What a sad time to be a dad in popular culture.
The word itself has become a dubious prefix. If you’re a man of a certain age and your denim trousers are too baggy, too faded, too high on the waist, you may be wearing “dad jeans.” This applies even if you don’t have kids.
Last week, when U.S. president Barack Obama pardoned turkeys during a Thanksgiving ceremony at the White House, he cracked wise: “For months there has been a fierce competition between a bunch of turkeys trying to win their way into the White House.”
Then there was the ghastly talk this summer about “dad bod,” which the Urban Dictionary defines as: “A guy who has kids and was once in shape and still has guns that can crush beer cans but also with a belly that says I drank those beers and I can eat six slices of pizza in one seating.”
I think that should be “sitting” instead of “seating,” but I don’t want to be called a “dad pedant.” This “once in shape” business also suggests a looming subclassification for procreating males who could never crush beer cans: “dad cherub,” “dad weakling,” “dad blob,” “dad sprained wrist,” “dad blimp.”
Yes, if you want to safely mock and slur a recognizable group, you can now pick on dads with impunity. Go ahead. Make fun of our cardigans, our midnight snacks, our aversion to maps and directions, our tattered umbrellas, our sport superstitions, our thick ties, our road rage, our inability to sit through The Notebook without praying for the sweet release of untimely death.
This is me waving my “dad surrender” flag. Whatever faint hope there was of dads returning to our cherished slot in the cultural taxonomy — that is, ignored and taken for granted — vanished this week when PSY released his new album.
Three years after “Gangnam Style,” the first music video to eclipse two billion views, the South Korean pop star is back with a new offering of goof-rap. The video for one track came out on Monday. It racked up more than six million views* in the first day (*it’s possible this number is made up of 300,000 people who watched it 20 times each while remaining puzzled).
The song is called “Daddy.” In it, PSY’s face is superimposed on a baby. His mug is grafted onto a dancing schoolboy, to disturbing effect. PSY also dons prosthetics to play his dad. So he’s three generations of PSY, a horrifying dad trifecta.
As you might expect based on “Gangnam Style,” this abomination contains wild kinetic action: pelvic grabs, fancy footwork, bouncing on toy horses, pratfalls over couches, epic disco flourishes, paranormal breakdancing, limbs flailing without bending, as if PSY is an early G.I. Joe doll and not fully articulated.
I don’t know who came up with the concept. But my guess is the person responsible gobbled a handful of hallucinogenic drugs and sleeping pills and then jotted down her (yes, her) dream sequences in the morning: “I know, let’s turn PSY into a balding geriatric and blast him across a bridge atop a tricked-out motor scooter. He could judo-chop a coat rack for no apparent reason. Dads are weird like that.”
The lyrics alone are an affront to fatherhood. The schoolboy sings, “You’ll be my curry / I’ll be your rice.” Pardon? In a song called “Daddy,” a much better food-relationship metaphor might be: “You’ll be the mortar and pestle / I’ll be whatever you decide to mash into smithereens today.”
It doesn’t rhyme. It’s not as catchy. But at least it’s real.
“I got it from my daddy,” replies PSY, sigh.
And just like that, every pudgy dad is sentenced to six months of ridicule.
In 2012, at the height of Gangnam hysteria, PSY told me he was two people: the “bad-assed rapper” and the “nice father” who goes by Jai-Sang Park. It now seems the bad-assed rapper is fed up with Jai-Sang Park. Or the nice father is too busy reading bedtime books and breaking up fights to clearly think through the “dad ramifications” of his alter ego.
In the time it’s taken me to write this dispatch, the video has gained another 800,000 views. And in stories all over the place — including Time, Entertainment Tonight and Today — the term “dad bod” is back in heavy rotation.
It’s enough to make a man weep into his dad hanky.