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Recently, the internet was briefly reminded of the story of a bear that found a 75 pound bag of 95 percent pure cocaine, ate a bunch of that cocaine, and died. That happened in 1985, but it became news in 2021 because Elizabeth Banks is reportedly going to make a film about the whole ordeal. On one level, this was just another blip in an age where every single day feels like an entire new verse to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” But Cocaine Bear also felt like the latest example of what seems like a new cultural obsession with yayo.
Recall the Big Cocaine Energy of the Weeknd’s halftime performance at the Super Bowl in February. The whole thing was very manic, a pastiche of too-big ideas supported by a too-big budget. While I can’t say what the Weeknd does with his free time or if he even uses the stuff anymore, I couldn’t help but think to myself that yes, this felt very Brought to you by cocaine.
The vibe is on Twitter, too, in the form of the account Cocaine Decor. A gleaming, mirror-covered two-bedroom ranch house plopped in the middle of the rage desert that is Twitter, Cocaine Decor offers a blast from a more joyful time: pictures of dementedly enthusiastic black lacquer and brass built-in cabinets or all-marble and mirror bathrooms. Most likely, a photo will feature glass bricks.
The name is a little elliptical, but also literal. The person behind the handle, who wants to stay anonymous (“If you need a name, call me Rocky Hardy,” they say over email), says that the idea behind the account is to highlight “any interior, building, or related object that elicits a strong desire to do blow,” and that “I’ve no desire to take a judgmental tone towards drug users by celebrating a typically maligned or mocked aesthetic.” It seems at odds with the highly unglamorous realities of the last year. Also, wouldn’t it be awkward if you did offer somebody some blow and they said “Thanks, but I haven’t been vaccinated yet”? Cocaine seems like the last thing anybody stuck inside their cramped apartment wearing the same sweatpants that they haven’t washed in a week would even want to consider; but maybe that’s exactly the reason the idea of cocaine is having a moment.
Since launching in August of 2020, Cocaine Decor has gained over 24,000 followers on Twitter, but it is hardly the first and only account of its kind to build up an audience over the last year. On Instagram, for instance, there’s New Age Cocaine, which boasts over 96,000 followers at the moment. Other accounts that don’t have the drug’s name in the handle, but share similar content, include Neon Talk, casacalle_, and 80s_Deco. These accounts feature decor familiar to those that lived through the 1980s, or have just seen Scarface. Think of the Boogie Nights scene with Alfred Molina in a silver robe, brandishing a pistol as “Sister Christian” plays behind him, and you will literally get the picture.
But cocaine isn’t just on social media. Peruse estate sale websites like AuctionNinja and you’ll find bidders fighting over tessellated travertine and glass coffee tables and monstrous white leather sofas from Italy. Brick and mortar vintage stores and Etsy sellers alike are seeking out Art Deco-inspired ceramics from the Reagan era, and mirrored console tables with brass or green marble accents. At a Connecticut estate sale over the summer, my wife and I witnessed a van full of Brooklyn-bound furniture dealers loading up a truly “Yes, yes, and more YES” beige laminate bedroom set with a wardrobe big enough to hold the largest of power suits. Even the big players in the home decor world, like CB2 and Le Creuset, are getting in on the look. Cocaine Chic, it seems, is the new Midcentury Modern. But why?
“It makes sense that these accounts have gone viral in the last year or so,” says Kate Wagner, the architecture critic behind the popular McMansion Hell site. “I think a lot of it stems from the fact that we're living in times of great self-deprivation with the pandemic and it's fun to escape into these plush, glass-atriumed houses that represent a totally different era.”
That is part of it, of course. I’m not here to critique the political economy that supports the production and distribution of cocaine, and I’m certainly not here to malign people who use cocaine — and many will attest: it can be really fun. And these days, nobody is having a good time. At the very least, our living spaces should seem fun. After a long reign, and a long time staring at our too-tasteful furnishings, the coolly unenthusiastic, economical Mid-Century aesthetic is dead. Our collective need for Cocaine Chic’s elation, power, and energy finally killed it.
“Decor revivals are cyclical. The 1970s are fun but messy, and for millennials, the 1980s are just long enough ago to feel like another world,” says author and design critic Alexandra Lange. Whether or not the style has staying power, Lange isn’t so sure. “At most people will buy a knockoff 1980s mirror or coffee table at Urban Outfitters, but I think this trend is mostly for fun looking online.” But Lange, who is working on a book about malls—“which is likely to have teal, pink, and/or neon on the cover”—admits that it would be fine with her if the trend stuck around a bit longer.
Both Wagner and Lange point out that nostalgia plays a big part in the recent interest in Brian de Palma decor, especially as millennials drift toward middle age. But it is still impossible to separate these designs from their druggy contexts. “Cocaine is an expensive drug done socially by certain types of people, associated with different careers such as finance, and there is a kind of strange fantasy there of total hedonism that architecture naturally fits into,” Wagner says.
Furniture from the 1980s making a comeback might not initially signal much beyond changing tastes, but it’s also fair to argue that the aesthetic is a harbinger of our post-pandemic future. Cocaine was displaced in the 1990s as our attention shifted to “heroin chic” models and rock stars, but by the early 2000s, coke started to make a comeback. After 9/11, you’d notice piles of the stuff if you hung out in any city with a big party scene, especially in New York City. (Just Google “Kokie's Place Williamsburg,” or read Meet Me in the Bathroom, the deliciously detailed book about NYC’s early-aughts rock scene.)
About 20 years after the last Big Cocaine Energy explosion, which itself came about two decades after the first one, we’re due for another wave of glass bricks and ceramic white panthers. But maybe there’s not. In the months after the planes hit and the unjust wars started, living like there was no tomorrow felt like a viable option. And cocaine is the perfect drug for that sort of mindset. Lizzy Goodman, author of Meet Me in the Bathroom, she says that while she can’t speak to the reemergence of coke culture right now since, like almost all of us, she’s been inside for the last year, “I will say I'm certainly anticipating seeing that side of culture emerge post-vaccine.”
And while cocaine has had its up and down periods, there is one noticeable difference between now and the 1980s or the years after 9/11: more states are legalizing and decriminalizing cannabis and the use of psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin in therapy is being embraced by medical professionals more than ever. Coke still has that outlaw appeal.
So, while Cocaine Decor might actually just be about looking for something fun and weird to post on Instagram, there might just be something more to it. After a long time spent stuck inside, there is a light glimmering at the end of the tunnel. When we get to it, we’re probably going to want to embrace it and live it up to the fullest. Or cut it up and snort it.
Originally Appeared on GQ