Media & Cultural Studies

Peaks and popular culture

Fan Phenomena: Twin Peaks
Edited by Marisa C. Hayes & Franck Boulegue
Published July 2013

Peaks and popular culture
By Shara Lorea Clark

IQ extract

Despite being intentionally offbeat, Twin Peaks became a worldwide sensation, ranking among the top rated TV series of the ‘90s. The show’s supernatural undertones, oddball characters and interdimensional dream sequences spawned a dedicated cult following and changed television in a big way. It inspired and shaped its own cult movements, as well as a series of others, that followed in its wake.

‘Brilliant! I have absolutely no idea what’s going on.’ Homer Simpson on Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks’ influence on popular culture reveals itself in television shows, movies, songs and other forms of media from the ‘90s to now. It saturated the cultural consciousness in such an immense and immediate way that not just television audiences, but also accomplished writers and directors took notice. As people obsessed over finding clues that would lead to Laura Palmer’s killer, Peaks references began appearing in popular network shows. In 1990, before the killer was revealed, an episode of Saturday Night Live featured an unusually long, nine-minute parody sketch of the surreal soap. Kyle MacLachlan hosted the episode and played Agent Cooper in the skit, in which he exaggerated, if not by much, his idiosyncrasies, announcing to his tape recorder, ‘Diane…this morning I showered for nine minutes, found seventeen hairs. Three curly, fourteen straight.’ And a Peaks red herring, Leo Johnson, portrayed by Chris Farley in the skit, adamantly confessed to the crime, and showed incriminating photos of himself committing the act, but Cooper just wouldn’t have it. He wanted to look deeper, continue the mystery, as the show itself did, long after the murder was solved. Even the long running animated sitcom The Simpsons (1989–) referenced Twin Peaks on more than one occasion. In the 1995 episode ‘Who Shot Mr. Burns Part II’ (Season 7, Episode 1), Chief Wiggum dreams he is in a red-curtained room with chevron floors. Lisa dances and speaks backwards as she delivers a clue, in the same way Peaks’ Man from Another Place does in Cooper’s dream. Again, in the 1997 episode ‘Lisa’s Sax’ (Season 9, Episode 3), Homer is seen intently watching an episode of Twin Peaks, in which a giant dances with a white horse in the woods. Both a giant and a white horse played part in Peaks’ perplexity. Homer reacts in a manner shared with many Peaks’ viewers by saying, ‘Brilliant! I have absolutely no idea what’s going on.’

Chief Wiggum and Lisa Simpson in a Twin Peaks-inspired episode of the The Simpsons (1989-)

Though short-lived, airing its two seasons in just over a year, Twin Peaks essentially redefined the boundaries of network television, and opened the door for many of today’s well-known serial dramas and science fiction TV shows. If not for Twin Peaks blurring the lines of what was too weird or too grotesquely odd, there may have never been shows like Lost (2004–10), Fringe (2008–) or American Horror Story (2011–). And audiences almost certainly never would have seen Chris Carter’s The X-Files (1993–2002), arguably the first and most propitious in this list of series influenced by Peaks. Premiering in 1993, about a year after the release of the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (Lynch, 1992), The X-Files followed on the heels of Peaks’ surprising but fleeting network success.

Lynch has said in several interviews that by revealing Laura’s killer much earlier than planned, they ‘killed the goose’

By some accounts, Peaks’ untimely demise came at the hands of network executives, who shuffled its time slot and insisted that the writers reveal what Lynch later referred to as the show’s ‘golden egg’. Lynch has said in several interviews that by revealing Laura’s killer – the show’s biggest and most precious mystery – much earlier than planned, they ‘killed the goose’. After the secret was out, the show meandered into muddled subplots, and its ratings declined. Following this experiment with Peaks, major networks had a newfound openness to envelope-pushing, genre-based series, and a better understanding of how to make them work.

The wanted poster of Bob as seen in Agent Cooper’s dream

As Peaks’ memorable one-liners – ‘The owls are not what they seem’ and ‘Who killed Laura Palmer?’ – were on the lips of anyone and everyone watching TV in the early ‘90s, Files’ slogans became as omnipresent. ‘The Truth is Out There’, ‘Trust No One’, and ‘I Want to Believe’ became benchmarks of their time. The show went on to gain a major cult following of its own, and is known as another defining series of the ‘90s.

‘He’d tape the show on his VCR, and we’d watch the episode again right after it aired in our quest to pull every last clue out of the show’

The X-Files isn’t the only show that has Twin Peaks to thank for setting new standards for what was previously banally formulaic television. Fast-forward to 2004, when audiences were introduced to Lost, a strange and enigmatic show from creators Jeffrey Lieber, J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof. In an interview with CHUD.com’s Devin Faraci, Lindelof said he and his father watched Twin Peaks every week when it originally aired: ‘He’d tape the show on his VCR, and we’d watch the episode again right after it aired in our quest to pull every last clue out of the show,’ Lindelof said. ‘The idea of a TV show being a mystery and a game that spawned hundreds of theories obviously was a major precedent – that’s a fancy way of saying we ripped it off – for Lost.

Beyond keeping Twin Peaks alive through fan conventions and gatherings, the show maintains a virtual life via fan websites, message boards and blogs. ‘Welcome to Twin Peaks’ – welcometotwinpeaks.com – for example, features updates on everything Twin Peaks. The site claims to be ‘filling the donut hole in your post-Peaks life.’ Its ‘freshly squeezed posts’ provide info on the cast members’ current projects and public appearances, as well as details on Peaks and Lynch events worldwide. An ‘inspiration’ tab on the site is dedicated to fan art and media, and the site’s shop offers T-shirts, books, posters and other Peaks treasures. The site’s Facebook page currently boasts nearly 4000 fans, and each ‘like’ brings them ‘closer to a population of 51,201’ – their goal, the population of Twin Peaks. Several other Twin Peaks fan blogs and sites exist, and fan Jak Locke has even created an Atari-style video game, ‘Black Lodge 2600’, which is available as a free download for PC and Mac. The gamer’s goal is to escape the Black Lodge while avoiding obstacles and running from pesky doppelgängers.

Jak Locke's Atari-style video game, Black Lodge 2600

Jak Locke’s Atari-style video game, Black Lodge 2600

Luckily for Twin Peaks fans, the waves it has made pop culturally have yet to subside, and if the evidence of its continuing influence is any indication, its impact will be seen for years to come. Now that the entire series is available on DVD and has recently been added to Netflix’s instant streaming offerings, more and more people are being turned on to its unapologetically wacky world. Now more than ever, fan fodder abounds. Whether presented through our TV or computer screens, at art exhibits or fan festivals, its tale continues to unfold. By keeping up with its virtual presence and continuing to gather to revel in its existence, fans can hold on to the dream that maybe on some other Lynchian plane, the Twin Peaks universe remains very much alive, and its characters are still dreamily jazz-dancing to Angelo Badalamenti tunes in the mysteriously quirky small town that forever changed the world.


To learn more about this book and others from the Fan Phenomena series, click here
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