The amount we hear the word ‘popping’ in slang and popular culture seems worthy of being noticed. We speak about ‘popping pills’, ‘popping caps’, ‘popping cherries’, and even clothes shopping as ‘popping tags.’ All these things appear to have a kind of fetish function; clothes, drugs, guns, virginities. We are talking not about things of indifference or arbitrary items but about things to which we attach our identities, things which people define themselves by.
For Freud this is exactly what a fetish is; something which we use to define ourselves as complete identities; this thing explains or supplements me, completing me. It covers up the fact that really I feel incomplete, lacking. Freud remarks ‘the fetish is a substitute for the woman’s (the mother’s) penis that the little boy once believed in and – for reasons familiar to us – does not want to give up.’
The fetish object or act is not a means to an end, some convoluted way of achieving sexual satisfaction or some strange way in which sexual satisfaction has been diverted from its normal course, but rather, the fetish is something which comes to replace the sexual because the sexual encounter forces the male to face the threat of castration that comes with the recognition that the woman does not possess a penis and that he could therefore lose his (and become incomplete). The fetish ‘remains a token of triumph over the threat of castration and a protection against it’ (‘On Fetishism,’ 1927)
As such, the fetish is that which covers up lack. Indeed, the original meaning of the word ‘fetish’ is nothing to do with the sexual but rather ‘an inanimate object worshipped by preliterate peoples on account of its supposed inherent magical powers’ (OED). The fetish is that to which you attach magical meaning to in order not to face the lack of completeness which you are really experiencing.
But haven’t we in this case, the case of ‘popping’, replaced the item with the word? Very different people, defining themselves by very different things, use the same word. Without us knowing it, the pleasure we taking in ‘popping,’ whatever it is that we ‘pop,’ has come to define us, but now we have to see that the connection we have with that which we think completes us is nothing other than a function of language; we relate to the items only in language. This explains why we need not ‘pop’ anyone or anything; it is only important that we talk about doing so.
Macklemore raps about ‘popping tags’ in 2012: