July 2, 2017


That Diss Song Known as 'Yankee Doodle' (DAVID SEGALJULY 1, 2017, ny tIMES)

To decode this very un-P.C. put-down, you first need to know that the song has only a nominal connection to pasta. The macaronis were members of a subculture of British fops in the 1760s and 1770s, who took their name from the Italian ingredient that would have seemed exotic and sophisticated in England at the time. The trend started with aristocrats, but caught on with middle- and working-class lads as well. [...]

The ostentation of the macaroni would prompt talk about sexual orientation. In a 1999 academic article in "Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body and Culture," Peter McNeil explained that "as soon as the macaroni stereotype entered the middle-class press the character was interpreted as sodomitical." Macaronis were jeered at with fictional names that probably sounded more homophobic at the time: "Lord Dimple," "Sir William Whiffle," "Marjorie Pattypan."

Now to the Revolutionary War. As in armed conflicts before and since, militias on both sides had a large catalog of derisive tunes to lift their spirits. King George III was a favorite target for the Americans, and the Americans were a favorite target for the British. The melody for "Yankee Doodle" had been around for a couple of hundred years, but a tailored-for-the-moment rendition quickly became the most popular tune in the Redcoat repertoire.

The lyrics were venomous. "Yankee" was a withering word for a colonist. A "doodle" was a rube or a fool, and the doodle in this song rides a pony, instead of a horse, which makes him ridiculous. And why is the titular bumpkin heading to town? He hopes to become one of those hyperstylized fellows known as a macaroni.

Here's the clincher: The doodle can't pull it off. He thinks that sticking a feather in his cap will suffice to join Britain's most effete club. In reality, he needs an elaborate costume. The subtext -- actually, it might just be the text -- is that this quintessential American is a homosexual so daft that he can't even demonstrate his homosexuality.

O.K., it's the 1770s. It's war. You expected nice?

Unfortunately for the British, the Americans started winning the war. And the more the Americans won, the more they embraced "Yankee Doodle" as their own. By the time the Battle of Bunker Hill rolled round, in June 1775, the Continental Army had the song in heavy rotation. After a clinching victory at the Battle of Saratoga, in September 1777, the Americans were serenading their defeated foes with "Yankee Doodle." This was pure agony for the British, as an English officer named Thomas Aubrey reported.

" 'Yankee Doodle' is now their paean, a favorite of favorites, played in their army, esteemed as warlike as the 'Grenadiers' march -- it is the lover's spell, the nurse's lullaby," he wrote. "It was not a little mortifying to hear them play this tune, when their army marched down to our surrender."

Posted by at July 2, 2017 5:45 AM