In the 2013 film The Bling Ring, directed by Sofia Coppola, it demonstrates the real-life story of fame-obsessed teenagers who would track down celebrity homes in order to rob them. This film can be used to better understand the culture of the present through the fascination that teenagers have with a luxurious aesthetic. While this film examines a true-life story, it exploits a time during the uprising of social media through the internet, specifically the high-class lifestyle of Los Angeles. The Bling Ring shows how this obsessive consumerism effects both male and female teenagers. With this, the viewer must question how social media develop this obsession that these teenagers have with obtaining a luxurious lifestyle. In my paper, I will first examine how these teenagers disregarded morality through their actions for the sole purpose of their own materialistic gain, demonstrating how the uprise of social media infatuated them to the degree of altering their personal values. I will then express the reasoning behind these burglaries and how the luxurious clothing and accessories that they gained from these celebrities’ homes gave them a sense of empowerment and entitlement. The Bling Ring is a strong representation of a cultural change that has been occurring during this past decade, specifically with the growth of social media platforms and their celebrity engagement. This allows for the younger generation to become more aware of a high-class lifestyle, which comes with negatives, as it has caused them to idolize consumerism. This leads into the current issue that is today: the COVID-19 pandemic. With this, we can relate the cultural present and its impact on a whole new realm of online shopping and fashion trends. The post-pandemic capitalism reciprocates similar behaviours of The Bling Ring; the craving to be fashionably accepted.
Through the execution of these burglaries, there are numerous obstacles that these teenagers have, in addition to heavy potential consequences. This has to do with how these teenagers are perceive their spectators, or celebrities (Figure 1). If we refer to Foucault’s concept of power in terms of what The Bling Ring symbolizes is that the power is not distributed to one of the teenagers by another, but from a “relational field”, which is in this case is celebrity power on social media (Sturken 104). With this, we can consider the concept of “the field of gaze”, or spectatorship theory, which can help to better understand why these particular teenagers had such a fascination with conforming to be like these celebrities (104). The film demonstrates mass culture theory, as these teenagers are taken as “passive, vulnerable, manipulable, exploitable and sentimental” (Strinati 44) by the celebrity. While we sympathize that these named celebrities, such as Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan who were robbed of their materialistic items, it is specifically the stimulation that they provide to these teenagers with their lifestyle that makes it “easy [to] prey to consumerism and advertising and the dreams and fantasies they have to sell” (44) to the youth. Upon the teenagers entering these homes, it allows them to “slip in and out of personas and places” (228). The group of teenagers fail to see that this form of “cultural taste is socially constructed” (44). When the media begins to catch up with them and lands them in jail, their friendships seem to end alongside their robberies, proven through their “unfriended” statuses on social media (Wilkinson 225). Social media manipulates who they are, even making one of the teenagers use the media attention for her own benefit, becoming somewhat of a celebrity herself (225). They have this desire to also present to the world their own personal relationships, despite all their legalities being played out on television during and after their trial. This is what begins to be socially acceptable to them, as they must conform to popular culture because it “is widely favoured [and] well-liked by many people” (Storey 5). These teenagers use these burglaries as a way to become a real-life celebrity, thinking that they are escaping reality, but “it is not an escape from or to anywhere, but an escape from [their] utopian lives” (Storey 9).
Despite all this, there is still a drive for them to continue; they feel a sense of entitlement and power. When the group decides to being their burglarizing, they decide that the experience would be more notable if they began to show off their stolen good at parties, in clubs, and be shared on their social media accounts (Figure 2). This engagement of posting selfies and sharing them with other people is a known “circulation and connectivity emergent in music and celebrity culture” (Shipley 403). This focuses on how these teenagers want to be viewed by the public. The teenagers in this film want to represent that, as they are drawn to “reshaping basic aesthetic principles of how people understand modern bodies and desires” (404). With this, they begin to create an online identity for themselves, attempting to replicate the genre of a celebrity like a “autobiography or memoir that makes the image maker into the protagonist of his or her own composition” (404). While all the teenagers have stable lives and none of them seem to have been deprived of much, they desire a more luxurious environment, displaying themselves of “mere props in a mediated world of consumption that requires nothing more of them than that” (Wilkinson 228). The teenagers themselves pressure themselves to continue with these robberies, almost as though they need to strive for more each night in order to feel more powerful, demonstrating the “producers and consumers of a mass-mediated, hyper-consumerist North American culture” (228). The celebrities that are marketing this lifestyle are using their platforms to reach specific demographics, similar to these teenagers, that are “divided and stratified by tastes, values and preferences as well as money and power” (Strinati 44). The teenagers in the film want to follow popular culture, attempting to be collective under certain social standings that the media has created, “played out in attempts to win people to particular ways of seeing the world” (Storey 4).
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit our world heavy in the year of 2020, we, as consumers, were forced to adapt to new norms of staying at home and finding new ways to keep ourselves occupied. With this, we became accustomed to ordering things online and discovering a new accessibly of not having to leave our homes but still obtaining everything we want delivered to us. While shopping was becoming more frequent, there was also a growth with online engagements on social media platforms, as we were not left with much else to do with our time. One of the largest phone applications today, Tiktok, grew drastically over the pandemic, having a large platform for fashion trends and seeing what other people were purchasing online. Tiktok has opened up a new realm of opportunities for fashion brands, allowing them to create new content that attracts a new audience (Figure 3). Instagram, another popular social media application, which is well known for its celebrity users, also created a shopping page in 2020, allowing for more sponsored advertisements to be frequently placed on people’s feeds. With this increased capitalism, it caused consumers to think less before buying products and more so on the purchase itself. There has been a significant increase in fast fashion, catering to those who may not be able to afford this luxurious lifestyle but still want to mimic it. This is a reflection of what The Bling Ring symbolizes: the lengths we will go to be socially acceptable. We love to buy what our favourite celebrities or influencers have, then leading ourselves to post ourselves having that same product, replicating “social media’s obsession with approval and instant gratification by bringing a second self to watch as other people assess [our] images” (Shipley 407). Social media activity has never been so active, which has only led to more anxieties around being socially present online. It has allowed us to become more interactive with celebrities and their online profiles, often forgetting that they are portraying something that is misconstrued for the viewer. We have become obsessed with the likes and dislikes on our images, leading us to react online, which can cause “the poster [to] delete it, start an argument, or end a friendship” (410), similar to what was represented in the film. What is present in our own personal lives becomes public to our social media followers, who most likely we would not share such information with outside of the internet. This is similar to celebrities; we idolize people who we do not know personally, yet we feel emotionally connected to. This relates back to the infatuation that us as consumers have with popular culture. There is a need to fit the demand; “popular culture is mass-produced commercial culture” (Storey 6). This means that this is a form of public fantasy, or a “collective dream world” (9) that is created by these celebrities that we feel the urge to look up to. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are fond with these celebrities as their lives have seemed to continue normally. They have continued to have the luxury to travel, interact with others, and dress up regularly so they have pictures to post. We view these celebrities and influencers as a motivation for who we want to be and look like, providing us with “more and more varied dreams than we could otherwise ever have known” (9).
The Bling Ring serves an important message about the dangerous of social media. The film expresses the obsession that these teenagers have for this lifestyle, one that everybody apparently wants. The influence that celebrities have on popular culture allows for teenagers to lack their own opinions and personality traits but drive them to mimic theirs. Social media platforms are encouraging youth to obtain a luxurious lifestyle through celebrity endorsements, preying on vulnerable youth to idolize them for their superiority they have through followers. There is a relationship here between power and luxury; popular culture “has taken our dreams and packaged them and sold them back to us” (Storey 9). What is most important is our view of our spectators and their view on us, and with this, it becomes a competition of who is perceiving themselves to be the happiest and luxurious online. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been over exposed to these visual images of influencers wearing both name-brands and high-end products. This has had an overwhelming influence on capitalism, encouraging everyday teenagers, who are the most active on social media, to replicate what is being promoted to us. Social media platforms have expanded beyond selfies and simple posts but have led more towards brand advertising and sponsored endorsements. The issue here is: where does this end? We have become so immune to buying and wanting everything we see online that we lack our own personality and creativity. Popular culture is continuing to evolve and will continue to have an influence on our decisions. Thus, we must take what we view online with reason and reconsider if we want something because we like it or because someone with power is wearing it. The lives we see through images online will never replicate our own.
Works Cited List:
The Bling Ring. Coppola, Sophia. A24, 2013.
Biondi, Lucy Maguire and Annachiara. “Fashion Started Warming up to TikTok. Then Turbulence Hit.” Vogue Business, 5 Aug. 2020, www.voguebusiness.com/companies/fashion-started-warming-up-to-tiktok-then-turbulence-hit.
Columpar, Corinn. “The Gaze As Theoretical Touchstone: The Intersection of Film Studies,
Feminist Theory, and Postcolonial Theory.” Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol. 30, no. 1/2, 2002, pp. 25–44.
Shipley, Jesse Weaver. “Selfie Love: Public Lives in an Era of Celebrity Pleasure, Violence, and
Social Media.” American Anthropologist, vol. 117, no. 2, 2015, pp. 403–13, doi:10.1111/aman.12247.
Storey, John. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: an Introduction. Routledge, 2021.
Strinati, Dominic. Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture. Routledge, 2004.
Wilkinson, Maryn. “On the Depths of Surface: Strategies of Surface Aesthetics in The Bling Ring, Spring Breakers and Drive.” Film-Philosophy, vol. 22, no. 2, 2018, pp. 222–239., doi:10.3366/film.2018.0074.
Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.