‘The Bling Ring’: Material world

Giselle Töngi-Walters
Sofia Coppola's candid portrait of youth bedazzled by fashion and celebrity

CELEBRITY-CRAZED. Emma Watson plays Nicky Moore, a member of the fame-obsessed thieves who make up the Bling Ring. Photo from 'The Bling Ring' Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines – Let me start off with a disclaimer that this article is not so much about the cinematic techniques of the latest Sofia Coppola film, “The Bling Ring,” as it is about a closer look at the film’s not so cryptic themes.

“The Bling Ring” is perhaps one of the more honest reflections on a generation that can’t help but be fascinated by celebrity and fashion culture.Who’s to blame for the way some of us have become increasingly narcissistic and self absorbed about how we look, what we wear or what we own? Reality television and digital technology put together has yielded some fascinating results even if the combination isn’t all that pretty.

Here’s a trailer of the film:

“The Bling Ring” is the true story of a group of teenagers from affluent Los Angeles communities who stole from the houses of Hollywood celebrities like Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, and Rachel Bilson because of their obsession with “the lifestyles of the rich and famous.”

This quote, made famous by Robin Leach from his television show in the Eighties, became a household phrase because the show featured the extravagant lifestyles of movie stars, athletes and business tycoons.

That show may no longer be around, but with social media ever present in our daily lives, we all have our versions of Leach’s now defunct program right on our smart phones. 

From its opening scene, “The Bling Ring” throws the viewer into the whirl of today’s new breed of celebs. In a quick paced montage, you have close-ups of designer brands interspliced with celebrities walking the red carpet, electronica music blaring.

That opening scene rings so true because the red carpet has caught on even here. Events around town now have our own version of the paparazzi, complete with red carpet and velvet rope. Our friends from the press are also kind enough to find out who’s wearing what. Oh, how very Hollywood indeed!

Watch an interview of “The Bling Ring” cast members:

Internationally syndicated television programs like “Entertainment Tonight,” E’s “On the Red Carpet” and TMZ and their local television counterparts perpetuate the image of the opulent celebrity world.

A plethora of magazines here and abroad are solely dedicated to featuring the lifestyles of the famous and even the not so famous.

“D-listers” (an industry term for “starlets”) even have their own shows. The television medium has gone digital, shifting the nature of broadcasting. It has become necessary to provide entertainment to a niche audience, driving up the need for more television content.  Since you see them on TV in their own reality shows, they are compelled from obscurity to instant stardom, with fans following their every cyber trace.

When two of the lead characters from Coppola’s flick first spend time with each other outside school, they bond over “brand recognition” as they thumb through a celebrity magazine and decide who wore it best.

Even the mention of knowing someone from the entertainment industry somehow elevates your position on the social totem pole. Social climbing with celebrities! 

When the film’s male protagonist is interviewed by a Vanity Fair reporter for an article about the events that led to his incarceration, he says he has issues with self-esteem because he never pictured himself as an “‘A-list’ kinda’ guy.” Here’s a classic example of a teenager describing himself according to the celebrity standards set by the media.

Have you ever wondered who comes up with all the titles that prominent celebrities have?  You have the “Star,” “Queen” or “Princess” of this and that – which subliminally validates and upholds their stature and relevance to the industry. 

This branding technique impacts the way kids today measure their own self-worth. Since the youth are more likely to imitate a celebrity, they compare their lives with what they see.

There have been several qualitative studies that tackle how social comparisons to mediated beauty images can be detrimental to one’s own body image.

A study by Sanjukta Pookulangara et al., “Hollywood and fashion: Influence on apparel purchase decisions,” amplifies the already established insight that young consumers believe celebrities are “a trustworthy and reliable source for fashion information.” 

Yet people need to realize that the fashion and cosmetics industry is a multibillion dollar enterprise – and celebrities are used to sell, sell, sell!

Brands and products are relentlessly offered to celebrities as part of sponsorship deals.

This sort of brand association with a celebrity is beneficial for both parties. The brand gets more exposure because of its endorser’s reach, and the celebrity, in turn, enjoys these items and services for free or a handsome monetary compensation.

It’s a win-win for both the brand and the celebrity, but it’s the consumer who is left with the urge to either buy or, in the case of “The Bling Ring,” steal because of a desire to identify with this material world.

Coppola’s film is another fine microcosm of celebrity culture, which can get way out of hand if we the audience become merely consumers watching the show.

Like Coppola’s other films, glamour is presented with introspection. We need to be discerning of what media presents to us.

The celebrity lifestyle is constantly being fed to the public to nurture this materialistic desire: “Keeping up with the Kardashians” is the new “Jones.

Sadly, today’s youth is being conditioned by the standards of beauty set by celebrity culture, and social media is amplifying that.  

The film’s a good reminder to step back, think and remember: you are what you post! – Rappler.com


Giselle Töngi-WaltersGiselle Töngi-Walters is a professional ‘slashie.’ Besides being mom to Sakura and Kenobi, she is also an all-around media personality. She is a model/product endorser/radio jock/writer/actor for film, TV and theater, and producer for second generation Fil-Am content. Being part of the Rappler team is a way for her to utilize her academic and showbiz experience and hopefully make some sense beyond all the chismis.

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