Bling Through the Years - A History of Toothpaste and Toilets

Diamond coated cell phones. Solid gold toilets. Jewel studded dental implants, sparkling earrings and necklaces larger than the head they hang from—Bling is all of this and more. Bling, because that’s the sound heard when light hits and bounces off of the item itself. It’s a status, a form of expression, and specifically meant to be over-the-top. We are all familiar with it, and the rolling of eyes that goes along with witnessing forms of it. Bling has become ingrained in culture and lexicon, despite its absurdity. Who came up with this style, and why has it lasted long? And is there a point where too much finally becomes too much?

The story of how this phenomenon came into being varies on whom you ask. Some say it began with a toothpaste commercial in the 60’s , where the sound of light hitting a squeaky clean teeth was portrayed as being similar to “ping”. When comedian Martin Lawrence parodied the commercial, he chose to use “Bling”, and it seemed to stick. A character on Lawrence’s television show, Martin, had a habit of wearing ostentatious accessories and Lawrence referred to these articles as bling.

Many credit Mr. T years earlier, with his urban cred and flamboyant over-use of anything gold – including necklaces more akin to tire chains. Certainly his style inspired young people who related to his characters. His image became synonymous with everything cool and “street”, and flashy accessories began popping up even more frequently in the R&B and rap industry.

There seems to be no debate about “Bling” taking its rightful place in slang language when rapper B.G. made it the title and subject of a song in 1999, though the term was actually used six years before in another rap song by artist 3rd Eye. In any case, B.G. seems to credit himself with the coining of the term. The usage spread from there.

While mainly staying within the urban hip hop and rap community, bling has found a way into everyday usage. Gaudy accessories used as social indicators defined the term --and the bigger the shine, the better. Taste and appeal seem to have no bearing on its use, in fact, bling seems to have become a parody of the actual reason for use. No longer is it used just as a way to show wealth or success, but now it appears to be a competition between wearers as to who can weigh themselves down with more of it.

It is human nature to brag. Everyone wants to be seen as better than someone else, and to compete to prove it. Bling appears to embody this trait. I’ll see your dinner-plate sized gold earrings and raise you my ten pound, jewel studded, platinum necklace that spells my own name in eleven inch high block letters! Ha, I win! Not so fast, I see you brought your diamond covered private jet – let’s see how I can beat that…!

Ridiculous? Absolutely. The irony of it all is that what was begun as a caricature of a style, has actually become the style. Looking back, Mr. T's excessive use of gold chains seems mild compared to Swarovski encrusted Lamborghinis. Just as gold plated dental veneers seem tame when posited next to solid gold toilets, but still; they all exist. So far, the limit of how much tasteless bling is too much has not yet been reached, which means that its history is still being written. Written literally, as in 2006 the term became an entry in Webster's Dictionary. Seems bling is not going anywhere anytime soon, but maybe that's not such a bad thing. What began as a joke years ago will continue to amuse. I'm sure Martin Lawrence is very proud.

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