On a Facebook thread the other day, Straight Outta Compton (which I loved) was being discussed and a guy showed up and said he didn’t like hip hop, he said he had a “visceral reaction” to “the bling.”
But bling was (and always has been) a symbol of triumph/reveling in success/a signifier.
Nor is it a black thing, particularly:
Carl Perkins’ parents were sharecroppers. He sometimes worked from morning till night. He’d go to school, and would pick cotton before school and pick cotton after school. Poverty. And then — like with so many of these guys, then and now — he went from poverty to having money in a very VERY short period of time.
“Bling” is an upraised middle finger to the poverty in your past, a triumphant statement along the lines of “getta load-a what I just did, all by my damn SELF.” Of course you would want your wealth to be seen by all. What would be the point otherwise?
What, indeed? Just like there is no more fervent believer than the recent convert, there is no more willing spender than the recently poor. And it’s hard as hell to blame them for that, given society’s ongoing tendency to look down its nose at those on the bottom rungs:
All these guys — Carl Perkins, Sam Phillips — and all the blues artists who inspired them — dressed to the NINES the second they got a paycheck and would buy an entire head-to-toe pink suit and a bright red felt fedora, or an entire electric blue suit, or glittery rings and watches. Attention-getting. As Dave Marsh observed in his Elvis book (and it could apply to all these guys): what Elvis wanted, more than anything, was to be an “unignorable man.” This is what unremitting poverty does to a person, the shame it activates, and sometimes the determination. Bling is a message. Bling is a warning… It doesn’t just mean that you have “made it.” It means that you have made it OUT.
It’s not called Straight Outta Compton for nothing.