Jesse Valencia looks at how uninformed critics of the show Twin Peaks are doing more harm than good.
I wanted to do an episode-by-episode recap to develop my own theory about what is going on in the show, but that will have to wait. First, I must address the Twin Peaks party poopers in what I can only call, in the parlance of our times, “bad covfefe.”
There are a few larger issues at present, as I feel a significant portion of the new season’s critics have revealed themselves to be uninformed. This is but one symptom of a larger issue that many of the people who criticize and interpret film also lack the tools to effectively do so. Mostly, they don’t try to be objective about what is happening on-screen, it’s like they’re just reacting to what’s going on, offering up half-baked opinions of things that could be potentially misleading.
In my view, someone doing a review of anything Twin Peaks is uninformed if they have not watched the first two seasons, David Lynch’s Fire Walk with Me, and read both Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks as well as Jennifer Lynch’s The Diary of Laura Palmer. There is no way to have an informed theory without understanding how these different media work together.
Now, to tackle a couple issues. The first thing is a few select critics’ opinions of how Lynch treats women in his work, specifically in the new season. It is obvious to me that these folks don’t understand how filmmakers employ tropes in their work, least of all noir. For example, part of the charm of the first two seasons of Twin Peaks was that it re-contextualized film noir for the grunge era. Teenagers wore a combo of flannel, poodle skirts, baggy jeans, leather jackets, lettermen jackets, and so on that all contributed to the overall vibe. But we’re not talking about clothes. Calling Lynch’s work “misogynistic” implies that he is glorifying violence against women and promoting rape culture, when that is furthest from the truth.
The mistreatment of women, and female subjugation in general, is at the core of the show’s themes. The entire mythology of the franchise is rooted in the brutal rape and murder of Twin Peaks’ homecoming queen Laura Palmer after all, but I think that portraying a misogynistic act in a film is not itself a misogynistic act. The male gaze, sexual objectivity, violence against women – it’s your typical intersectionalist blues.
Sapir College’s television studies program director Anat Sela-Inbar does not think so, calling Lynch’s aesthetics “problematic” in her piece “The Misogynistic Twin Peaks: Nothing Has Changed.” “Regretfully, it seems that not a lot has changed in Lynch’s world in his relationship to women,” Sela-Inbar writes, “the new season of the series returns us to the world in which the protagonists, the good and the bad, are men, while the women are shown once again in the manner of the femme fatale on one hand, or as the victims of male violence on the other – while presenting them as aesthetic objects with a sensual nature, even in death.”
Critics like Sela-Inbar ultimately are of a school of thought that seeks to label art they do not agree with politically as being somehow “inferior,” that art has some kind of social responsibility to its viewers. She would like to see a Twin Peaks where women are in more empowering roles, griping in her article that the Twin Peaks of old was visually and narratively innovative but bogged down by its portrayal of women as sex objects lacking any real social power, and all of them victims of male violence. She sees this carryover into season 3 as its main drawback.
Caitlin Gallagher sees the introduction of female nudity into Twin Peaks as a drawback, calling it a “new dynamic” not fitting the original series in her piece “The Brutal Treatment Of Women On ‘Twin Peaks’ Strips Away Some Of Its Charm.” Clearly, she has not seen 1992’s Fire Walk With Me or read The Diary Of Laura Palmer. Gallagher strikes me as someone a notch or two down from Sela-Inbar on the critical scale, incorrectly interpreting the new season as “out of line” with other Twin Peaks content for its portrayal of women. “Lynch’s obsession with the female form is at minimum, tiresome, and at worst, problematic,” Gallagher writes, “and, as the original Twin Peaks showed, it isn’t necessary…while fans of Lynch’s vision can’t say they are surprised, they can — like me — be sorely disappointed.”
The smartest piece I’ve read concerning the new season with regards to feminist issues has been Elle McFarlane’s “Sirens, Saints, & Damn Good Coffee: Is ‘Twin Peaks’ A Feminist Show?” where the author examines both the feminist “problems” of the show as well as arguments that the show is itself feminist. Whether you agree with her or not, at least McFarlane is willing to discuss the ways in which the show’s female characters are actually strong and independent of their male counterparts. Neither Sela-Inbar or Gallagher do this in their respective articles. Also, why is there no praise from Lynch’s feminist detractors for his very positive portrayal of Denise (David Duchovny), a transwoman who has moved up considerably in rank at the FBI? Even Chief of Staff?
A second issue to me with Twin Peaks’ critics is that often now, critics have revealed their poverty of understanding film and literary theory. Like Salon’s John Semley who misinterpreted A.V. Club’s Emily Stephens’ pointing out Lynch’s television metaphor as a “fan theory” in his piece “Enough of your ‘Twin Peaks’ theories already; you’re ruining it”.
You were correct when you wrote that the internet is using the “…same set of dull critical tools” to interpret the show, but I’m sorry, Mr. Semley, what you pointed out were not fan theories. In Stephens’ piece, at least, what she was doing was identifying a metaphor. A fan theory would not be what the television in the show represents to the viewer, but what a viewer’s concept of the mechanics of the television within the world of the show are. How the hell does one get a job writing for a site like Salon with that level of sloppiness? Perhaps your editors are to blame?
For example, I think that the television is a multidimensional conductor being financed by a character yet to be revealed who knows something of the Black Lodge as well as the race of potentially alien beings that the television captures. I do not think it is a television at all, but more like a camera. That’s a fan theory. As a metaphor, I agree with Stephens’ interpretation.
Between feminist dismissals of Lynch’s aesthetics, misinformed interpretations of other people’s viewings, and boring, run-of-the-mill “What the hell is this show about?” blurbs and clickbait, the negative press surrounding the new season is essentially intellectually impoverished. What about Lynch’s Easter eggs? Self-references to his other work? What about the surrealism? The noir? What about fan theories? Metaphors? Are these people even watching the show? Or do they have it on in the background, pens at the ready in the event an exposed nipple flashes onscreen so they can groan about Lynch portraying women as sensual and desirable?
For my part, now that we’re a third of the way through the series, I am going to tune out that intersectionalist blues and get back to my fan theory …
New episodes of Twin Peaks air every Sunday on Showtime at 9:00 p.m. ET.