Bling Was a Bubble
USC Annenberg clinical professor Christopher Holmes Smith explored the emergence of a new type of American celebrity -- the hip-hop mogul -- in the Lear Center's Celebrity, Politics and Public Life project, and he's now exploring the limitations and possibilities of brands, advertising, celebrity advocacy and consumer philanthropy in our interdisciplinary faculty seminar BrandSpace.
With the wisdom of hindsight, future historians may identify "bling" as an essential protein source at the deficit-financed economic banquet we're now staggering away from. While the middle class binged on cheap credit--barely pausing to acknowledge catastrophic events like 9-11, Hurricane Katrina, and Abu Ghraib--hip-hop's mavens of extravagance provided the guilt-free soundtrack for the feast.
Coined exactly ten years ago by underground rapper BG and his colleagues in the New Orleans-based collective "Cash Money Millionaires," bling has become hip-hop's single greatest contribution to the mainstream American lexicon.
A few web crawls for the term turn up over 23 million hits on Google, 500-plus profiles on Facebook and more than 13,000 lots for sale on eBay. While most of the auction booty falls in the categories of jewelry, watches, and apparel, there is also a long tail of cell phones and PDAs, wedding and party paraphernalia, electronics, automotive details, toys, sporting goods, pet supplies, and random kitsch like "pimp cups" -- outsized chalices embedded with precious, semi-precious and costume gems from which to enjoy your alcoholic "crunk" of choice.