Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Meaning of a Clarinet

Here's a movie poster I snapped today at a bus stop.  (View a high-res photo.)  Can you guess why it interests me?

Mind you, I'm not planning to see this movie.  To be honest, I'm not planning on seeing any upcoming movies, even the Star Wars reboot.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are great comedians but this poster is not particularly funny.  It contains a collection of clues to their movie characters, carefully selected to separate us from our theater admission money.

Two grown women are taking a bubble bath together, presumably in the nude.  Strewn about are a series of artifacts from their lives.  Apparently the plot line revolves around selling the home where they grew up.  Am I interested in the bottle of wine?  The plastic Big Lots bag?  The pink bra?

The answer is . . . The Clarinet . . . that musical instrument I used to play.

You don't see ads with clarinets in them much any more.  Well, never.  This one must be there for a reason.  What exactly is this clarinet telling us about the movie character Maura as played by Amy Poehler?

First of all, clarinets aren't usually stuck in boxes quite that way.  That's a really bad way to store a clarinet.  You can also see the clarinet case peeking out of the box, behind a thick book.  So, this clarinet is not well cared for.  We can guess that Maura played in high school band for a while, then gave it up through a combination of lack of interest and lack of talent.  I'm guessing she does not much care for her old clarinet.  Or for any clarinet.

Lots of high school kids try playing the clarinet.  Marching bands need lots of clarinetists.  I wonder how many of them think back on the experience with any sort of fondness.  Probably very few.  In America, a lot of clarinets end up gathering dust in closets.  Still, for this movie, it was important enough to be included in a box marked "Maura's Special Memories".  Maybe she aspired to be a great clarinetist -- a sure way of becoming an unhappy adult.   I'd have to see the movie to find out if the clarinet really is important to the plot.  I'm not that interested.

Could the licorice stick be a kind of phallic reference?  After all, clarinets are longer than they are wide.  I found another picture of a scantily clad woman with clarinet, a magazine cover from 1937.  The clarinet was actually an important instrument in pop music then.  And this picture also shows a brassiere.  I wouldn't want to over-interpret this, but the girl certainly has a provocative way of holding her instrument.  The clarinet was sexy then.  Now, not so much.  (Her purple shadow however is the weirdest part of this painting - kind of like a jellyfish.)

Another idea might be that the clarinet in the movie poster is like countless bags of movie groceries
with a long French bread sticking out of them.  Just one item tells you immediately what is in the bag.  Here's actress Anne Hathaway carrying such a bag in real life.  It doesn't take much imagination or even a line of dialog to guess where she's been or what else she has in that bag.

In just the same way, a clarinet sticking out of a box, even if it weren't marked "Special Memories", quickly tells us that the box is filled with old, unfulfilled childhood dreams.  On the other side of the tub, Tina Fey's box is marked "Kate's Shit".  (Of course in America you can only show the "sh" and not the "it".)   Can you imagine what kind of shit we are supposed to be reminded of by that box?

And what have we learned about the semiotics of clarinets in popular advertising?  Has the clarinet become the go-to icon of abandoned, forgotten childhood fantasies and aspirations?  The advertising industry doesn't have much use for it otherwise.  Actually, you never see clarinets in advertising at all, so they must not have any use for it.

Here's a movie poster from a movie called Solo für Klarinette.  I suspect the instrument here is actually phallic and not musical.  Go ahead, read the plot description.

Here's a woman who actually played the clarinet.  (source)

Here's a Mixed Meters post about women in ads with tubas.

Some other MM clarinet posts:
What To Do With a Clarinet
Worst Clarinet Playing Ever

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