Today, while walking in the old city of Fes, I happened upon a person selling fine festival clothing–including some fezzes. I don’t know why I have been so interested in finding a fes in Fes, but I imagine it has something to do with going to the Shriner’s Circus as a kid. The fes and the Shriners, are well-known symbols of 19th century American Orientalism–the Orientalism of male secret societies with exotic clothing, rituals, cloaks and hats. It is an Orientalism of borrowed cultural symbols and imagery. I can’t say I know that much about the Shriners beyond this. I can say, however, that after only a few days in Morocco I have been surprised to see how many things from here appear to have made their way to the US in some way or another through the flows of late 19th and early 20th century popular culture.
Somehow I thought that by finding a fes in its natural home of Fes, I’d learn something. Of course, I haven’t really seen many people here wearing them–only one old guy walking on the street this afternoon and a host standing in the Medina trying to promote his restaurant to tourists.
In any case, this afternoon, when I came upon stacks of new fezzes for sale in the market I excitedly grabbed one for inspection. It was simple, cheaply made and appeared to be single-use for festivals or weddings. The hat equivalent of those chopsticks they give you for Chinese takeout.
When I turned the authentic fes over to inspect the underside, however, I was surprised to find an image of Spider-Man and the words “Marvel Happy Holidays.” It appeared that whoever made the fes had used Christmas wrapping paper to line the interior of the top.
The hat that had originally been seen as modern, then later became borrowed as “Oriental” now has, in the version I discovered today, incorporated a globally recognized symbol of popular culture into its very interior.