The Twin Peaks Fandom: Then and Now

After the mind-melting experience that was Part 8 of Twin Peaks: The Return and two weeks off to reflect (and recover), I found myself reminiscing about the fandom days of old. There is a world of difference between the fan experience today and that of the early 90s, when the World Wide Web was in its infancy. High-speed wireless Internet access and countless platforms for episode discussion and dissection make it almost effortless to participate in modern fandom, and the fandom itself is massive and worldwide. But despite all the ways things have changed since the original series premiered on April 8, 1990, the heart and soul of the Twin Peaks fandom experience is much the same. The audience remains fascinated by the show’s many mysteries and we seek out other equally obsessive fans to theorize and speculate and analyze and just generally celebrate the world of Twin Peaks.

Twin Peaks was my first and most beloved fandom. I was too young to watch the original series when it aired from 1990-1991, and one could argue I was still too young to watch it when I did (at the ripe old age of twelve). My parents had the entire first season (pilot included) and some of the second, which they recorded on VHS tapes as the series aired on ABC. When the VHS box set was released in 1993, I begged my parents to buy it for me, which they did (Thanks, Mom & Dad!), and finally I was able to watch the entire thing.

And watch it I did—over and over and over, until I wore out the tapes.

vhs box set 1993

My mom worked in tech and we were early adopters so we had web access in our home before it became the norm. Of course, when I say “access,” I mean a torturously slow dial-up modem (the sound still haunts me) and online service via Prodigy. But even in the early-mid 1990s, I found a treasure trove of information on the web. There were discussion boards and Geocities web rings with more information that I could have ever dreamed. At that point in my life, I had no one to talk to about Twin Peaks stuff—my parents liked the show, but were not nearly as obsessive about it—so the idea that there were people out there like me was revelatory in a lot of ways. Here was this community of people from all over the place and everyone could come together and bond over the shared love of a television show—a cancelled show no less. For so long I’d felt like I was “weird” for obsessing over the show to the extent that I did, and then all of a sudden I didn’t.

Old School Fandom

Today the concept of a fandom springing up around a TV show is practically a given and it’s not a stretch to say that modern fandom as we know it began in the early 90s with Twin Peaks. Even before I dipped my toe into the fandom, there was a robust community of people discussing Twin Peaks online. Usenet’s alt.tv.twin-peaks was one of the most popular newsgroups on the web. As early as 1990, fans with Internet access were engaging with their media (and other fans) online. When the show was airing, some people were active on alt.tv.twin-peaks during commercial breaks. People would print threads on dot matrix printers to read later. It took fans hours to upload images and basic GIFs. File transfers were painfully slow and the phone bills would be massive. But even though the technology was different, the distilled essence of fandom was the same: a wealth of information and images, the free exchange of ideas, a sense of community—and all of it at your fingertips, whoever and wherever you are.

TV Guide Ads
Source: TV Guide

My experience with the web in the 90s was very limited. I spent endless hours on different Twin Peaks and David Lynch pages, reading theories and occasionally participating in discussions. I also used the web to find fans interested in selling or trading for back issues of the fanzine Wrapped In Plastic. I was much more of a lurker than an active participant and I wasn’t very tech savvy. I was interested to know what it was like to be a more active participant back then so I spoke with Jordan Chambers, an old-school fan of the original series who was very active in the Internet fandom in the 90s.

In early 1995, when Jordan was a freshman in college, he was learning HTML for fun and developed several websites as practice. He developed a Stephen King site, an X-Files site, and the Twin Peaks site Laura’s Diary. He also managed a Geocities web ring.

Jordan Chambers: Fandom was very different in 1990/91. All we had was newspapers and most of us didn’t have access to the Internet at the time. After that last episode aired and we were left with the Bad Cooper running loose, it was one of the saddest and most amazing endings at the time. Such a huge cliffhanger. Then Fire Walk With Me. And that left us “original” fans with 25 years to process everything we watched. Many of us watched the show over and over again until the tapes busted and we had to buy a new VHS tape.

Finally around 1995 when Windows made the web more accessible, things started to change. Us “original” fans finally had the ability to share all of these ideas that we had been keeping to ourselves with others. So in many ways, us old fans created our own mythology and established canon on our own with what we knew, drawing conclusions that may or may not be right. And we had that freedom because we knew the show was over—or so we thought. Things like one of the woodsmen being the Log Lady’s husband started to become established lore (even though I was never in agreement with that one).

After a few years, Jordan converted Laura’s Diary to Twin Peaks Gazette and added a message board. The site grew and managing it took up more time in his day-to-day life, especially with regard to that unfortunate constant of Internet fandom: drama.

JC: You are often being a referee when issues arise. I didn’t have a lot of bullying at the time. That has increased more with Facebook and social media in general. Most of my issues were really people taking a statement differently than intended (same problem we see today since we don’t have facial expressions or vocal differences to differentiate sarcasm). Occasional nudity might be posted, etc. Nothing huge like we see now. Some people were just more sensitive and took things wrong. Our board was a big family in some respects but family has drama. But not like I see today. Today it’s just mean.

In addition to running his own site, Jordan got involved in the annual Twin Peaks Festival in Washington State. Jordan and his wife, Kelly, went to the festival for the first time in 2000.

JC: At the time, rumor had it that it might be the last one. But David and Susan Eisenstadt took over after that. Susan was a regular member on the Twin Peaks Gazette and she and I became good friends. After a few years, Susan asked if Kelly and I would like to take over so we did. But we also knew we couldn’t do it alone, so we brought on Amanda Hicks and Jared Lyon to help out. We were directly involved for a few years and then stepped back when we decided to start a family. Amanda and Jared took over after 2007. From there it went to Rob and Deanne Lindley who run it today.

I asked Jordan about some of his fondest memories of the Twin Peaks Festival experience.

JC: I really enjoyed getting to know people, and putting online names to faces. I absolutely enjoyed getting to meet the actors. I would often pick them up and take them back to the airport. That’s probably the coolest experience right there—just an hour or two of one-on-one with cast members. I got to talk with Jennifer Lynch, Kenneth Welsh, James Marshall, and others in that scenario. It’s also sad though now too. You get to know Don Davis and Catherine Coulson, and then when they passed, it does have an affect on you. Catherine would also bring the “log” with her. After 9/11 she had issues bringing the log on the airplane and she didn’t feel comfortable “checking it” in baggage.

jordan kelly catherine
Photo Courtesy of Jordan and Kelly Chambers

In addition to the opportunity to spend time with cast members, participation in the Twin Peaks Festival got Jordan (and many other old-time fans) included on the DVD Special Features. But while all of that is very, very cool, Jordan says that, “The most important aspect is that Twin Peaks Festival is like a big family reunion every year.”

Fandom Today

The Internet is a very different place today than it was in the 90s. Lightning-fast wireless access, tablets, and smart phones have made the Internet omnipresent in modern society. We can watch episodes whenever and wherever using various devices—although, according to David Lynch, you should not be watching on your phone! We have the ability to post long-form articles and blog posts across multiple formats as quickly as we can write them. We have access to screenshots and high-quality GIFs almost immediately after the episodes air. We can listen to (or create our own) podcasts to share our thoughts and theories. And, of course, we can make memes.

Nothing has had a larger effect on fandom than the advent of social media. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and other social media platforms allow fans to interact with one another with ease. But one of the most notable and exciting changes in modern fandom is the ability to interact with the cast and creators. Our beloved Agent Cooper, Kyle MacLachlan (@Kyle_MacLachlan), is very active on social media. He engages with fans, even retweeting fanart and pictures of people’s viewing parties (complete with donuts, pie, and coffee, of course). He even makes his own memes!

kyle meme
Source: Twitter / @Kyle_MacLachlan

Mädchen Amick (@madchenamick) is also very active on Twitter in both the Twin Peaks and Riverdale fandoms. Recently, for Dana Ashbrook’s 50th birthday, she tweeted some adorable throwback pics and a sweet birthday message that made me want nothing more than some Bobby x Shelly screen time.

madchen dana
Source: Twitter / @madchenamick

 

shelly x bobby tweet
Source: Twitter / @madchenamick

Even the official Showtime Twin Peaks account (@SHO_TwinPeaks) is in on the action. They tweet GIFs and retweet fanart and articles throughout the week, along with countdowns to the new episodes. Twitter even has a Twin Peaks emoji of the Red Room, which was absolutely surreal to see when I tweeted the #TwinPeaks hashtag for the first time.

SHO tweet
Source: Twitter / @SHO_TwinPeaks

Today, a lot of the discussion that would have occurred on message boards happens on Reddit and Facebook. There are multiple groups on Facebook dedicated to all things Twin Peaks and Lynch. Some are discussion-based and some are more for memes and shitposting (and I tend to avoid the latter). Facebook even has a Twin Peaks profile frame option. Recently, Kyle MacLachlan was on Facebook Live fielding questions from users, all while drinking some damn good coffee.

Social media allows writers, artists, podcasters, and other content creators to share their work and reach a wider audience than they ever could have in the early days of the web. It’s a great way to get exposure and feedback for your work as well as a great way to interact with other fans. But like the town of Twin Peaks itself, the Internet has a dark side. The Twin Peaks fandom is no different than any other fandom in this respect. I’ve seen bullying when arguments over theories turn personal. I’ve seen bodyshaming on cosplay posts. I’ve seen sexist and misogynistic comments, racism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia—you name it, I’ve seen it. It’s a truly nasty reality of the Internet today that, no matter where you go, you cannot completely avoid cruelty and hate. In my experience, the modern Twin Peaks fandom is better than most, but there’s definitely an ugly side.

I asked Jordan for his thoughts on fandom today versus the 90s fandom.

JC: When TP was announced to return, I think is where the new fandom started. The new set also came out that had The Missing Pieces in it and was truly the ultimate box set. Then Twin Peaks went streaming, which is where I think the show picked up a ton of new fans. Luckily, many of these new fans had the luxury to watch Twin Peaks knowing that a new season was coming.

Facebook, Twitter, and other social media makes Twin Peaks very different this time around. Being able to talk to hundreds or even thousands of people in a single week about one part is such a huge difference than 25 years ago when you may have been able to talk one or two people that you knew—if you were lucky. The ability to freeze a scene and examine aspects of it really makes the new season very different.

The problem I see though is that because new fans haven’t marinated on the mysteries as long as some of us have there seems to also be a division that is growing. You also have a division between Lynch and Twin Peaks-only fans, which Part 8 has really made evident.

What amazes me about Twin Peaks in general is how an accident of filming BOB in a mirror in the pilot has created such a wonderful and deep mythology about the show. Even more amazing that Lynch/Frost wrote a scene that was to occur 25 years in the future, and here we are—25+ years in the future. Sometimes real life is truly stranger than fiction.

The Internet, like the town of Twin Peaks itself, is a place both wonderful and strange. But much like the Twin Peaks of The Return, a certain wholesomeness has been lost in modern-day fandom. Overall, I’d say that the good outweighs the bad, and I think a lot of this has to do with the fans themselves. In my experience, Twin Peaks fans are an interesting lot—intelligent and inquisitive and always down for a discussion of even the tiniest details. There are certainly some evil doppelgängers running around causing trouble, but I tend to believe we’ve got more White Lodge spirits than Black Lodge denizens in the fandom.

Despite some of the negatives, I think most fans (like myself) choose to ignore the bad and focus on how incredibly lucky we are that we’ve got eighteen hours of brand-new, Lynch-directed Twin Peaks content. The fact that Laura’s iconic line, “I’ll see you again in 25 years,” would end up being true is amazing to me. I can safely say I’ve never been as excited about and engaged in a television show as I am with Twin Peaks: The Return, and every Sunday at 9pm I feel blessed to be able to say, “It is happening again.”

Advertisements

Author: Ali Sciarabba

Twitter: @alimscribbles

4 thoughts

  1. You’re so interesting! I don’t suppose I have read through something like this
    before. So great to discover somebody with some original thoughts on this issue.
    Seriously.. thank you for starting this up. This website is
    something that is required on the internet, someone with some originality!

    Like

Leave a Comment and Tell Me What You Think...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s