Everyone has a daddy. In the familial sense, this person is a male figure who put his part with your female figure’s part to make you. Everyone has a daddy.
In popular culture, a daddy is something else: he’s a financial benefactor. He’s that older, richer someone who takes in the young or needy as an investor in their life in exchange for company, sex, or some blurring of the two. The term has an origin in gay (leather) culture but isn’t quite something that is unique to queer world since sugar daddies have been commonplace culturally for decades.
What’s strange about the concept of the daddy is that, instead of being niche, this concept of benevolent bankroller has gone mainstream, becoming something to aspire to instead of a left-of-center outlier. In addition to a rash of daddy dating sites, the moment is reaching think piece prime with stories praising gay daddies and sugar daddies, explained. There’s even a teen shoe brand called “Daddy’s Money” for kids to buy footwear with the help of their personal banker. Beyond this, there’s also blesser culture, an African spin on sugar daddies that takes the phrase “blessed” further by pointing out the person who is doing the blessing financially.
Again: we all know this is nothing new as this relationship has existed as long as humans of different economic standings have existed. What makes daddy culture fascinating now is that it seems to be overlapping with branded culture. This might sound like a broken record but, again, let’s look at that disturbing yet wonderful, accidental philosophically relevant interview with Vetements’ stylist to get an idea of how the two overlap. “We need the system,” Vetements’ stylist Lotta Volkova said backhandedly of branded interactions. “We just want to do what we enjoy doing. The system helps us do that.”
“The system” is coded language for “brands” as their last two runway shows have been walking advertisements for other brands. While cheeky and funny, one cannot possibly imagine a French couture house co-opting rich, mega brands for free, can we? No. Vetements must be getting a payout from these bigger brands in some capacity and, in that regard, Vetements is playing into something bigger: daddy culture. That assumptive “system” of getting money from brands that makes their brand work is the exact power dynamic we’re talking about with daddies.
To this, we live in the era of the personal brand, where our social media accounts are lifestyle passports and ways to share “your brand.” When you and your way of living starts to pick up—i.e., gain followers—there comes a time when you have to accept you will keep on doing this on your own or get a daddy, i.e. some sort of benefactor or brand to pick up the bill. This comes by way of sponsored editorial and the like, your life advertorial thanks to daddy’s money.
Moreover—and most insane—is that this relationship between people and brands, a boi and a daddy, is an imitation and reaction to something much more economically bitter: the rich. When you aren’t born into a family where your literal daddy is able to be your blesser, you have to turn elsewhere. To who? A daddy, a brand, a someone with money who will help you be a success. These relationships aren’t always about taking advantage of someone as they root back to art patronage and similar systems of creative sponsorship. With technology making everything extremely transparent, it’s easier to spot out privilege; thus, if you aren’t born into privilege, you make your own. Enter, daddies.
This system is useful in that it can give many a leg up, equalling the playing field. Andrew Sullivan backhandedly mulled this over in New York Times Magazine sixteen years ago in relationship to George Bush and Al Gore both being from political families helping them toward the White House. It’s a good summation of why daddy culture is important, for those born into and those inserting themselves into.
The two main culprits, I think, are money and celebrity. The fund-raising requirements in today’s electoral circus are so onerous that it is more than a help to have a pre-existing mailing list and money network that belonged to daddy or mommy or hubby. This is a kind of hereditary incumbency, where being related to someone already plugged in gives you a massive head-start. And the power of celebrity is now so great and the media universe so crowded that having a famous name or a famous family is an increasingly priceless asset — and can outweigh any meritocratic criticism.
“Gives you a massive head-start” is key here, no matter where that daddy is coming from. Flash forward to 2016 and the cultural universe—power as it relates to celebrity—comes from daddy blessers. You see this with the Kardashians. You see this with Angelina Jolie. You see this with Taylor Swift. You see this with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. You see this everywhere.
Daddy culture is somewhat inescapable because it permeates all aspects of life and, until we’re all rich, we’ll keep hearing about daddy culture and branded culture which are, essentially, the same thing. We’re in an era of daddies coming into a new, more acceptable context, where getting money from an outlier because economics demand it isn’t abnormal. Whether intentional (“I want a car just because!”) or not (“I literally need a car or I won’t survive.”), we will all have daddies in the future, be it from advertising on our bodies to having someone occasionally pay the bill for us. Thus, we’re all becoming Courtney Stodden now, aren’t we? What a world. What a triumph.