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 bee- hives. Others would have elaborate birds nesting above. Those stiff minuets that required the head be held high and the back arched had a practical purpose. With his feather, Yankee Doodle is making fan 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