(Click to enlarge picture.)
Hurry - bling watches are on special at Target right now, but only until Wednesday!
Note that this page of the catalogue is advertising "glamorous accessories" - that gives you a clue that bling is being harnessed here for its affect. Buying a bling watch, and teaming it with various other 'girly' accessories like furry scarves, wraps and brooches, is meant to make the wearer feel glamorous and feminine. This is the affective space that Alannah Hill has made so much money exploiting.
In hip-hop culture, bling is so often a token of sexual exchanges between men and women. You could call this the "No romance without finance" syndrome, after Gwen Guthrie's refrain in "Ain't Nothin' Goin' On But The Rent". In her book When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost, Joan Scott has a great chapter called "Chickenhead Envy" dealing with this sexual economy. It's also evident in music. Some male performers lament being sexually and emotionally used by women with expensive tastes (eg Ja Rule, "Wonderful"). And some female performers equate sexual independence with financial independence (eg Destiny's Child, "Independent Women", Blaque, "I'm Good").
But as used by Target, bling is being harnessed for a very different and (putatively) less exploitative fantasy - that of being glamorous. Glamour in the contemporary sense of "mysterious and alluring" dates from 1882; originally from the Scottish gramarye, glamour meant "magic, enchantment". So the bling watch here isn't about hip-hop materialism, about exchange-value. It's about something much less culturally specific.
It's also interesting to think about the way bling actually works with the body in this (not at all linked with hip-hop) case. Not only are these accessories visually pleasurable (they sparkle and shine); they're tactile. Look at the predominance of (very unconvincing fake) fur. So the glamour - the mystery - might not just be about the traditional economic luxury-value of these fabrics, but in the actual feeling of the fur against your cheek or the satin ribbon on your capelet between your fingers.
Perhaps the affect of glamour can be linked to the affect of leisure. As Gwen Stefani sings in "Luxurious":
Working so hard every night and dayHere, luxurious things are simultaneously enabled by labour, proof of labour and reward for labour. So they're inextricably linked with relaxation, with languid enjoyment. Maybe that's what working women are hoping for when they buy a bling watch from Target. As it shows them how much longer they have to be at work, it reminds them a little of the riches - affective as well as material - their labour can reap.
And now we get the pay back
Trying so hard, saving up the paper
Now we get to lay back