Bling’s not frontin’ what it isn’t. It is what it is: ostentatious chunks of jewelry– an affront to aging Perrier drinkers, Birkenstock hippies and other Woodstock pretenders just like me, though I honestly did go to Woodstock and now would sooner drink Pabst than bottled water.
Nevertheless, I learned the meaning of “frontin’” when one of my students used this example to explain it: “Why you frontin’ you like him when you don’t?” And, bang, I suddenly understood Bling too. Bling-Bling — no frontin’, just big gold. No lie, no fraud, no pretenders, no subtlety. So there it is: Bling-Bling is philosophy. In fact it’s Existentialism. Another student described it like this: “Bling-Bling is the Black reaction to White middle-class bad faith, or self deception.”
In other words “cultured” people deceive themselves when they pretend, their jewelry is an aesthetic statement when in fact if is the same thing as hanging money from their bodies. All jewelry is generally a fetishistic commodity, and Bling-Bling makes fun of this fetishism, while simultaneously engaging in it. The vast majority of jewelry is desired not for what it is, but for what it symbolizes. From a Marxist perspective, Bling, both White and Black, is a futile attempt to compensate ourselves for the sense of alienation created by capitalism. We wish we could work at what we love; instead we only work to buy stuff that never fully compensates us for our sense of alienation.
That is fundamentally what today’s column is about: bad faith, self-deception and degrees of falsehood. Or to be more precise, does it make sense to say there is such a thing as an honest pretender? And is an honest pretender in some way less despicable than a dishonest pretender? The answer of course is yes. Yes, a self-deceived pretender is worse than a merely cynical pretender. Perrier and over-priced organic food is no less Bling-Bling than a platinum dollar sign, with the one exception, the whole food consumer is frontin’ love of nature when it is really no more than White man’s Bling-Bling.
If I pretend and I admit to myself I’m pretending, at least someone actually knows the truth, me. But if I pretend and I start by convincing myself I am not pretending then nobody knows the truth, and I can feel just fine about my manipulations. “Some Perrier perhaps to save the environment? Oh my, that awful W!” So my sense is this: all lies of pretence are an attempt to reduce the autonomy of the people to whom we lie. If I pretend to be something I am not, I actually am attempting to manipulate a false belief about me in someone else. I am inhibiting their ability to make a clear decision about me by leading them on, lying in a sense. So, we should avoid deceptive pretending. But if, for whatever reason, one nevertheless feels compelled to pretend, at least be an honest pretender. Don’t lie to yourself about frontin’. Wear your organic celery around your neck; be proud of being an alienated consumer of White-man’s Bling.