Twin Peaks is Candy for White Liberals
Twin Peaks, which aired in 1990, is a metaphysical detective soap opera that became a cult classic among more liberally-minded, forward-thinking millennials — so much so that they even rebooted it in 2017. And it was different from everything that hit television at that time, retrospectively, though I can only provide so much insight because I was 4 years old.
There are two non-white characters in the first season of Twin Peaks — one is Hawk, an American Indian. He works for the police, and as a person of color watching the show, I was drawn to him. After all, what else do I have? Other than Audrey, who reminds me of an ex-girlfriend, I don’t really care for most of the multi-dimensional white people who share a common flaw of ignoring their psychological disorders. And I quickly came to hate the other non-white character on the show: Josie, the sneaky, Asian immigrant dragon lady, who speaks in broken English. She’s basically the most offensive definition possible for “fresh off the boat.”
Hawk, on the other hand, is stoic, spiritual, and a little subservient. So in spite of how much I wanted to like this character, it was pretty goddamn clear that the only moderately decent person of color on this show was a stereotype, not unlike Josie. This is by no means the first Cigar Store Indian character that we’ve seen in the late 20th century, but it’s certainly one that’s deeply defended by racism apologists who clearly haven’t seen Dances with Wolves. After all, the very same people that love Twin Peaks also take a progressive stance when it comes to race, gender, and equality — it’s easy to neglect some of those issues when they’re relevant to something you love, that you’ve come to defend because of how it relates to your interest in that subject matter. So this is where Alice, a pseudonym for my ex-girlfriend (but not the one that reminds me of Audrey), comes in.
So for some background, I watched the show up to three episodes into the second season of Twin Peaks on Alice’s recommendation, because we used to watch X-Files obsessively together when we dated. The debate about whether or not X-Files is proactive in their portrayal of people of color is up for its own debate, but I tended to like the show overall. She also likes other things that I love, including Star Trek, “walking-simulator” video games, and Miyazaki movies. She considered herself woke, and even opened my mind to issues about gender-equality and Trans- rights that I hadn’t considered before. So this is by no means a question of her ethics as much as it is a question of priorities and the way that we make excuses for the times. This is about how privilege continues to protect Twin Peaks, among other things.
So at the point of the show where I called Twin Peaks off, we had been introduced to two new characters of color; a(-nother) sneaky Asian character that stalks the show’s protagonist, Agent Cooper, around the hotel he’s staying in. Honestly, I couldn’t watch the show long enough to figure out why he was following Agent Cooper, and I really didn’t care either, because this was shortly followed by the introduction of the Hawaiian wife of the pedophiliac psychiatrist, Dr. Jacoby. Jacoby’s wife has no lines, rub’s Jacoby’s feet, and altogether, isn’t really a character anymore than a prop, like the way most white Americans perceive Asians and Pacific Islanders. She doesn’t seem to mind that her husband was trying to bang a teenager or that he’s being investigated by the police and FBI in relation to that teenagers death. She’s just there — like racist window dressing, because isn’t that what we’re supposed to be?
Are you sensing a theme in David Lynch’s work? Maybe they’re not “racist,” per se. After all, having the skill of sneaking around, being capable of rational subservience, or having a stoic spirituality — those might all be qualities we wish we had. Maybe if I was a little more stoic or subservient, I wouldn’t feel the need to bitch about a show that everyone seems to love unquestioningly. But let’s be realistic — these aren’t exactly good qualities when they’re common themes related to stereotypes of their character’s race. Or the fact that these characters specifically are given so little in background or evolution that they serve as background pieces. Even at best, these are the behaviors of model minorities. And on Twin Peaks, those are the best expectations you can make for minorities.
So I dated Alice for about 9 months. It’s difficult to say why things didn’t work out, but I think I can sum it up. We just didn’t care about each other anymore — we fought constantly, started negotiating the terms of her coming to hang out, and we didn’t care for each other’s friends or family. I can’t say for sure why we stopped trying. It felt like we had been worn down by our living circumstances, and one day, I think we both woke up and realized we were just pretending to be in love. I’m still friends with Alice though, I think. It took us a while, but I really do love her, as much as one person can love someone platonically.
I mean the world for her, her happiness, but there are some things that I just can’t help with — one of those things, which may have broken us up to begin with, is that she’s white. This blog is about race, but it’s not about hating on white people. At least not regular white people, the ones who support #BLM or aggressively post anti-Trump memes or raised their voice for Charlottesville. In fact, I wouldn’t be against dating a white girl again, but I feel like I’m constantly confronted with the same issues.
Alice’s whiteness didn’t bother me much while we were dating, after all. Sure, sometimes I felt like no matter how much I expressed how difficult it was being a person of a color, she didn’t really get it. Or like when she insisted I become vegan, and I told her that I barely scrape enough together to pay rent, let alone start shopping at Whole Foods instead of eating the dinners that I took home from work. Or how I hadn’t felt close to my family since high school, so for me, my friends were my family. Or how substance abuse was the only way I could overcome my anxiety. In spite of all of those arguments though, she won and I would let her. I mean, these arguments were things that I needed to address with all white people, but she was special. But I think, after a while, I stopped wanting to explain what it’s like to be born different. I just wanted to be with someone who accepted that I was different.
We overcame a lot together, either way. And then I started watching Twin Peaks. She loved it and I was curious, because I tend to like the weird indie shit that other people do. To this day, I still retweet new tracks from local rappers that have less than a thousand followers. To quote her, “I’ve seen all the episodes, the early seasons more than once.” But I didn’t. So I told her my opinion: “It’s kind of racist, don’t you think?” She responded by saying: “You haven’t even watched the entire show.” More than a season in and noticing several racial stereotypes, I wasn’t met with an, “Oh, I didn’t notice that,” or “You know, maybe I should watch it again.” No, Alice told me that I hadn’t watched enough to feel like it wasn’t racist. After a season and three episodes, literally seven-and-a-half hours of television, I hadn’t been exposed to enough of it to make that determination.
If you watch the first seven-and-a-half hours of MASH, you may like Hawkeye and Trapper, but you sure as shit know that those guys are womanizers and misogynists. And if you watched 7 hours of Breaking Bad, you may want to see your favorite science teacher come out on top, but let’s face it — he makes and deals meth. So after seven hours of Twin Peaks, I felt pretty damn sure that David Lynch was leaning on racial stereotypes to build his white characters. But according to Alice, I was wrong. “David [Lynch] makes weird fucking shit, but I think his work is also a lot more subterranean plots than the in-your-face-arcs,” she exclaimed — suggesting that I wasn’t looking at the story deeply enough, further expatiating that Hawk’s token spiritualism was meant to drive the plot.
In the first ten episodes of the show, Hawk has about a dozen lines total — his character is machine, a cog driving the narrative around the multi-faceted white characters and nothing else. When I pointed that out to Alice, that’s where things got volatile. And I quickly learned that even though Alice is white but I’m not, I’m not permitted to call out racism as I see it. Maybe it’s because I’m not brown enough or maybe liberal white people have grown a little too comfortable apologizing for things that conservatives don’t appreciate.
However, that’s not even the worst part. Instead of calling her out for white privilege? I tried to apologize for her not understanding. I said, “Hey, Alice, I guess we’re coming at this from this point of view. Didn’t mean to harsh your mellow. I’m sorry.” Which leads us to ask ourselves — what the fuck have we become that things that are decades ahead in some ways immediately become unapologetic? Yeah, it’s great that there’s provocative hipster artwork that, thank God, pushes the envelope on preconceived notions of sexuality and religion. But goddamn — we should not be apologizing to people we consider “our peers” because they’re tastes are better than Trump and Fox and back-episodes of 24. They’re part of the problem — and so are we, whenever we apologize for not fighting it.
We can’t sit around let white people try to tell us what is or isn’t racist because they think it’s more forward-thinking. After all, even if the Fast & Furious movies are not littered with literary concepts, they’re eons ahead of Lynch’s work in racial equality. Twin Peaks may be art. Marvel Defenders? Maybe not. But at least one of them considers us equal. Where are you at, Lynch? Maybe you’re just looking for another subservient minority to push around. Sometimes, you just need to admit when you need to check your privilege at the door.
One ex-girlfriend texted me and said, “You didn’t use my name, but you also described me to a T to anyone who knows either of us.” To her, I ask, “Why does that make it acceptable?” She ended the conversation with a prompt, “Fuck off, Behn.”
If you’re looking for something spooky and paranormal, check out Serial Experiments Lain. The writing is better and all the characters are Japanese. Sure, it’s animated, but if you can put up with all the overacting in Lynch’s work, you’ll be able to handle it.