Sunday, November 02, 2008
"Twin Peaks" in Retrospect
I wrote the following for Craig Miller and John Thorne's brilliant Wrapped in Plastic earlier this century.
[“My Ten Years with Twin Peaks.” Wrapped in Plastic No. 46 (April 2000): 6-7.]
We begin this episode of My Ten Years with Twin Peaks with two scenes.
Scene One: A college professor has just finished the weekend grocery shopping at Wal-Mart. When he hands his debit card to the young man at the check-out, he is taken aback by the cashier’s excited question: “Are you the one who did the book on Twin Peaks?"
Scene Two: A "college bowl" tournament at Boston University. Two teams, one with a placard reading "New York University" on the table before them, are competing, ready to answer a toss-up question: "In 1995 several American academics assembled a book of essays on the television series Twin Peaks. For 10 points name the book." A young woman on the NYU team is the only one to ring in and answers, "Full of Secrets. And it was edited by my father." NYU earns the ten points.
These are true stories, as unlikely as they both seem. (Actually they aren't entirely true, the young NYU student, my daughter Rachel, did not say "it was edited by my father"; I just wish she had!)
Episodes in the life of a Twin Peaks scholar. As many of you who read this know, my book Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks, was published by Wayne State University Press in 1995, became the best selling book in the history of WSUP, and established its editor as perhaps the world's most prominent Twin Peaks scholar. (To become such was not one of my goals when I earned a Ph.D. in English many years ago.)
When Twin Peaks premlered on April 8, 1990, I was watching. My mother and father-in-law were in town, having descended on our household in Memphis from their retirement home in Las Vegas. Whether it was due to the unpleasant aftertaste of the strange experience of watching David Lynch with my wife's parents or because of my own fecklessness, I did not return for the next episode. Sick of hearing the water-cooler conversation at the university (especially since we didn't even have a water-cooler), I did finally begin to watch in earnest when Twin Peaks was reincarnated in the summer reruns. Now completely enthralled, I hosted a party (cherry pie, joe, etc.) to watch the premiere episode of the second season. By the time ABC suspended the series in February 1991, I had hatched the scheme to do a book.
Finding a publisher was not easy. Scores of possible venues, both mainstream houses and university presses, rejected it. More than one did market analyses that indicated that a book on a cult TV series that had been off the air for two years would not sell 500 copies. Finally Wayne State offered me a contract for a volume that would eventually sell over 8,000 copies. I had so much good material on the series that I was able to assemble essays not included in Full of Secrets in a special issue—21.4 (1993)—of Literature/ Film Quarterly. And now, in a new century and a new millennium, Cralg, John, and I have assembled enough excellent Twin Peaks scholarship, most already published elsewhere (some of it in the pages of WIPI, to make another first-rate book.
Twin Peaks was "supposed to change TV," as Howard Rodman would say in a buzz-making essay published before the series aired. It certainly changed me. A film scholar by training, I now find television perhaps more interesting, more central to my own critical imagination. As I have gone on to co-edit other books on TV (a too-academic book on The X-Files, an in-development book on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and a not yet published collection of make-believe parody reviews of non-existent books of television criticism), it is Twin Peaks that taught me how to take television seriously (and comically). Thanks to Twin Peaks, my daughter now realizes that I am more than a couch-potato scholar, and I am a person to reckon with at WalMart.
© 2000 David Lavery