A still from Twin Peaks season one. Image Source.
After watching the first few episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return I got the distinct sense that David Lynch was trolling me. I went online to see if anyone could confirm my suspicions but all I got was a bunch of (mostly old mostly white mostly male) critics telling me that, actually, I just don’t “get” what David Lynch is trying to do! They called the show “one of the great recent cinematic achievements; its ideas are profound; its effect is enduring” and said it “created a new kind of escapist TV”. The non-ending? “Perfect”. The entire episode dedicated to a bomb going off that I fast-forwarded through? “Horrifyingly beautiful” — “the most mind-melting, majestic outing yet”, according to the critics. These reviews didn’t surprise me. Confusing art made by men has always been considered ‘genius’ rather than, oh I don’t know, crap.
*Carrie Bradshaw voice* I couldn’t help but wonder… despite what these well-educated men were telling me, did David Lynch actually suck? I took my investigation one step further by asking my sister for her review of the show. “David Lynch was wasting my time with his jizz all over art house cinema TV show,” was her succinct reply. Harsh but true. In order to appreciate David Lynch’s art, you need to be familiar with the code of art house film. This code is purposefully inaccessible — it is written by and for an elite group of cinema lovers who ‘know stuff’ about cinema. The obscure and often impenetrable plotlines are thought to represent some inarticulable human struggle; They might seem meaningless, but that’s because they are SO FULL OF MEANING. At least, that’s what the powers that be would have us believe.
In her scathing SCUM Manifesto, Valerie Solanas (the radical feminist who attempted to assassinate Andy Warhol) writes: “The vast majority of people, particularly the “educated” ones, lacking faith in their own judgement, humble, respectful of authority (“Daddy knows best”), are easily conned into believing that obscurity, evasiveness, incomprehensibility, indirectness, ambiguity and boredom are marks of depth and brilliance.” “We know that “Great Art” is great because male authorities have told us so,” she continues, “and we can’t claim otherwise, as only those with exquisite sensitivities far superiors to ours can perceive and appreciate the slop they appreciate.” This may seem like an extreme statement, but when you look who and what is represented in a lot of ‘Great Art’ it rings pretty bloody true. Take the obscure, cold and gratuitously violent Twin Peaks, which is certainly more about man’s existential struggle than women’s anything. And yet, it is celebrated as a ‘masterpiece’, but whose masterpiece?
So many movies have been pulled off the masterpiece pedestal in the past few months thanks to the ‘Me Too’ movement. I guess it took thousands of women coming forward with stories of sexual misconduct to confirm that, no, you cannot just separate creepy men from their creepy art. The semi-autobiographical output of men like Louis C.K. has become less “semi” and more “autobiographical”. This means that, for the first time in history, people are starting to assume that men are accountable instead of assuming they are innocent. By problematising ‘genius’ men, the Me Too movement has also problematised their art: the barely relevant movies that keep getting made just because a director has a legacy (see: Woody Allen). This forces us to ask questions like: “Were Woody Allen’s movies ever good?” (probs not) and, even more importantly, “Are they good today?” (defs not).
In the wake of Weinstein, it has become increasingly important to interrogate the way in which works of art are legitimised and delegitimised in our world. To ask what makes something good, why and for who? Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it is a cultural product of societies that are divided across gender, race and class lines. Powerful white men are at the top of all of these hierarchies, so they get to decide what is Great Art and what isn’t. If you don’t “get” this art, that’s because you don’t belong to the dominant group. This is both a depressing and an exciting discovery. Depressing because it shows us that both cultural products and ones ability to access and understand these products (what philosopher Pierre Bourdieu called cultural capital) emerge from a social structure that privileges certain interests. Exciting because, if we know that taste is constructed, then we can reconstruct it. This process begins with the rejection of the mysterious genius of men like David Lynch and (hopefully) ends with a more empathetic, meaningful and diverse Great Art.