Probic Vent Ood For Thought

8Oct/140

Twin Peaks: Coffee, Donuts and Cultural Waffle

twin-peaks

I read lots of things on the internet that make we want to start typing "no, no, no!" in annoyance. The news that Twin Peaks is headed back to television after 25 years and a mass of diminished careers has thrown up a crop of bad articles and articles that are just a load of rubbish. It's about how we're now afraid of the police, the end of the American dream, sex and death (when in doubt, say something is about sex and death - it's a surefire escape route, unless you're talking about In The Night Garden, in which case it's a surefire route to a cell).

What is certainly true is that Twin Peaks remains an intriguing, vaguely impossible, cultural artefact that has seeped into television over the years and started to fruit in unlikely places as the tellybox has regained the top spot as the entertainment medium of choice. That wasn't the case when Lynch headed to the small screen, nor was it common to see television series shot so beautifully. It is still astonishing that it existed at all and has a power that little else has managed before or since.

These seven or eight minutes have a stunning force as the pay-off to one of modern entertainment's great mysteries is revealed. Around one in five people in America watched it - and it's as staggeringly weird as it is utterly assured. In its own way it's a forerunner to the dull thud of predictable revelation in today's genre television - the answer is so much 'who killed Laura Palmer' as 'what killed Laura Palmer' and begs yet more questions. Terrifying, disturbing and upsetting, you can't watch it and not know that you're seeing something unique. A word too on Ray Wise, who it's clear is operating in a league of his own in Twin Peaks amid many, many fine turns.

And yet, I'm not particularly convinced that Twin Peaks is about anything. Oh, you can project whatever you want into it - the atomisation of the American nuclear family, a filtered pastiche or parody of US TV's portrayal of domestic families, a kind of American gothic ghost story, id and ego, a dissection of nostalgia and good ol' cliches. Lynch himself said of it in retrospect that it was about the effects of incest on a family and the wider community, in what I always took to be a fairly clear example of retconning.

Are there themes in David Lynch's work? Certainly. Are textual and metatextual readings of his work necessarily invalid as a result? Of course not, but equally I'm inclined to scepticism far more with Lynch's work - probably among the more written-about in modern genre speculation - than others.

There is much symbolism in Twin Peaks - owls, numbers, identity, food, music - and Lynch's work generally but I'm still not convinced there's much that's intentional behind beyond inflections of Freudian duality, urges and instincts. You could make that argument about anything. It's fair to observe that much of Lynch's work subverts cultural and societal norms - especially Americana - but what else? I suspect Lynch could suggest that Twin Peaks is actually about donuts and there are people who would nod sagely, or infer that this is, in fact, proof that their own theories were right all along.

Modern television serials seem unable to exist without including enough innuendo and red herrings for people to pore over - enough to keep them watching in an inevitable game of diminishing returns. Critics seems unable to stop comparing Twin Peaks to True Detective, The Returned and other recent genre shows. They key difference is that these shows were created in an internet environment where they will be watched and rewatched, hashtagged and blogged. They're made for this - Twin Peaks, which is arguably responsible for these tropes, was not.

Here's the thing. I don't think Twin Peaks is really about anything. Moreover, it's purposefully about nothing. It is a mood piece; a blank slate; a white page waiting to be folded in half - a televisual ink blot test. You could watch Twin Peaks because you want to know if Shelley gets away from Leon and lives in a white picket-fenced house happily ever after; the James-Maddie/Laura-Donna love triangle; the intrigue as to who wins the wrangling over the mill - or just because you like Russ Tamblyn, Piper Laurie, Jack Nance, Angelo Badalamenti... you could watch Twin Peaks and have virtually no interest in who killed Laura. What you make of the series and its meaning beyond the obvious is pretty fluid.

Tellingly, when Lynch and Frost drift away from the show halfway through its second series, it becomes a crude and pointless parody of itself because, without its creators, it's a totally empty vessel. It's fundamentally what the inside of Lynch and Frost's brains look like. There's nothing for the writers and directors coming into the show to latch onto and to see them try - to force some meaning into it or bash the show into awkward shapes - is painful. When Lynch returns for the finale it's as if normal service has been resumed. Unfortunately when Lynch latterly tries to inject some purpose into it with Fire Walk With Me it's a disaster.

In an age of criticism, self-important broadcasts and flatulent internet waffling where everyone seems determined to tell everyone else what something is about, Twin Peaks is as irresistible - and as deadly - to the culture bore as a Venus fly trap. Twin Peaks is meaningless, but that doesn't mean it isn't brilliant. For me it's brilliant because it's meaningless.

   

Hush child stop addlepating me!

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