When all else fails, blame hip hop. Thanks to “MTV Cribs”, “Pimp my Ride” and countless videos featuring money, cars and women, we as a nation have become enamored with hip hop’s bling culture. Everywhere you go, “bling” is referenced. Bling this. Bling that.
We love the “bling bling”. We want it. We got to have it and will do anything to get it. We want the big house with the pool and the tennis court even though we only earn $50,000 a year. We will allow ourselves to believe that we don’t need a down payment to purchase that McMansion in an otherwise economically depressed area, that our homes will always appreciate in value exponentially, and that we will be somehow be able to afford adjustable rate or interest only mortgages.
The economic mess we are in isn’t a matter of old fashioned greed but something more insidious, more complex. We live in a country where regardless of your take home pay, you are considered, or rather consider yourself, “middle class”. We spend more than we have and feel it’s our God-given right to do so because God wants you to have nice things, this according to your pastor or favorite televangelist. We fear the stigma of poverty and would rather drive a fancy sports car we can’t afford than admit to not having enough money to pay our rent.
We weren’t always this obsessed. Shameless wealth in the the age of the 80s nighttime soap operas. such as “Dynasty” and “Dallas”, seemed far less accessible — only a bastion of those blessed to have been born into it or to have made a killing in the discovery and/or sale of a precious commodity such as oil. It was not from selling a few million CDs, acting like an a**hole on a reality show or having paid sex with an elected official.
And it’s longer enough to be a millionaire; we want to be billionaires. They are the people with the “real” money. So what do we do, both individually and corporately? We engage in deceptive business practices, selling smoke and mirrors to the gullible and most vulnerable among us. And we laugh our asses off all the way to the multimillion dollar penthouse on Manhattan’s Upper West Side or to our private jet. “No hard feelings,” we say, “Just trying to get my bling.”
Well, no one is laughing now — neither the shareholders at Bear Stearns who saw their shares nearly rendered worthless by a government assisted takeover by JP Morgan, nor the thousands of Bear Stearns employees set to lose their jobs nor the thousands people with homes in foreclosure or damn close to it.
And despite what the President or your favorite cable financial pontificator may tell you, things aren’t going to get better anytime soon.
A while ago, rapper Nas declared that hip hop is dead. If this is the case, maybe the “bling” culture is on its way out too. We can only hope.
I will celebrate the day when we can say R.I.P. to the B.L.I.N.G.