What a wide variety of implements can be used for spanking when a person doesn’t want to use his own hand! But, as I’ve already pointed out, the prime requisite in any plausible scenario is that the chosen object has to belong wherever the spanking is taking place. Take the pingpong bat, for instance: in the example I presented, from a 1940 issue of Pep Comics, the pingpong table was indeed established a few panels before, even though it seems to be there largely to ensure that the bat is to hand when needed. But strangely, there are many other instances where the bat’s presence seems harder to account for. In the marital bedroom…
In the doctor’s surgery…
On the celebrity’s red carpet,
and the photographic studio…
Nor is it entirely clear why horror actress Amy Lynn Best should be in the habit of carrying one around at fan conventions:
And all of that suggests that we’re starting to move away from improvisational originality and towards the notion that there are some implements that are ‘normally’ used for the secondary purpose of spanking, so that they don’t always demand to be established in terms of a prior context defined by their primary function, as if the spanking itself is sufficient explanation of their presence. (In the 1950 doctor’s surgery story, the analyst has procured the pingpong bat specifically for use in his unconventional cure for kleptomania.)
We find the same phenomenon with rulers:
You’d expect to find a ruler in a classroom, so it’s not out of place for one to be making contact with the rear end of a naughty schoolgirl in a more stylized photoshoot:
But sometimes rulers will turn up in any old spanking irrespective of context. There’s barely a vestige of the schoolroom here,
and none at all here, not least because the girls are supposed to be sisters:
(Well, they might actually be sisters for all I know, but my point is that they’re certainly not teacher and pupil.)
And again, how does this brush get onto Pygmy Island in this 1938 newspaper strip?
If you feel that we’re moving increasingly into the field of more expected, less original spanking implements, then that feeling reinforces my point that some improvisations are more commonplace than others: less idiosyncratic, and therefore more culturally durable and more likely to be considered ‘natural’ rather than ad hoc. Within reason (and reason offers very wide limits), you can pick up anything you like and spank with it:
And the first person ever to pick up a hairbrush and put it to a new use on the girl across his knee was doing just the same thing, except that subsequent repetition ‘normalized’ it in a way that has never happened with parcel spanking.
So why does that repeated use happen with some spanking implements and not others? One factor may be introduced with reference to the 1942 stage comedy No Pansies for Mr Standish, in which Betty Marsden is going to be spanked with a coal shovel, McLintock-style, but talks her way out of it by volunteering for the more ‘dignified’ option of the hairbrush. Now, you may wonder what it is about this…
that makes it more undignified than this:
The explanation must surely be that each implement retains some of the connotations of its primary function. At the risk of putting it pretentiously, the hairbrush is associated with the head, widely considered a nobler part of the human anatomy than it’s coming into contact with in our illustration, whereas the coal shovel does humbler work and accordingly degrades the recipient when she is spanked with it. So decorum means it’s strike one for the brush over the shovel.
But there’s also a practical consideration that will become obvious if we introduce another ad hoc implement that, by the reasoning so far, any literate girl ought to be just a little flattered to be spanked with:
It’s an unconventional way of imparting wisdom with a book, and in practice books are rarely used for this purpose, simply because they are unwieldy. They generally appear when there’s humorous mileage to be had from the particular book, as in this newspaper strip of 1951 when Mamie reads up on child psychology and decides her mother raised her wrongly:
Likewise with another unlikely and inconvenient implement. In this 1944 sequence from Freckles and His Friends, the singer Hal Krooner has become an all-consuming obsession for the local girls, with one of the unwelcome consequences being that Hilda has neglected her household chores, including cooking the dinner. Her father is displeased that she put preparing for a concert above regular domestic duties. Just how displeased is evident when she suggests they eat out instead:
Despite what that panel implies, however, he doesn’t use his hand to express that displeasure, but a more apposite object, which sets up a punchline in the next installment:
(Alas, the spanking itself is off-page.)
Or again, in a 2004 episode of the long-running British sitcom Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, Jonny (Ralf Little) spanks his new girlfriend Kate (Alison Mac) in their friend Donna’s bedroom, using a textbook on Sylvia Plath that happens to be lying around:
Donna isn’t delighted to be disturbed by their noisy sex game, because she’s struggling to finish a student essay on Plath’s The Bell Jar – so when she notices Jonny’s choice of implement, it raises her indignation to a new level!
What about printed matter that’s less solid, more ephemeral than a book? Here we turn to the comedy thriller The Thin Man Goes Home (1945), in which amateur detective Nick Charles (William Powell) returns to his hometown to see his family and celebrate his birthday. Unfortunately for his peace of mind, his wife Nora (Myrna Loy) gives an interview to the local paper, prompting speculation that there is an ulterior motive for his visit and that he is really there on a case. He is less than pleased when he reads the article, and decides on reprisals. It emerges that, although the family woodshed still stands where it always did, ‘the trusty razor strop’ no longer hangs behind the door: his father has gone over to using an electric razor. ‘Well,’ he says, ‘necessity is the mother of invention,’ and the newspaper containing the article that was Nora’s offense becomes the instrument of her punishment:
‘This’ll teach you the power of the press,’ he says.
Likewise, in June Bride (1948), the machinations of teenage Barbara ‘Boo’ Brinker (Betty Lynn) cause magazine reporter Carey Jackson (Robert Montgomery) to lose a major feature he has been setting up, and the upshot is:
But rolled-up periodicals are also used even when the reason for the spanking has nothing to do with the press, as when Professor Standish (Hugh Herbert) spanks his meddling wife Susan (Una Merkel) at the end of We Went to College (1936),
or when George Murphy spanks Gloria DeHaven in this publicity still for Broadway Rhythm (1944):
The ‘rule of appositeness’ that usually applies to books is easier to break with newspapers and magazines because they have a practical advantage over and above the fact that they can often be found lying about: their dimensions and flexibility mean that they can be shaped into something that fits easily into the hand, and also has a distinct area, separate from the handhold, that makes contact with the target.
There is also an element of this flexibility that makes them especially useful when you may have reasons for spanking with less than full force. In ‘The Reluctant House Guest’ (October 31, 1957), one of at least three spanking scenes in the sitcom The People’s Choice, Sock Miller (Jackie Cooper) and his wife Mandy (Pat Breslin) are staying with her parents and want to leave, but can’t find a way of doing so that won’t upset her father. They decide that the only solution is to make him so mad that he throws them out; so they have to find something that will annoy him. This is easier said than done, explains Mandy: he’s so tolerant and even-tempered that he never spanked her, though he did once lose it when he caught his business partner spanking her, and said that ‘any man that would hit a woman was a scoundrel’. So that’s the solution: stage a fight that will end with Mandy getting spanked. She’s not too keen on that idea, but Sock reassures her: ‘I’ll pull my slaps. I’ll use a newspaper.’ When she’s still not sure, he further promises, ‘I won’t use the Sunday edition’ – which was, of course, the bulkiest.
The argument is duly staged, unconvincingly, and the spanking is duly administered with a paper rolled so loosely that it makes little effective impact, but succeeds in bringing in Pop to put a stop to it.
Sock persists: ‘I’ll teach you respect for the man of the house,’ he says, while Mandy’s performance grows if anything even more relaxed.
Pop sternly points out that he isn’t the man of the house because he doesn’t actually have a house. What’s more, he only gets to stay under his in-laws’ roof because Mandy requested it as a special favor. So the whole problem was of Mandy’s making in the first place! Sock continues the spanking, but now Mandy’s very much less relaxed about it!
And that demonstrates the amazing versatility of the rolled-up newspaper!
So to sum up, the ideal spanking implement needs to be small and light enough to hold in one hand. It needs at least a ‘holding area’, if not an actual handle, and also a flat surface to be the ‘spanking area’. Ideally it should also be compatible with the decorum which is a prime reason why it is being used in the first place: the mere fact of being spanked is humiliating enough for the recipient without adding the indignity of using something vulgar to do it with. That’s why you see a lot of spankings administered by hairbrush and slipper, ruler and wooden spoon, pingpong bat and rolled-up periodical, and not so many by book, package, oar, flipper, or any of a hundred other unsuitable or comical objects.
And once you reach that level of understanding, you can start to apply it… and design your own implement. Come back next week for some examples!