Waking from a Dream, Deprogramming from a (Twin Peaks) Cult

Waking from a Dream, Deprogramming from a (Twin Peaks) Cult
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*AUTHOR’S NOTE: This essay was originally published as the 24th installment of my Beyond the Red Room column at 25 Years Later. It was deleted by the editors because its content, ”Opens us up to some criticisms that we need to be better prepared for.”*

I watched Twin Peaks Seasons 1 and 2 twice this year before the premiere of Season 3. I watched Fire Walk With Me four times. The final time I watched from Season 2 into Fire Walk With Me I had such an overwhelming melancholy I cried. Being a 30-year student of David Lynch, I knew that with him at the helm there was a 99.9% chance that he would undo everything by the end of The Return. I understood that those final viewings of the 90s outputs would be the very last time Twin Peaks was going to be the comfort it had always been for me. And at the time it felt like a risk I was willing to take. There were just so many loose ends blowing in the breeze for all those years.

But if I had known that Season 3 would so wholly and completely dismantle the world of Twin Peaks I’ve loved for so long, I definitely would have passed on the experience and kept my memories intact.

Because make no mistake, after The Return’s Parts 17 and 18 nobody can make the case anymore that the reason there isn’t more diversity and representation in Season 3 is due to the suburban and white town context. Now that Twin Peaks has shifted from an exploration of the evil men do and the dreadful secrets that hide inside white suburban homes to a time travel narrative with parallel worlds and alternate universes outside Twin Peaks—or even the idea that the whole thing has been someone’s long dream—means that the very fabric of so many justifications about Twin Peaks’s lack of diversity, transphobia, and misogyny have unraveled into so many strings of thread you almost can’t tell what the original tapestry was anymore.

Even I as a viewer of color once bought the theory that the overwhelming whiteness of Twin Peaks was par for its social commentary. I went so far as to write an essay in which I situated The Return’s whiteness as social critique through a Brechtian theatre lens because I was convinced Lynch’s work was being misread by so many people accusing him of sexism, racism, and outright misogyny. But with those final two hours of Season 3 all those theorizations and excuses have been blown out of the water.

And now I feel like I’m waking up from a dream. Or deprogramming from a cult I didn’t even realize was a cult at all. Everything Twin Peaks looks different now, and it is problematic as hell. Because for me the groundbreaking thing about Twin Peaks was the important socio-cultural commentary. But when you alter the entire context and thereby nullify what made the art socially relevant and culturally meaningful, then there’s nothing left but smoke and mirrors.

In my world before Hurricane Irma the thought of Twin Peaks not being an integral part of my life was unimaginable. It has been with me for so long and through so much, I couldn’t even conceive of an existence without it. But now, after Irma’s devastation and the 36 hours of mind-numbing fear as her category 4 portion raged around my home, what is actually important to me has come into sharp focus. I was surprised at how short the list of my vitals is. How little there would be in my suitcase would be if I was forced to flee my home. There is something singular about having to take stock of all one’s treasured physical possessions—my walls of books, decades of journals, hundreds my own and other original artwork, art supplies that might never get used, albums of photos, tchotchkes from around the world—and be forced to say a mental goodbye because none of those things are essentials needs. After all that, I’m stunned at how few things in my heart managed to survive that nightmare week. I had no idea that a hurricane’s devastation was capable of resetting a person’s entire baseline as well as razing towns to the ground.

Re-watching The Return’s dreadful final hours has showed me that Twin Peaks is not something that has survived my doomsday list. The entire third season now feels like the self-indulgent ego trip of David Lynch and his cult of personality. A man who had 25 years to grow and evolve, and yet reproduced the same problematic tropes from a time when people didn’t have to know better. A man who has the power and privilege to access so many resources to be inclusive, and yet decides to forego all it for some narcissistic self-proclaimed ether-plucking.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention how all the trolling and harassment I’ve received on account of my Twin Peaks writings over the course of this summer has affected my ability to enjoy the show and community. Having to deal with literally hundreds of rape apologists, sexists, misogynists, and proud racists in the Twin Peaks community has been sickening. I’d be lying if I said that these awful encounters didn’t skew my perspective more than a little.

In the end, this return to Twin Peaks has ended up more a bitter disappointment than the bittersweet I had expected.

I’ve been hearing chatter about a potential Twin Peaks Season 4. Lynch himself said he would not be opposed, but that it would take him years. Well, if it does happen, I hope next time Lynch will look outside himself for consultants so he doesn’t make all the same tone deaf racist, sexist, and culturally appropriative mistakes again. I hope he’s heard us fans of color and the LGBTQIA community, and our concerns about diversity and representation, most especially now that Twin Peaks has become a time travel and alternate universe narrative as opposed to the exposing of suburban white violence that made it so trailblazing and iconic to begin with. I also hope Lynch would be willing to tie up more of the old and new loose ends he’s left ratty out in the rain for too long. I would really love to have some positive things to say about Twin Peaks in the future. Because right now, the negatives are way in the lead.

And while the news of a Season 4 wouldn’t exactly be welcome in my world after the emotional wringer this summer has put me through, I would certainly still watch and write about it. My sociological experiment as one of the few Peakies of color regularly writing about the show is not over. At least not yet. If there’s a next time for Twin Peaks, I’d be curious to explore my new perceptions of Lynch’s work now that I’m no longer the blinder-wearing fangirl I’ve been for three decades. I’ve switched from drinking the Kool-Aid to making my own lemonade.

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