Consider this Part Two of a Christmas wish list column I submitted for your approval a couple of weeks ago.
By the time you are reading this, Black Friday will have come and gone, but there is still plenty of time to find that perfect gift. Today, let’s add one more item to the list, just in case you’re open to suggestions and can’t seem to find just the right present for that hard-to-please person on your list.
For a mere $199.99 you can stake your claim to the latest gadget in the ever-growing Internet of Things (IoT) inventory. And it was just a matter of time before someone thought of how neat it might be to pair IoT with a mirror, allowing us to interact with the vast online world while gazing at our own reflections. Manufactured by iHome, the iCVBT-19 mirror is available at a variety of outlets this season, including the usual suspects, Amazon and the iHome company website. Before ordering, however, you might want to take a look (pun intended) at this nifty little device in person, or at least watch the video.
This 10” x 13” mirror is more than just a mirror that sits on your vanity (what an apt name) and allows you to look at yourself for hours on end like Narcissus staring into the pool. It is also a Bluetooth speaker, which should come as no surprise given that even some fidget spinners (remember those?) come equipped with speakers. In this case, you can use your mirror as a portal for Siri and other voice assistants that connect you to the online world while you admire your reflected beauty. Needless to say, there is a USB port built into the base of the mirror, allowing you to charge your phone while you primp.
If you don’t want to buy this mirror from iHome or another manufacturer, you can try your hand at assembling your own. Taking advantage of the current DIY craze, you can find instructions on several sites, including TheVerge page that I consulted for this column. According to columnist Chaim Gartenberg, smart mirrors “are straight from science fiction. They’re part of an optimistic vision of the future that imagines a world where screens and date are everywhere, ready to feed you whatever information you need at a moment’s notice.” Gartenberg presents a list of the items you will need to construct your own smart mirror–items which include an HDMI-equipped monitor, a two-way glass mirror, mouse and keyboard, a Raspberry Pi3 with Wi-Fi adaptor, and “tools” (no more specific than that, which is anyone’s guess–everything from a Phillips screwdriver to chainsaw?). We can only imagine the multiple ways this project could go wrong.
While contemplating the meaning of the smart mirror, I thought about how this product is the perfect symbol for our selfie-obsessed age, and how staring at our images in a mirror captures what it means to be online. And then I went to my overstuffed bookshelf and pulled down Mark Pendergrast’s 2003 book MIRROR, MIRROR: A HISTORY OF THE HUMAN LOVE AFFAIR WITH REFLECTIONS and read how “Mirrors are meaningless until someone looks into them. Thus, a history of the mirror is really the history of looking, and what we perceive in these magical surfaces can tell us a great deal about ourselves–whence we have come, what we imagine, how we think, and what we yearn for. . We have used the reflective surface both to reveal and to hide reality, and mirrors have found their way into religion, folklore, literature, art, magic, and science.” As absorbing as Pendergrast’s book is, he leaves out one very important element, and that is how mirrors function as symbols in film. And this is the reference I used while thinking about the significance of the smart mirror.
I jotted down a list of some of my favorite mirror images in the movies–something I did for a column several years ago, but now amended to include some newer entries. Mirrors quite often appear in movies as symbols for split or multiple personalities. A good example is the hall of mirrors sequence in “Citizen Kane” (1941) in which Charles Foster Kane is split into multiple images, none of which gives us a clue to his real identity and how “Rosebud” holds the key. Orson Welles recreated this image in his “Lady From Shanghai” six years later. Of course, Disney’s animated classic, “Snow White” (1937) gave us perhaps the most famous mirror image in the movies (and the title of this column). Who can forget Robert De Niro’s unnerving scene in “Taxi Driver” (1976) in which his character, Travis Bickel, asks the mirror “You talkin’ to me?” And “The Shining’s” (1980) Danny Torrence writing “Murder” on the wall, and having it appear as “Redrum” when reflected in the mirror? We all know that vampires can’t see their images in the mirror, a fact that is dramatized very well in Bela Lugosi’s “Dracula” (1931). Hitchcock’s genre-defining “Psycho” (1960) is a movie about mirrors and reflecting surfaces as much as it is about a troublesome mother. No list about movie mirrors would be complete without the marvelous and timeless scene from “Duck Soup” (1933) in which Groucho and Harpo Marx mimic each other’s movements as mirror images. The list can go on, of course, with movies like “Mirrors” (2008), “Black Swan” (2010), “Oculus” (2013), “Candyman” (1992), and even “Carnival of Souls” (1963) with its disconcerting series of distorted and reflected images.
iHome’s smart mirror conjures up these and other images as it presents our lives as reflected on and in screens represented both literally (the mirror) and symbolically (the world as it appears online).
Here’s hoping you will give some thought to mirrors this week as you contemplate the gifts you are giving that reflect their recipient’s images. And try to fit a viewing of “Duck Soup” into your busy schedule.
See you (no pun intended) next week.