Yes, even in Canada we know the Yankee Doodle song. But like everyone else, as kids we giggle and find that last line in the first verse:
Yankee Doodle went to town
Riding on a pony;
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it macaroni…
Who the hell sticks a feather in his hat and then calls it “macaroni”? What in the hell is that about?
Maybe everyone else knows, but I sure didn’t. Not till the other day, anyway.
The answer, as for so much around here lately, lies in Georgian England. This here is the answer:
Check out that wig!
Everyone knows about the dandies–those Regency/Victorian guys who spent way too much time in front of a mirror and basically made a kind of pseudo-religion out of looking good. Well… believe it or not, the dandies were a kind of neo-masculine reaction to a group of young men known as the macaronis, who sort of became famous in Georgian England, during the 1770s or so.
They were called macaronis for a simple reason: because they went crazy for this new “exotic” Italian food that was suddenly available and fashionable at men’s clubs at the time… yep, macaroni. They also were known for wearing ridiculously, insanely huge wigs, often with tiny little tricorn hats perched atop them:
Pretty much everyone who wasn’t a macaroni made fun of the macaronis, but they were also a sign of the times, specifically of the beginning of a kind of conspicuous consumption that exploded in Georgian England… that consumption not just of showing off wealth, but of showing it off by purchasing consumer items wherein identity could be located and expressed. (Like, you know, how that SLAYER T-shirt made you look like a badass? Or that Guns’N’Roses backpatch’d jacket that I wore to middle school? Like, these guys invented that kind of notion… supposedly, anyway.)
It takes about 150 years before that boils down right to the working class in the English-speaking world, in the invention of the flapper girl in the 1920s and the SF nerd in the 1930s. This is the first faint glimmering of that revolution–where identity starts to be located in pop-cultural allegiances, and in wardrobe and music preferences–if other books I’ve been reading are to be believed, anyway.
Funny how, seeing these guys, I can’t help think of the conscious self-feminization of some of the guys I’d see walking around in Seoul–yes, self-conscious feminization: more usually eyeliner, but occasionally I saw guys in the kinds of clothes you see worn by female characters in manga and anime, and once in a while a guy would be wearing cast-off army boots and a skirt. Yes, a skirt. (I mean, I don’t care, but it’s funny how angry some people got when one dared to call it “self-conscious feminization.”) The trend was definitely pushed by male group acts in Kpop (see the images here for examples), but it did permeate out into the real world, and the more extreme cases I saw, though very occasionally, were always in-person.
As far as I can tell, South Korea’s sort of still in that transitional mode, though in Korean style the 150 years (or, more like, 230 years) it took in the English-speaking world is compressed into something more like 60 years in Korea. You have the macaronis, you have the SF geeks, you have the flapper girls, and the dandies, and all the rest all bouncing off one another all at once. And of course, you have massive corporations profiting off it every step of the way. Which produces interesting differences… But funnily enough, if I had to think of a Korean equivalent for the Macaronis, it would be the 된장녀. It’s just the rapidity of the shift, and the shifts in consumption/earning/dating patterns in both sexes, sort of led to a field day on women’s changing patterns, while nobody said much about what was going on among men.