Welcome to the another edition of Fanny Fridays (shamelessly inspired by Grant Morrison’s Lord Fanny character from The Invisibles). These weekly posts examine the mirror of gender and sex that occurs between our culture and videogames.
When first attending school in the United States I came across a curious phrase in a song, “…stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni.” It made no sense. Why would he call putting a feather in his hat after a pasta? Wha–
Wait a minute. Perhaps macaroni had other uses in our language? Could the Oxford English Dictionary aid me in my search? Indeed! A macaroni (alt. maccaroni) was another word for a fashionable gent. You should go ahead and read that as dandy. Therefore, the Yankee that stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni is the epitome of a buffoon who does not know true fashion. The name of the song, not surprisingly, is called Yankee Doodle Dandy.
The dandy is a curious creature, most notably known for a few traits: his impeccable sense of fashion, his wit, and his distaste for rough physical activity. That is why a metrosexual is not quite a dandy: a metrosexual is allowed to be sporty, active, and fit. When one thinks of dandy, other common words are fop and someone of that Wildean sort. A poet, a noble, perhaps an artiste–someone who does not toil with his hands for his supper. This also means that person is usually considered queer or something just as troublesome.
There do exist exceptions where dandies are not necessarily queer; they’re just not really trustworthy. They are quite common in JRPGs: bards, thieves, pirates, nobles, and other such scoundrels. People who look out for their own best interest, and while they may be very fine and pretty, they are not men to be trusted quite fully (though of course you can, because they do exist on your team, silly). It is a common stereotype that we have come to expect–if a man is not muscular and cannot save the day through his forceful body or strength, then he has to be crafty, making him either a man of questionable morals or a villain himself.
After all, the greatest dandy of the Final Fantasy universe? Kefka. A despicable human being who poisons an entire castle, runs through an honorable general, and destroys the whole world. At least he looks fabulous doing it, though. You cannot trust the man who does not use his hands for physical labor and counts on magic and deceit to achieve his goals–how loathsome.
Is it that surprising that this happens in videogames? Not at all. Consider that, in general, the dandy is a male who is considered feminized by his opposition to the male principle of power through strength. The world of fashion in which a macaroni may find himself is one we see relegated to the interests of women (though many designers are men–once again displaying the hierarchy of male dominance), and no self-respecting man should be bothering with such. If one is a marine, tough guy, or solemn hero, one does not have time for such frivolous pursuits. Heavens forbid he should be smart with his words as well (if he talks at all)!
It is curious how this occurs, though. Balthier in Final Fantasy XII is a pirate who is self-serving, and will work with the group for his fair share of the treasure. Setzer in Final Fantasy VI is a dashing airship pilot who kidnaps daring opera divas and will help the party if they happen to win in a gamble. Dante from the Devil May Cry series is an anti-hero with a devilish side. The feminization these men face sets to give them a bit of danger and makes them all slightly less than good–the rebel. They could also be labeled with the term lady-killer because he knows how to appeal to women. However, real, good men cannot have a strong feminine-presenting personality in any degree; the woman is expected to flock to them because of their strong masculine presence.
Therefore, the man whose foil the dandy plays is the stoic, quiet, restrained, and/or muscular type. So, with the two polar opposites being the effete dandy and tough, muscular guy, the metrosexual makes perfect sense as someone who toes this line, which is where I would argue a character like Dante actually fits. He resembles more a James Dean or Han Solo than an Oscar Wilde or Jareth, the Goblin King. It is even more curious to note how these dandies do fight, as they are bound to be included in some brawl.
They sing, use tools, prefer using guns, and cast spells (the notable exception to this is the venerable old sage, who has earned his right to cast). Occasionally they may engage with a sword, but these are the fencers, not the brawlers (see: Raphael Sorel of Soul Caliber). Finesse, not strength defines their character–which lends itself to us distrusting them. Would you trust a man who would not engage you in direct combat? In a “man’s world,” this is seen as an affront to honor. Those silly effete duelers, chatty and unwilling to muscle through a problem. You certainly wouldn’t want to wrestle with them!
Which creates one more disparity. While we’ve seen more beautiful or handsome men with the advent of the metrosexual, the dandy was, for the longest time, the primary source of male beauty in the same fashion as we expect from women. The muscular man can be admired for his body and strength, but is rarely considered generally beautiful (though the word handsome could be thrown in his direction). It is his body we drool over, the body that becomes the aesthetic principle by which we judge him. The body is the exact opposite of how we regard the dandy. By these definitions, the female form is defined as okay to ogle, but to do so with the feminized male form is considered problematic and misleading–also notably queer. Instead, the admiration either comes from his clothing or his face–two avenues which do not really aid to his use in combat at all and hide away his shamefully inadequate body.
Again, none of this is surprising, but it is very amusing to note how well videogames reflect our culture even down to our depictions of gender–even across the culture divide we consider in place between the West and Japan. While their males are more effeminate with which to begin (at least on the surface), it is curious that they still place this line on which we can plot the exact same characteristics, albeit all shifted a bit toward the dandy side of things.