The Aussie firedog

(There will be a few excursions in passing about men’s bodies and man-on-man sex. If you can manage an appearance or two of the sexual verb fuck, you’ll be ok.)

From Ann Burlingham a couple days ago, a greeting card with a photo from the 2020 Australian Firefighters calendar, showing a man and his dog:

(#1) How to read the man, how to read the dog, and how to read the relationship between them

It turns out that there’s an amazing amount of content packed into this photo — I’ll try to reveal a bit of it here — and the photo leads to much more, including andirons, Dalmatians, lexicography, and the cartoonist George Booth.

Reading the man. First of all, this is a beefcake photo, presenting this firefighter’s body as an object of desire; the explicit point of the firefighter calendars is to use the beefcake to sell the calendars, to fund admirable service institutions.

[Side talk. Nobody seems to mind that the result is that the guys are doing a kind of sex work for money — it’s all for a good cause, as we say, and they don’t pocket the money themselves, they donate their sexual services. And anyway, they’re only displaying parts of their naked bodies, no genitals; and in any case they’re not engaging in any kind of sex act, it’s not like they’re stroking their dicks through their pants or anything like that. So we make a whole series of careful discriminations about what is displayed to us and the social functions of the displays.

Now I’m entirely fine with all of this; in fact, I think these beefcake calendars are just wonderful, in a lot of ways, and that this photo from Australian Firefighters 2020 is an especially fine exemplar of the genre, but we should be open about the fact that all this stuff works because it’s soft-pornish; it comes with a whiff of social indecency. It’s like a sweet but mildly dirty joke: risqué, naughty, a bit indecorous. And therefore satisfying.

Well, you know me, I’m all for rolling right over the line into social indecency like a juggernaut and embracing the hard stuff. But artfully done soft stuff, yes yes yes, bring it on.]

Specifically, the firefighter’s body is presented as one type of attractive (and therefore desirable) male body: powerfully muscular, tough, packed with potential energy, ready to exhibit the strength, endurance, agility, intense commitment, and bravery required by his job. These guys are fucking amazing, and the calendar taps into that. But the calendar is also celebrating one variety of beautiful male body (which these guys get by virtue of their job), embodying the Priapic or Dionysian ideal: the powerful adult male.

There are tons of calendars celebrating Priapic Man: calendars featuring cowboys, lumberjacks, farmers, chulos, movie stars, policemen, bodybuilders, pornstars, bearded men, big black men, Chippendales dancers, and on and on; and calendars featuring the paintings of Bruce Sargeant, the drawings of Tom of Finland (this one I have), and the like. Priapic Man is the ideal of macho, of butch, of raw animal maleness. Straight women and gay men find him hot — I certainly do — while men, both straight and gay, admire him and hope to be like him.

[Side Talk. Priapic Man is not all there is, though you might not appreciate that, because he gets most of the press. But there’s another world, the domain of Apollonian Man, the decorative and accomplished young man — the musician, the singer, the dancer, the poet; also the artist, the creator and designer of beautiful things; the caring healer; and the educator of children. Usually represented as a beardless, athletic youth.

Apollonian Man doesn’t get such great press, because in the context of the stringent standards of (fiercely binary) normative sexuality in the culture that currently surrounds us, he is seen as feminine and therefore as deficient and distasteful. Worse, in a culture that’s become exquisitely sensitive to pedophilia, celebrating the Apollonian risks being seen as an open endorsement of the sexual molestation of children.

(Note on the mythology. The Greek mythic embodiments here are Dionysus vs. Apollo (Priapus is a minor fertility god, but he’s as intensely male as you could wish for, so I use his name). As far as absolutely root maleness goes, both Dionysus and Apollo spread their seed, Apollo rather more than Dionysus apparently; and then both also took youths as male lovers — notably, Apollo had Hyacinth and Dionysus had Ampelos — but that was indeed the Greek way. Which, by the way, didn’t include men like me, adult men serving with pleasure as sexual receptives.)

I strongly urge you to try thinking of the Priapic and the Apollonian simply as two different ways of being masculine, with neither tied directly to stages of life; Priapus/Dionysus and Apollo are, after all, metaphors. So you can exhibit Priapic or Apollonian masculinity at any any age; your sexual desires can incline towards men or towards women, your sexual practices can be with men or women, you can identify with a gay community or a straight community, while exhibiting either of these forms of masculinity; if you’re a man and your sexual desires or practices are directed towards other men, you can be receptive or insertive, submissive or dominant, and so on, while exhibiting either of these forms of masculinity. (Yes, there are associations between these factors, many weak, some quite strong, but the factors are distinct.)

Very very crudely, Priapic guys are hunky and Apollonian guys are adorable. The guys in the Australian Firefighters calendars and their ilk are hunky and Priapic; a lot of the guys in the the Cocky Boys calendars and their ilk are adorable — the adjectives twinky and twinkish are sometimes bruited about — and Apollonian:

(#2) The calendar cover photo: Angel Rivera and Sean Ford in the 2020 CockyBoys gay porn flick Lips Together, Six Feet Apart; Ford, especially, is just adorable here, and though he surely won’t be a gay pornstar 30 years from now, he will no doubt still be adorable (yes, I have the calendar, would have gotten it for this photo alone, because it makes me smile — Rivera’s eyes, Ford’s hair and his truly cute nipples, and more!)

My 6/4/21 posting “Fox and friends I” looks at Ford, a model and gay porn actor and observer of the worlds of homosexuality, sex work, love between men, and identities and personas, and Rivera, his partner in a scene (both sweet and hot) in the gay porn flick Lips Together — both twinks, Rivera somewhat more muscular; Rivera is versatile in fucking (an explosively energetic top in his scene with Ford), Ford an enthusiastic bottom.

Ford is not just thoughtful and articulate, he’s also just adorable, an Apollonian poster boy. CockyBoys specializes in the type, and freely mixes their Apollonian boys with sturdily Priapic partners. They’re really good at that. (XXX-rated stuff on Ford and Rivera on AZBlogX here.)

From the fluffy Amazon write-up about the calendar (surely supplied by CockyBoys):

Cosmopolitan once described CockyBoys as an erotic version of One Direction. And it’s true! All you love about boy bands you will find erotically charged in CockyBoys. … Photographers Jake Jaxson & RJ Sebastian get the best out of the sweet boys with their fresh, unspoiled faces. CockyBoys is art-house erotica [AZ: there’s a lot of really energetic cocksucking and ass-fucking, so we’re well past erotica here, but the emotional tone is amiable and companionable] with a happy twist and [is] particularly famous among women. They have built a huge community of millennial women and gay men. With a great presence on social media, the CockyBoys performers are directly in touch with their fans all over the world. You’ll have lots of fun each month just by looking at this very sexy calendar that has them all!

[Side thought. We have cheesecake photos and drawings (with women as subjects) and for some time now beefcake photos and drawings (with Priapic men as subjects), but what do we call photos and drawings that feature Apollonian guys?  Maybe boycake. (Armistead Maupin has pre-empted babycake, for a gay man’s best female friend.)]

But back to reading the man in #1. All the other firefighters in his calendar are smiling broadly, but his is the face of a man at work. Nevertheless, he’s engaged with us, returning our gaze with a serious but reassuring expression. (It might be worth trying to figure out how he got his facial muscles to achieve this effect.)

Meanwhile, his stance is that of a man at the ready; he and his dog could be on the job in a moment. Again, different from the other calendar firefighters, who are more relaxed, engaged in cuddling their animals, or enjoying have them posed on their shoulders.

Reading the dog. The dog on its own:

(#3) The Aussie fire dog / firedog (with accompanying male arm)

This dog is in no way cute or adorable. This is a dead-serious dog, entirely aware that it’s on the job. Not aggressive, exactly, but intently alert, displaying muscular power in reserve. Here to serve, and brooking no interference. You will treat this dog with respect.

Firefighter and cop calendars regularly come with animal companions that serve to soften the hard masculine edges of their subjects (sometimes, the calendars benefit animal-services organizations). The animals are either cuddly or entertaining (Aussie fireguys regularly appear with remarkable animals from down under, koalas especially, as well as with their beloved pet cats and dogs).

Considered just as a living creature, the dog in #1 is actually quite handsome, but it’s not at all cuddly or entertaining. (As we’ll see below, the breed is entirely capable of being presented as cute and funny. Just not here.)

Reading dog with man. Further, the guy in #1 isn’t amusing himself in any way with his dog. As you can see in #3, they aren’t standing apart, but they are just barely touching, with the man’s right arm resting against the dog’s left front leg. They are, however, bonding through that touch, and conveying through this pose — a kind of man-dog buddy touch — that they’re a working unit.

Quite a remarkable presentation of both man and dog.

firedogs. It turns out that if you go to a dictionary — any standard, professionally edited dictionary, up to and including the gigantic OED3 (Dec. 2015) — and look up the compound noun firedog / fire dog, you’ll get exactly one definition. As in NOAD:

noun firedog: another term for andiron. [AZ: a metaphorical dog that holds fire] [AZ: almost always spelled solid]

I tried asking my helper Kim Darnell (PhD in linguistics, long-time professor of psychology, now AI tech staff at Wells Fargo, so no slouch) what a firedog was, and she immediately responded with the canonical example a Dalmatian (see below). I observed that every reputable dictionary I could find said that it was an andiron, and she responded in bafflement, “What’s an andiron?”

From NOAD again:

noun andiron: a metal support, typically one of a pair, that holds wood burning in a fireplace. ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French andier, of unknown origin. The ending was altered by association with iron. [AZ: that is, historically the word is an eggcorn]

From the Wayfair company site:

(#4) A pair of Davie Ball andirons

(#5) Those andirons with wood in them

Kim had evidently never experienced andirons; there are, after all, other devices to hold wood for burning in a fireplace, and andirons appear to be somewhat old-fashioned (Kim is a full generation younger than I am.) I suspect that Kim is far from the only andiron-ignorant person of my acquaintance.

The lexicography puzzle. How to explain the apparently universal absence, in standard dictionaries, of the compound firedog / fire dog (both spellings occur with some frequency) ‘firefighter dog, firefighter’s dog’, referring to a dog serving as mascot and companion in fire stations and on firetrucks (and sometimes aiding in firefighting)?

Lexicographers seem to have assumed that the compound is entirely compositional semantically (conveying merely ‘a dog associated with fire or fires’) and has not been been conventionalized in a specialized use (see gloss above), so that it doesn’t need an entry in their dictionaries. Both assumptions are flatly mistaken, the first spectacularly so. Yet somehow every professional lexicographer in the English-speaking world seems to have made these assumptions; maybe these ideas have been silently passed around in the lexicographic community, as some kind of lore of the profession. I don’t know. I’m baffled.

(I’m hoping that some lexicographer reader of this blog — I do have lexicographer friends, or at least did before I wrote up the plaint you are currently reading — will point me to at least one reputable dictionary that gets it right. That would salve my soul a bit.)

Breeds of fire dogs. Many breeds have been used, but Dalmatians / dalmatians became the conventional firedog some time ago:

(#6) The conventional fire dog, a Dalmatian, on its firetruck, looking alert

For a popularized account of “How The Dalmatian Became The World’s Favorite Fire Dog”, see the 2/25/16 story on the BARK Post site.

The breed in #1 and #3. This is evidently not a Dalmatian, and unless you’ve lived in Japan, you probably don’t know what breed it is. (I certainly had no idea.)

This impressive dog is a Hokkaido. From Wikipedia:

The Hokkaido is a breed of dog originating from Japan. Other names for the breed include Ainu-ken, Seta, Ainu dog. … The Hokkaido is native to the prefecture of the same name in Japan [AZ: which is in the far north, where it’s seriously cold].

… The breed is medium in size, with small, triangular, upright ears. The small eyes have a rising triangular outline. The Hokkaido has a coat of long, stiff fur, and a second, shorter coat of soft fur.

… The breed is known for fidelity to its owner, bravery, and the ability to withstand the cold, among other traits. It has an innate sense of direction and smell, and can therefore return to its master no matter how great the distance. Temperament will vary depending on the lineage and region of upbringing.

Traditionally in Japan, the dog has been used as a working breed that plays both the role of family pet and hunter. In Japan, they are strongly tied to hunting kennels and work alongside their handlers to manage populations of wild boar and bear. [AZ: so, the breed is good with children — plus, if you need a companion that will face down a bear or a boar, well, there you are] Their vocal nature manifests in varying types of characteristic howls, long and short barks, used as sighting signals on hunts.

… In 2007, the Japanese telecom company SoftBank began using a white Hokkaido named Kai-kun in its commercial campaigns for their White Plan

You can find YouTube compendia of all the SoftBank commercials with Kai-kun in them, and they are immensely entertaining (in one, Kai-kun is shot into space on a rocket, and somehow this is very silly). In any case, Kai-kun is an entertainment dog, not a service dog like the Hokkaido in #1 and #3, so he’s really cute:

(#7) Screen capture from one of the ads, with Kai-kun looking both smart and adorable

Bonus: the Booth Dog. When I first saw #1, before I’d learned anything about Hokkaidos, I had no idea what breed that dog was, but it sure as hell looked a lot like George Booth’s dog, except not silly. The Booth Dog has been appearing in GB’s New Yorker cartoons and covers for, oh, half a century now, and I’ve always found him laugh-provoking. Here he is in a wonderful cover from 3/12/79:

(#8) Put aside the details of the dog for a moment and ask yourself how the dog got into that rocking chair; no wonder he looks so nonplussed (the cat is of course above it all; Booth’s cartoons generally have cats all over the place, though this cover has just one, as a foil for the dog)

The dog is pretty much a cartoon version of a white bull terrier, with aspirations to ferocity, tempered by cross-eyed bafflement at what is happened to him or around him; nonplussed is his natural state of being. A fabulous cartoon character with plenty of canine reality in the mix. (Oh, you say, I know dogs like that.)

(There’s a Page on this blog about my postings on Booth cartoons.)

3 Responses to “The Aussie firedog”

  1. zipperbear Says:

    Surely “snackcake” is the term for soft-core twinky imagery.

    As for how the firefighter achieves his facial expression, my first thought was botox (partly inspired by the resemblance to Daniel Craig, whose James Bond performances seem wooden and creepy to me).

  2. kenru Says:

    Must be my age; but we definitely had an andiron in our fireplace when I was a kid…and called it that. Never a firedog.

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