Notes toward a reconceptualization of Boney M.’s “Daddy Cool”

A guest post by J. Temperance

Indeed, what about “Daddy Cool”? What is his place in the Symbolic Order? What is the particular “daddy issue” that this improbable musical concoction articulates, a song that ritually and quite literally intones the name of the father and asserts the Law while nonetheless impelling listeners toward the dissolution of self in dance-floor jouissance?

What are the relations of desire that structure the subject under the sign of the phallus? Are we oedipalized by this seductive father figure? Can he release our flows or simply canalize them? What, after all, is so “cool” about this big Other, Daddy Cool, such that he can make us “crazy like a fool” about him? And is this patriarchally induced insanity in fact the first step toward a deterritorialization sufficient to decenter and trouble, if not entirely undermine, Daddy’s rei(g)n?

Deleuze and Guattari, of course, point out that “Oedipus creates both the differentiations that it orders and the undifferentiated with which it threatens us.” Daddy Cool is no different. We must first let him castrate us in order to instantiate the body without organs. The name Boney M., with its overtly phallic overtones, is surely relevant in this respect — could not the inexplicable and mysterious initial M stand for missing?

The imposition of the Oedipal drama’s triangulation — “she’s crazy like a fool,” “I’m crazy like a fool,” “What about Daddy Cool?” — culminates in the song’s dramatic bridge, in which the voice of the father desperately asserts, “She’s crazy about her Daddy! She believes in him! She loves her Daddy!” But this insistence only serves to invalidate the status of that belief and, in turn, cloud the hegemony of the law and the primacy of the phallic signifier with doubt. Her belief alone sustains the virility and authority of the totem; her devotion to the name of the father precedes its actual effectivity in practice. It must be assumed and thus can never be confirmed. (This is why Irigaray proclaims the “Oedipal interdiction” to be a “categorical and factitious law … in a culture in which sexual relations are impracticable because man’s desire and woman’s are strangers to each other.”)

The name of the father must be invoked (repeatedly, in the mesmeric structure of “Daddy Cool”) in order to be repudiated, to be revealed in its hollowness. The assertion of phallic law also exposes it to ridicule; its aggressive protuberance is also its vulnerability. Irigaray:

In this perspective, we might suspect the phallus (Phallus) of being the contemporary figure of a god jealous of his prerogatives; we might suspect it of claiming, on this basis, to be the ultimate meaning of all discourse, the standard of truth and propriety, in particular as regards sex, the signifier and/or the ultimate signified of all desire, in addition to continuing, as emblem and agent of the patriarchal system, to shore up the name of the father (Father).

But this claim of ultimate meaning, of grounding the possibility of signification itself, is a celibate machine. The song’s refrain “what about Daddy Cool” is itself nebulous, irresolvable — a garbled transmission of the intended lyric “wild about Daddy Cool” (and sometimes mistransliterated as the even more threatening challenge “What about it, Daddy Cool?”) that performs its own wildness, its refusal to be semantically tamed. Yet this daddy remains a semiotic eunuch, incapable of guaranteeing the transmission of meaning and securing the future according to an existing organization and distribution of authority.

When, in the inaugural utterance of “Daddy Cool,” we hear a deep authoritative paternal rumble, who is actually speaking? “The voice of the Other,” Lacan insists, “should be considered an essential object.” We know that the voice on the recording belongs to Frank Farian, the producer and Svengali behind Boney M., yet suitably and not unimportantly, Farian refuses to be seen speaking, sending out an imposter, dancer Bobby Farrell, to mouth the words.

The fact the speaking voice of the father turns out to be an imposter may seem to be yet another example in support of Slavoj Žižek’s famous dictum that the “big Other does not exist.” But this supplementation does not have the effect of reinforcing the symbolic efficiency of Daddy Cool. It does not allow us to behave “as if,” to both reject phallic authority and yet behave as if its strictures are binding. Nor does it turn “Daddy Cool” into a target for cynical complaint. The “cool” of Daddy Cool is not a matter of ironic distanciation; instead it is more the “cool” of McLuhan’s cool media, which require a more immersive and constructive engagement. Listeners must account for the obvious aporia in the figure of the father, and this inherent implausibility makes him compelling, such that Boney M.’s September 1976 appearance on Musikladen was both necessary and sufficient to propel the song to international prominence in the socius. On that appearance, Farrell fulfills the role of Farian/daddy manqué, triumphing by failing to convince that he is the voice of the Other while dissolving the site of the speaking father, and thus phallologocentrism itself, in a ceaseless series of fluid contortions of the body, a visible unraveling and an unraveling of the visible, the decoded flows seeming to twist and warp his body as they wash over him. We are called to witness the presence of an entirely different libidinal economy.

Hence we must regard “Daddy Cool” as another seminal contribution to the debate between culturalists and psychoanalysts over the universality of Oedipal structures in ordering human practices. We may paraphrase Deleuze and Guattari and state that “it is within capitalist society that the critique of ‘Daddy Cool’ must always resume its point of departure and find again its point of arrival.” Daddy Cool is superimposed on larger and even more amorphous familial figure, that of capital itself, and the way in which it orders cultural production such that mass audiences can be accessed and manipulated and imbricated and suffused with a pseudo-liberatory pleasure. “Daddy Cool” is the site of a necessary collision and conjunction of decoded flows in the process of their recoding. The “crazy” deterritorialization that Daddy Capital’s presence entails corresponds directly to a collateral movement that reasserts capital’s ability to extract value from it.

Could Daddy Cool ever make us “crazy” enough that we would cease to be “fools,” cease to be “wild” merely about capitalism’s enticements to productive desire but about the possibility of the transgressive desire beyond belief in him? We must not cease to love Daddy Cool but instead learn to love him too much, with an ardor that he can’t reciprocate and which short-circuits him.