21. 1. 2021

English Version | Scratched Mirrors

by Diego Armés


Mirrors aren’t only used to reflect things. At least not always. Some people use them for other endeavors and general culture drew the line and defined the outlines of one of them. A stereotype was built, which must be half myth, half reality, as it belongs in the pop universe.

How do they put those miniature boats inside bottles?
What’s the difference between DNA and RNA?
What makes my dog sneeze every time we play fight?
Why do people in movies do lines of coke on mirrors?

Some questions leave us restless and never really go away. By principle, all of them should have a reasonable answer that would help unveil secrets and put an end to the mystery. Simply put, these answers are normally complicated, or boring, or too long, or too specific, or require previous technical knowledge, or, in the more serious cases, accumulate several of these characteristics. For instance, those little boats, after being thoroughly assembled and placed with blessed carefulness, squeeze past the bottlenecks thanks to crafty hinges holding the masts to the deck. This way, those tiny vessels can enter the bottle with their masts folded horizontally. Once inside the recipient, the strings connected to the masts are pulled, et voilà, magic happens. DNA and RAN, on the other hand, are nucleic acids, which says a lot about both. As for dogs, they sneeze while playing fight as a way of informing their playmates that none of that is serious: “We’re just fooling around, even when they’re showing teeth, and atchim, another sneeze, it’s ok, I’m growling but we’re friends.” As for the fourth question, which takes into consideration practices that can also cause sneezing, though, in a different sense than the previous question, it also demands an answer. An easy answer, in comparison to the other ones. Nothing too meta or sophisticated, it has more to do with practical and even economic reasons: since a mirror’s surface is flat, not grainy nor angular, it is ideal to prevent cocaine from being lost, misplaced, or wasted; because the object is reflecting, it becomes easy to trace the powder to the last, tiniest bit of nostril candy – ATTENTION: this designation is 400% sarcastic and should be read with a highly pejorative tone. It’s not by chance that it is referred to as “candy” and the risks for those who try it and consume it, are evident, have been widely documented, and examples of people who had fallen off the tracks because of their use of this substance aren’t, unfortunately, hard to find either.

It's pop culture

Focus now, the subject at hand is mirrors. If we’re talking about mirrors over which we cut cocaine lines, it’s for one reason only: there is an archetype built on pop culture that has rooted itself in our mind. That archetype includes a yuppie, a mirror, and a credit card to cut and place the lines; a rolled-up dollar bill, one nostril open, another one closed, and an inspiring sniff. All this is cinema: the 80s and 90s, Wall Street in all its splendor, preppy guys, hair combed back and wearing nothing but bespoke suits, driving fast cars and using their phone mainly for transactions, selling and buying stocks – the stereotype, those who’ve built it were Hollywood’s screenwriters and their imagination. We recall American Psycho (2000) and the image of Christian Bale sniffing in office restrooms arrives in our mind roughly at the same time as the image of him getting ready to eviscerate his victims. If with some effort, we recall Crocodile Dundee (1986), we’ll reach a point where Mick Dundee prevents, in extremis, a yuppie (a more artsy one though) from doing the deed on a mirror – let’s visualize the memorable scene where the leading man takes the powder and pours it onto a pan with boiling water so the other could make aerosols instead, which would be much more efficient in fighting a cold than sniffing the “medicine”. More recently, in the Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Martin Scorsese tried to outline the combination “mirror + cocaine” by making Leonardo DiCaprio do coke lines on all types of surfaces, even wrinkly ones – though nicely hydrated – and full of curves, such as Margot Robbie’s breasts. But if there was ever someone who fully crossed a line in romanticizing cocaine usage was the New Line Cinema, when, in the beginning of the 2000s, they decided to promote the film Blow (by Ted Demme, featuring Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz, that premiered in 2001) by distributing small mirrors, replicas of the ones used in the movie to cut the “snow”, as a souvenir. Critics didn’t, and legitimately so, hold back – what, in that context, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Final reflection

It’s nothing short of curious that the mirror has become, in pop culture, a complementary artifact to the established stereotype – the one of the yuppie, young ambitious, energetic and newly rich, who desperately needs that magic white powder to bring to life all his array of superpowers, from intelligence to resistance, going through talent for seduction and a compulsive need to show-off. We’re talking about a stereotype that is fundamentally narcissistic, thus its definition necessarily depends on the existence of at least one mirror, the one where it becomes possible for them to contemplate their own reflection. Of course, that when using yet another mirror for other means first, their reflection becomes that much more attractive, at least in their eyes. And it’s in between this mirror game where the yuppie loses his balance. Rui Reininho was someone who thoroughly thought about this subject, reflecting it through a GNR song very appropriately named Pós Modernos (aka, Modern Powder), which translates into something along these lines: “To be sober is to continue, to remain an optimist (…) But with some not at all complicated modern powder / We feel accomplished / Ah! Modern powder takes the anguish / And turns it into another industry.”

Translated from the original on Vogue Portugal's The Mirror issue, published january 2021.