Every picture tells a story

(This posting starts with a homoerotic Daily Jocks ad — nothing close to the line visually or textually, but you might still want to exercise your judgment — moves through Doan’s pills and ends with musician Rod Stewart.)

… but what story? They’re just pictures, after all, subject to many interpretations. Even when the creator’s intentions are clear, there are often two (or more) intended stories for the same picture — typically, one literal and one allusive (consider still lifes with moral messages). In any case, other viewers are free to see stories the creator did not. And sometimes the pictures have no clear interpretation.

Which brings me to the Daily Jocks mailing of 10/26:

(#1) At the gym, two hunks eye each other’s crotches with facial expressions that would be heavy sexual cruises if exchanged face to face

Well, it’s a menswear ad, and comes with no explicit clues as to how it’s to be interpreted — maybe just as a generic homoerotic encounter (certainly homoerotic). But still you wonder: what’s their story? Are they an established couple, shown here appreciating each other’s bodies for the camera? Or did they just come across one another in the gym and are now setting up a trick? Or maybe merely complimenting each other through their gaze and facial expressions, each conveying that he thinks the other is really hot? (Nice body, buddy.)

Background 1: the ad. From the DJ mailing:

Sport Training 2.0 shorts – dark teal: The new and improved Sport Training Shorts are made of breathable stretch woven fabric that is lightweight and anti-static to keep you cool and comfortable through your workout.

The new [Helsinki Athletica] Sports Training Collection is the ultimate combination of functional, sleek and sexy.

Note the sexy.

Background 2: the models. Except for the fact that both are wearing HA dark teal sport shorts, the models have been chosen to be as differentiated as possible (and posed differently).

Left Guy (sitting, legs spread, in a tank top, white socks and shoes) is dark-haired, with facial scruff and lightly furred body. Right Guy (standing, shirtless, black socks and shoes) has lighter hair, a smooth-shaven face, and a smooth body.

That is, they are presented as complementary, and so as an especially attractive (fantasy) couple. Complementarity is a very satisfying characteristic within a couple; each partner discovers new things from the other, and they learn from one another. For straight couples, the sex difference provides a kind of base line of complementarity (though it can develop many forms thereafter); same-sex couples seek other sources of complementarity (especially characterstics of personality, but also interests), which then help to cement their relationship.

(I’ve had one female partner and one male partner — and then, for some time, the two of them together. Each of them altered my life deeply, changed me, and I changed them in turn. Not always easy, but, as I said, satisfying.)

The saying. The short version, from the Cambridge Dictionary (on-line):

saying: every picture tells a story: said when what has really happened in a situation is clear because of the way that someone or something looks

More detail, with notes on the history, from Pascal Tréguer’s Word Histories site (the site is new to me, so I can’t fully vouch for it, but the material looks dependable):

The phrase every, or eachpicture tells a story is used of images that are particularly significant, revealing, or suggestive of real or imaginary events.

His first cite is from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), with each; then a series of later cites; and finally:

In both Britain and the USA, the phrase was popularised in the early 1900s by the advertisements for Doan’s Backache Kidney Pills, in which the slogan Every Picture tells a Story appeared alongside the picture of a man or woman clutching the small of his or her back.

One of the first appearances in this use he found was from the Cambridge Daily News (Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England) on 12/18/1902 (the cites are all from local newspapers):


The pills were a mild diuretic for the kidneys. They were later advertised as Doan’s Little Liver Pills. They are, in fact, still available (at your local drugstore) as pain relief medicine for backache:


Rod Stewart. And the song. From Wikipedia:


“Every Picture Tells a Story” is a song written by Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood and initially released as the title track of Stewart’s 1971 album Every Picture Tells a Story. It has since been released on numerous Stewart compilation and live albums

It’s rude, crude, and lyrically wonderfully complex. You can listen to Stewart performing it here (in a remastered version of the performance from The Definitive Rod Stewart).

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