Social Justice · Television · Wear Your Voice Magazine

The Unavoidable Whiteness of the New ‘Twin Peaks’

*This post was first published by Wear Your Voice Magazine, September 10, 2017.*

I could no longer ignore a glaring fact about Lynch’s new Twin Peaks: It is fueled by troubling cultural appropriation.

I’ve been a serious and passionate Twin Peaks fan since the 1990s. I’ve written a weekly column on a popular fan site since before The Return. I founded my own Facebook Bookhouse of old-timers that I hear tell is one of the most productive and decent fan communities with almost zero trolling and wonderful discussions. As a woman of color — and one of an even more niche community of Twin Peaks fans of color — I’ve been a vocal and staunch defender of David Lynch’s work as not racist and sexist, and I’ve theoretically situated The Return in the framework of Brechtian theatre principles and socio-cultural satire.

I’ve done my part to feature the voices of other fans of color, as well as actively advocate for rape and trauma survivors through my writing and participation in fan communities. I watched Twin Peaks: The Return from an unabashed female and feminist gaze, and found much of Lynch’s commentary to be powerful and empowering.

Twin Peaks has been like an imaginary home to me for decades, and a place where I was able to accomplish a great deal of healing and self-development. But after the surreal and disturbing finale, and slowly coming out of the haze that has been these past three months, I could no longer ignore a glaring fact about Lynch’s new Twin Peaks: It is fueled by troubling cultural appropriation.

In Part 14 of The Return Monica Bellucci posed the question, “Who is the dreamer?” As viewers began unpacking the episode it emerged that this quote is a loose translation of a line from the sacred Hindu texts The Upanishads Lynch himself has referred to:

“We are like the spider. We weave our life and then move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. This is true for the entire universe.”

It’s never been a secret that Lynch is a student of Tibetan Transcendental Meditation, and he has often talked about how this informs his art. Less known is his long-time study of the Hindu Vedas as well as other sacred texts such as the above-mentioned Upanishads. Martha Nochimson has even gone so far as to formulate a theory of Vedic physics related to quantum physics that drives Lynch’s work.

Being Sri Lankan American, with Hindu heritage on my Tamil side and many years spent living in India learning about the culture, people, and religion, imagine my surprise to find the Twin Peaks interwebs suddenly flooded with think piece after think piece whitesplaining Hindu mysticism, The Upanishads, and The Vedas. I watched as the beautiful, rich, and deep tradition of these sacred Indian texts and practices were suddenly and irretrievably reduced to a catch phrase in an American television show. #WeAreLikeTheDreamer

My unease deepened further when one of the only Asian characters in the entire 18-hour run Naido (Nae Yuuki) was revealed to be a white woman Diane (Laura Dern) in a different incarnation. But here is the troubling kicker: The Asian woman did not have eyes or the ability to speak until she “became” white. This isn’t quite the level of Mr Tojamura yellow face from Twin Peaks season two, but it certainly has an adjacent and fetishistic echo to it. I felt actual pain in my chest at this particular reveal.

And the more I have thought about this — as well as Lynch’s supposed Vedantic obsession — the more disturbed I feel. David Lynch is so into Tibetan and Hindu philosophy, mysticism, and religion, but he can’t cast a single South Asian person in The Return? For someone so inspired by Desi culture, he couldn’t include even one Desi musical act at The Roadhouse? At least, why couldn’t an Indian person quote the line from The Upanishads? Gordon Cole (David Lynch) could have easily had a Priyanka Chopra dream instead of a Monica Bellucci one.

The message we keep getting again and again is that white people want our things and our culture, and they feel entitled to use them as they see fit. Capitalizing off them even. But they categorically don’t want us.

By the end of the finale the reality of the Twin Peaks universe is called into question. We see people in a number of incarnations, some who look the same and some who don’t. So if at its heart Twin Peaks: The Return poses questions of the nature of souls and shiftable physical identities, then why isn’t there more diversity? Why is whiteness the default? It gets harder and harder to defend these accusations of racism in this new context.

If Twin Peaks’s overwhelming whiteness is part of its socio-cultural commentary and satire as me and many others have posited in the past, then philosophical claims about the nature of self and its physical presentation are in direct conflict. Even though quantum physics plays a huge part in Twin Peaks, this particular clash is irreconcilable. And adding cultural appropriation and whitewashing into the mix makes it much harder to excuse or justify the lack of diversity and representation in Twin Peaks.

My heart is breaking as I write this.

I’m starting to understand why there aren’t other POC regularly writing about Twin Peaks. It’s tiresome to always have to bring up these problematic issues. I’d really love to just write recaps and pithy analyses about theoretical lines of inquiry. I wish I had the privilege to simply watch and enjoy the show as long-time fan without having to unpack uncomfortable themes.

In the end, I’m starting to think that maybe Twin Peaks is indeed a white people thing and I’ve been an interloper all this time. I made a space for myself in the town and its off-screen fan communities, and I’ve called these spaces home. But I’m beginning to believe that my comfort there was an illusion, and now I’m left with an overwhelming sense of disappointment — borderline betrayal — at how it’s all turned out. That I’m left in a position where my love of the art and my social, racial, and cultural consciousness are at veritable odds with each other is somewhere I never imagined I’d find myself in the Lynchverse.

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