Monday, May 16, 2005

Notes Towards a Marxist Analysis of Fake Bling

Get your very own Pimp Cup (on sale for 19.99) at

I discovered recently that not everybody shares my love of "fake bling"... So I thought I would write a few words about this awesome category of consumer goods...

First of all, I should specify that I am not talking about "real" fake bling, but the advertisements in the back of hip-hop magazines like "The Source." These feature watches and pendants so jewel-encrusted that they can only properly be described as barnacled. Decades of "fantasy art" airbrush techniques (e.g."Heavy Metal" magazine) have reached their apotheosis in the blinding glare emanating from every surface of these wonder-charms.

The effect of these ads on me? I am literally reduced to a gelatinous, infantile state of polymorphous wanting. This is an experience that I find is more and more common these days. The Nordstrom's junior department... The title sequence for MTV's "Sweet Sixteen"... Even the signature music technology of our day, the MP3, is forced away from its communitarian roots in "peer-to-peer sharing" (didn't Napster express perfectly the dream of revolutionary socialism-- more naps!) and finds its natural home in the iPOD, a device that is fetish-worthy because it promises virtually unlimited capacity for entertainment. Desire with no limit.

On the other hand, there is the nightmare mirror-image of this fantasy funland of superabundance-- the Home Depots and Bed Bath and Beyonds the Wal-Marts, and alas, even the Targets. These hellish suburban retail abattoirs induce the opposite effect of fake bling-- not euphoria, but nausea and revulsion.

So what does animus towards the evil twin of the fake bling-- the mega-retailers-- teach us about the virtues of faux diamond trinkets? We hate the Big Boxes because they encourage a sense of shopping as entertainment, but then punish the consumer with a booshwa protestant guilttrip. They say to you, in effect: yes, you are driven to shop (partially because we have chased away anything resembling local culture or non-retail space in our victory march through the USA) but you should repent of your cupidity and covetousness by coming to what feels like a gulag airplane hangar, and buying products that emanate utlity and practicality-- 500 feet of garden hose, coleman stoves... frankly, who the hell knows what else they sell in these dens of despair?

Witness Nick Lachey on Season One of "Newlyweds," the ultimate Bush-era suburbanite, desperately trying to wring pleasure out of his swimming pool and fix-it projects. But he is chronically frustrated, and as we all know, is driven to constantly seek out all sorts of avenues for the satisfaction of juvenile desires (begging Jesica to let him go to the Playboy mansion, whining for more oral sex, etc.).

Now, far be it from me to endorse, on the other hand, the wanton self-indulgence of the J.Lo's and their worship of sparkly accessories. The millions thrown around by these celebrity plonkers on jewlery is pathetic. And paid for with the blood of the working man and woman, to boot.

But-- the fake bling, on the other hand, is the perfect short-circuit of the pernicious logic of capitalism. By de-linking desirability and price, rarity, exclusivity, etc., the fake bling coveter manages to separate the shiny effervescence of consumer lust objects from the hidden core of exploitation and misery that drives the whole system. No less consequential an outcome is delivered in these tacky baubles than the freeing of desire from its fetters.

So, to summarize: Let (fake) freedom (fake) bling!


femme feral said...

Target does sell fake bling for ladies.

And while we are on the subject, I'd like to say that Target itself doesn't make me feel sick, but it does makes me feel pretty sick about my tendency to buy countless tubes of lipstick and bottles of nailpolish that I will lose or rarely wear.

The thing that's interesting to me about fake bling is that *surely* most people know its fake, right?
I mean, when I see kids at the mail all blinges out, I just assume its fake because otherwise they'd be walking around wearing tens of thousands of dollars of diamonds. And yet knowing its "fake" doesn't really alter the whole bling-bling semiotics.
Unlike kids wearing hot topic dog collars and chains (real punks go to Ace hardware), kids wearing fake bling are not (I don't think) deemed "inauthentic" even if they're only wearing glass.

ren said...

Target is the least evil of big-boxes, I think. And I have more tubes of Lip Smackers than I could ever possibly wear or need.

I think fake bling is even more acceptable among mall-blingers than the real. Why? I don't know. The disposablility of it all? Or the satisfaction of not spending all their money on something real? (Which must have unique and complex psychological motivations, like a kind of capitalist martyrdom--"I'd never waste a lot of money on one real diamond because that's so tacky!" (I'm not quoting anyone in particular),--or a recognition that America wants you to spend money and spending it on what amounts to essentially nothing of value (arguable)is somehow rebellious.

Plus, the people I know who wear fake bling (including me) always pleasantly dimiss it as "just bling, not real," owning up to the accoutrements' statuses as having worth only in the sense of personal and immediate gratification. Is that empowering? Could go either way, I guess.

Real punks also go to the dumpsters at the back of Ace Hardware.

femme feral said...

I shouldn't diss Hot Topic. That store is genius!!!

porkmuffin said...

when i went to my own nye party dressed as Sean "P-Diddy" Combs i wore some fake bling. i have to say... it was an awesome feeling!