When Yankee Doodle stuck a feather in his cap and called it “macaroni,” he was making a statement that was then and remains to this day characteristically American. That feather was as much a text as the Declaration of Independence and as true as the message that underlies this book, that those on the bottom can stick it to the elitists not by getting into Harvard and learning how to play their game but by challenging them in their own vulgar voices.
In the eighteenth-century European courts, Macaroni was the name of an extremely elaborate Italian hairstyle. Ladies of the court of London, when preparing to attend a ball, would spend hours having their hair done up in huge constructions, often braced by wooden supports that rested on their shoulders. Some would have ships of the line circling around towering beehives. Others would have elaborate birds nesting above. Those stiff minuets that required the head held high and the back arched had a practical purpose. With his feather, Yankee is making fun of the aristocrats of England, his cap as much an act of rebellious sarcasm as his name. A “doodle” in eighteenth-century slang was a foolish bumpkin, somewhere between an illiterate redneck and an outright retard. Yankees, of course, were the English settlers of New England. When the Brits sneered at the colonial militia as “Yankee Doodles,” they were dissing them something fierce. But rather than hang their heads in shame, these self-reliant Americans, Bart Simpsons to the core, confessed to being Yankee Doodles and proud of it, made a song about it, and used that song to dis the Brits right back.
Here then we get two themes together, the need to accept who we are and not let ourselves be intimidated by the sneers of those who think themselves our betters, and the need to speak back to the elite in our own plain voices.