A restaurant called Taboo is one my favorite haunts in one of my favorite American cities, Palm Beach, FL. After years of occasional visits, I noticed I was inevitably ushered into the same section. When a local throwaway newspaper featured “A Sociological Map of Taboo,” I realized I was being placed in a section called “Poets and Philosophers.”
Although I felt honored, another section caught my attention: “Shepherds and Their Lambs.”
Palm Beach is rife with shepherds and lambs: mentors, protégés, protégées, and helpful folk of all sorts. Organizations with names such as the “Millionaire’s Club” work to bring together the older wealthy with younger, more beautiful folk who need guidance and support.
What is conducted with snickers and knowing leers in Palm Beach becomes ever more public elsewhere in South Florida. Miami-based Seeking Arrangement candidly describes their business:
An Arrangement is short for “Mutually Beneficial Relationship” between two people. At Seeking Arrangement, we believe that successful relationships are all “Mutually Beneficial Relationships” in that they are two way street, i.e., two people giving as much as they take from each other.
The site serves to bring “Sugar Daddies” and “Mommies” together with “Sugar Babies” of either gender, candidly declaring:
Let’s face it… It’s human nature for successful people to want younger and more attractive partners. It’s also natural for younger men & women to seek out more experienced, sophisticated, wealthy and generous partners, specifically those who have the means of providing them with comforts and luxuries.
The practice has existed as long as there have been older people of wealth, power, or prestige and younger folk willing, able, or forced to avail themselves of the former’s largesse. In many cultures pederasty has been a recognized part of intergenerational relationships—even down to DC’s government culture, as many graduates of the capital’s various intern programs could tell you. From the Paris of Gigi to the Quadroon Balls of New Orleans, the taking of younger mistresses by wealthy older men had a ritual life all its own; in some ways Japan’s geisha culture reflects this.
In the entertainment industry, this sort of practice is endemic. Apparently it has been so from practically the arrival of film to Hollywood. The late fashion maven Mr. Blackwell (famous for his annual “Ten Worst Dressed” list) chronicled his early adventures as a callboy during cinema’s golden age in his immortal autobiography, From Rags to Bitches. But where that tell-all tried to put its scandalous portions into some sort of philosophical context, ex-Marine and Iwo Jima survivor Scotty Bowers’s recently released Full Service is all about the then-young (and apparently ever-available) rentboy and his friends’ adventures with the era’s stars.
So what is the difference between a sugar baby, an escort, and a hooker? According to Seeking Arrangement, two years is an arrangement, whereas two hours is prostitution. Yet is a sexual relationship that is openly about cash simply prostitution under another name? The more romantic might insist that exclusive repeated use of the same call girl can eventually constitute a relationship à la Pretty Woman.
To complicate things further, there is the widespread suspicion that an unmarried couple shacking up together is, in Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s stridently screechy words, merely unpaid prostitution.
Money and/or power will always be sexy. Older folk with either or both will find themselves attracting younger people in a way that few old codgers at the local VFW bar will. Whether or not either party in the transaction is of admirable character is another question. But even among such folk the human need to “pretty things up” is always present. The young people of the Seeking Arrangement site often speak of needing help with school; the older ones feel required to express some sort of parental regard for their newly acquired chums. Self-justification is the sincerest form of delusion.
Being a kept woman or gigolo was not always considered the ultimate in prestige occupations. Breakfast at Tiffany’s had a happy ending because Audrey Hepburn’s good-time girl and George Peppard’s kept lad were able to leave their seedy lives behind for a more conventional relationship.
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