Spotting phallic symbols in art has long been a minor sport among college sophomores. At least, it once was – I don’t know what the wise kids are up to these days. Spotting phallic symbols is so easy that one must be suspicious of them. As The Master is said to have remarked, “There are times, gentlemen, when a cigar is just a cigar.”
The trouble is, it is not always the case that phallic symbology is merely the figment of sophomoric sophistication. It is often real. In any given situation, how do you tell whether you’ve got a token of sophomoric will or a real phallic symbol?
In a previous post on The Greatest Man in Siam, I’ve already suggested that the grandfather clock on King Size’s lap is a phallus:
I mean, one can’t ignore where the base of that thing is, its general shape, and angle of incidence – not to mention the swinging pendulum. To that we add that Size is the king, thus making that phallus a symbol of his kingly authority.
Look over to the left, that black thing sticking up. It’s not a thing at all; it’s an opening. It’s the sort of thing that’s sometimes called negative space. Whatever it is, it’s shape is phallic. But it’s also a rather odd shape for a doorway or an archway; it’s a bit narrow at the top.
That's the first time that image appears in the cartoon. The first contestant for the princess’ hand is being thrown out. The second enters:
Notice that our phallic opening is behind another opening. And that other archway, closer to us, doesn’t have the narrow phallic shape. Archways have other shapes in this cartoon palace.
In any event, the second contestant gets thrown out as well. Enter the third:
There it is again. This contest is being staged in the area in front of Size’s throne; that’s where that archway is. It’s an aspect of the palace architecture, and so it will reappear whenever we’re at that place in the palace.
Now, when we have the fourth contestant, he appears through a window high above the floor. Look at the shape of the window:
The trumpeter parachutes down and lands in front of the king. Look at the back of Size’s throne:
Same shape. Over and again.
When the trumpeter and the princess dance, they do so in front of an archway. But there’s no hint of the phallic negative space through this arch:
Given the nature of the dance, that bit of phallic imagery would be overkill, serving no even-subliminal purpose.
Now, look at the archway in the background when Size is dancing with his wife:
There’s no phallic negative shape. Just rounded forms, like Size and his wife. They’re not the locus of sexual energy in this cartoon.
What do I make of this imagery? Simply that it’s there. But pervasively in the background during the contest.
This cartoon is saturated in sexual imagery, both the overt moves of the courting dancers, and the subliminal suggestions of phallic objects and spaces.
Then there’s those warm colors, pinks and oranges and reds. Hot hot hot!
And the music.
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This is the fourth in a series of posts about the Walter Lantz cartoon, The Greatest Man in Siam. Here are the earlier ones:
3. Why Siam?