I have given a full account of my distaste for the SWATCH x Blancpain Fifty-Fathoms in a mostly off-the-cuff monologue via the Beyond The Dial podcast. Here I want to speak to something I didn’t even think to delve into there, which is the immediate attempt among watch people to come up with a nickname for the thing.
Collectively naming a watch has become a way to induce its significance as an object of popular culture. Most watch nicknames are affectionately playful; consider Seiko’s Shogun, Grand Seiko’s Snowflake, Omega’s Speedy, or Rolex’s sugary soda pop GMTs. But when it came to the SWATCH x Blancpain Fifty-Fathoms, the proposed nicknames seemed, if not exactly unaffectionate, certainly devised to cast some measure of disdain onto the thing.
Swatchpon & Swatchpain & Glam
I got into a debate over the nicknames in one of my text threads about watches. I preferred Swifty-Fathoms, and was outvoted by those in support of Swatchpain. I suppose the pronunciation of Swatchpain is up to us. Pronouncing ‘pain’ in American English (i.e. that which aspirin manages), makes this nickname entirely funny. To think of it as causing pain or as ‘a pain in the ass’ cracks me up, and it points to the stream of disdain that flows through discussions of the thing.
But we might also pronounce it Swatchpon, using the French pronunciation for the final syllable as one does with ‘Blancpain’. This pronunciation is also quite funny, if not quite as overtly acerbic as Swatchpain.
However, Swatchpon may actually be the more acerbic nickname, because it points out the absurdity of blending these two very different brands. Pointing to that absurdity jabs at the highly branded enterprise on its own terms, poking fun not just at the watch but at The Swatch Group that created it. Those who remember the old mustard commercial for Grey Poupon know exactly how to install a faux-snootiness into pronouncing Swatchpon.
But there’s another level at which we can understand the rub between high- and low-brow embodied in the nickname Swatchpon: glam.
Glam presents the (usually) heterosexual hedonist in half-drag, a somewhat monstrous character who catches us off guard and gets us to see some of the playfully twisted impulses behind heterosexual hedonism. Glam intrinsically doesn’t take itself very seriously, and often trades in histrionic seriousness, a pompousness fit for a clown, a self-aware absurdity. As such, glam disarms critics, leaving no semantic space for criticism beyond its own.
Glam’s irony is so self-effacing that something truly beautiful arises where the shame of monstrosity might have otherwise appeared; that beauty is the truth borne of not giving a shit what anyone else thinks, of just being and feeling entirely authentic in one’s sensual identity, however absurd or transgressive that may be. Swatchpon, thank you very much.
We might say that this Swatch x Blancpain Fifty-Fathoms is glammed up in plastic drag, and if that’s our take then its stage name should surely be Swatchpon. We hear her say, “I may be a plastic watch honey, but I keep excellent time!” Then she bats a thick fake eyelash, turns on a heel, and leaves us to mutter “Oh that Swatchpon is so fabtacular!”
But I’m not convinced that this watch is worthy of such a comparison to the greats of the glam era. This watch, really, is a plastic thing for kids, which is exactly what Swatches were meant to be from the get-go.
Why Swifty-Fathoms Is The Better Nickname
I still prefer Swifty-Fathoms. It rolls straight off the tongue, is very funny, and it targets the watch in a more precise manner and either Swatchpain or Swatchpon.
Swifties are of course converts to the cult of Taylor Swift, who has of late become a caricature strutting around stadiums in sequined leotards not unlike those of Freddy Mercury or Ziggy Stardust. This is to say that Taylor Swift is currently in a glam phase.
But Taylor lacks the irony of being in drag. She is actually a she, and her outfits don’t transgress gender norms; rather, her plasticness props up gender stereotypes (and, to my eye, potentially dangerous ideals of the white female body). This isn’t to say that Taylor isn’t projecting some superhero positivity out to her global cult of Swifties, but it would be a gross mistake to think that she is making space in the mainstream of stadium concerts for transgressive freaks and other misfits the way Mr. Mercury and Mr. Stardust once did. If anything, Taylor is narrowing that space (I know Moms who will argue the point, but I’m not buying the empowerment thing.)
In my opinion, Taylor Swift in her current glam mode probably does more to prop up tired norms than to tear them down. Hers is pop music, not rock-n-roll, and this is why Swifty-Fathoms feels to me like the right nickname for the watch. It’s a pop watch, with — as far as I can tell — no irony or self-awareness on offer. Much like Taylor Swift in sequins.
The games being played here are aspiration and imitation. Swifties emulate Taylor Swift, and in doing so they spend a great deal of money while spreading Taylor’s brand globally. Is this not what the Swifty-Fathoms SWATCH does? It emulates something out of reach for most, that unattainable ideal, and allows one to play at owning the real thing. One gets a little plastic taste and unwittingly joins the cult and evangelizes the brand. People lined up for a Swifty-Fathoms just as they line up for Taylor Swift concert tickets. Some Swifty-Fathoms get flipped way above retail just as Tylor Swift tickets are flipped for thousands to wealthy parents of demanding Swifties.
The phenomenon of the SWATCH x Blancpain Fifty-Fathoms operates so much like Swiftmania. The hype is out of control, stemming from the hype itself as much as anything else, a self perpetuating chain reaction. This parallel with Taylor Swift was, I now see, why I so quickly latched into the nickname Swifty-Fathoms. I don’t think this watch is worthy of the nickname Swatchpain, however you pronounce it. There’s a genius somewhere who came up with Swifty-Fathoms, and whoever you are I applaud your cunning brilliance. Simply fab.