about them together here because they are surprisingly similar to each other.

First, these are these two:

pig stackers 2

They are pigs, clearly, cute chubby-cheeked smiling pigs.  And even though they are wearing pink  (a pink jacket in one case, a pink tie and trousers in the other)  I find it hard not to think of them as male pigs–boars rather than sows–I think because in the very conservative salt-and-pepper miniverse, the females usually wear skirts or dresses to mark their femininity, and so things like trousers and ties seem inherently manly.   Furthermore, and despite the pink-tinged foppishness of their clothing, these are boisterously boyish pigs, not ladylike at all.  They even play piggyback:   
pigs stacked

But see, that’s the thing.. What are we to think of two more-than-likely male pigs, one of whom is happily perched on top of the other?  Especially after having recently looked st that pair of rabbits I talked about a few posts ago:

two rabbits

On the other hand, the two cavorting piggies are, as I said, undeniably cute, apparently harmless.  There’s nothing sexual about them at all, surely.  There are surely not as intentionally scandalous as, say, a depraved kind of mind-in-the-gutter might imagine them to be:

pigs at play

Unless, perhaps they are in the business of making sexuality cute and harmless.  Unless they are just a couple of happily out chubby pigs after all.

If they are (or for that matter, if they aren’t) they might make friends with another couple of ambiguous animals at play.  These two are ambiguous in more ways than one.  First of all, they might be kittens, or they might be teddy bears.  Ort they might be mice.  I honestly can’t decide which:

animal stackers

They are so soft-eyed and vulnerable-looking and adorable that they might be just about any animal at all, as long as it’s a cute harmless one with a tiny black nose.  Teddies or kittens or mice or just generic cute little creatures, they share the same kinds of clothing affectations as the ambiguous cute piggies:  the neon trousers, the snazzy loud sports jackets, the bow ties.  So they appear to be males, albeit rather foppish ones.  And also like the piggies, they are intentionally arrangeable as engaging in a specific kind of horseplay (or kitty-play, or teddy-play, or mouse-play) that involves climbing on top of each other:

animals stacked

So once more:  too cute to be sexual?  Or so sexual as to make the sexuality they might be representing cute?  Or merely ambiguous?

A technical note:  these are, of course, the kinds of shakers known amongst collectors as stackers.

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.

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.