[4 December 2013]
“The owls are not what they seem.” More than 20 years later, this seminal quote from David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks TV series still has cultural currency. That the show and its characters have endured for so long indicates that Lynch’s foray into TV isn’t just an oddball relic at which we might smile nostalgically. In the new collection Fan Phenomena: Twin Peaks, editors Marisa C. Hayes and Franck Boulègue present a collection of interviews and essays targeted at the show’s fans.
The book is divided into ten chapters with a critical essay on some aspect of the show and its relationships to pop culture comprising each chapter. Three interviews with fans who have expressed their appreciation for Twin Peaks by opening their own businesses and encouraging public discussion of the show are scattered throughout. These spotlights, called “Fan Appreciation” pieces, provide a welcome break from the sometimes-dense essays on the intervening pages.
In their introduction to the collection, Hayes and Boulègue write that many essays and critical reflections on the show from long-time fans and academics were submitted in response to their call for papers. In some cases, the rich variety of material of which they speak is apparent in the text. In others, the readers is left to wonder why a particular piece has been included in the collection at all. While some poor choices weaken the book, Peaks fans will still find a few gems worth perusing.
“Peaks and Popular Culture” by Shara Lorea Clark opens the book. The editors have done well here as Clark’s essay about the enduring effects of Twin Peaks on television in the US and abroad marks a good introduction to the essays to follow. Here readers who haven’t seen the series in a long time and may have forgotten some of the details will be able to refresh their memories and reconnect with the Twin Peaks lore. Avid Twin Peaks viewers won’t find any surprising revelations here, but the piece does make interesting connections to more contemporary series.
Another of the collection’s particularly strong essays is Scott Ryan and Joshua Minton’s “‘Yeah, But the Monkey Says, Judy’: A Critical Approach to Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me”. The film that the essay references, which was released two years after the show abruptly ended, is a point of content among Twin Peaks fans. Many fans and the majority of critics have seen Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me as an odd and uninspired effort by Lynch; a trick film that didn’t resolve the grave questions raised in the show’s finale. Ryan and Minton argue that this line of critique ignores Twin Peaks: FWWM as an important supporting text in the wider Twin Peaks mythology. They characterize the film as “a reflection of a society that hides its darkness under small-town goodness.”
Arguing that true Twin Peaks fans love both the show and movie is a hard sell, but the writers are experts in persuasion. It is this essay alone that steps back not only from the TV screen but from pop culture itself to consider Twin Peaks from the symbolic perspective that it so warrants. Kelly Bulkeley’s essay “The Dream Logic of Twin Peaks” provides a step in this same direction by connecting the show’s mythology and visual style with current research in dream science and logic. Were it paired with an essay that considered the series from a psychoanalytic angle, though, it would provide a much more comprehensive view of desire and the visual to the reader.
Of the remaining essays, “Gothic Daemon BOB” and “Strange Spaces: Cult Topographies in Twin Peaks” are solid offerings that enhance our understanding of the show and its place in the modern cultural landscape. Unfortunately, the collection is hampered by several pieces that don’t make much sense in its wider context. The editors are more focused on presenting a varied group of essays than a cohesive collection of pieces that can build upon one another and create critical dialogue. Fan Phenomena: Twin Peaks is an interesting offering, but it lacks the running logic that a collection of essays requires in order to be compelling.