When I was young and things made sense, every summer Hollywood would release a handful of outrageously expensive movies in which aliens, sentient robots from the future, natural disasters on CGI steroids, etc. would wipe cities off the map and send audiences home happy. Cleansed.
Having burned a hole clear through the edifice of ordinary life, our corrosively inhumane mainstream pop culture has started eating into its foundation: mythology and history. The delightful movie taglines of my youth (“The Coast Is Toast!”) have been replaced by warrior apes named Caesar and Transformers on the moon. The film franchise has been absorbed into an even more grandiose business concept: the “universe” with a mythos all its own.
The Hollywood of the Universes talks differently from the Hollywood I used to know. There is an unmistakeable tone – oracular, sententious, yet somehow indulgent, as would accompany the giving of a rare, precious gift – to all the trailers now. The stentorian voice that promises “War…Is…Coming” (OH YEAH!) is giving filmgoers more than a taste of the plot. It’s laying patterns of history before us. “Yes, the tragic inevitability – at some point there WILL be another war, in real life” – but the fairground barker is there too. The commercial seems to be trying to induce in the viewer a sort of consumerist trance-state in which history’s still-humming assembly line of atrocity becomes identified with Hollywood’s assembly line of entertainment. Sure. Just as, these days, you pretty much know what you’re getting when you turn on the news – a gnashing of teeth, a forced-cynical chuckle – media companies want you to be certain of the entertainment you’ll get when you purchase admittance to their universe.
To my mind, then, “The Violence of Lies”, a National Rifle Association ad starring right-wing media personality Dana Loesch, is almost the ideal Summer of 2017 blockbuster. Loesch’s performance contains more palpable conviction than Israel-born Gal Gadot can muster as Wonder Woman (based on the WW trailer) – each of Loesch’s despised “lies” “racism, sexism, and homophobia” receiving its own little head-lurch of disgust. Moreover, “The Violence of Lies” covers just as much mythologizing in its one-minute running time as a typical superhero movie belabors in two and a half hours. Loesch has the right-wing canon in a Macron-like grip as she tells the origin story of America’s enemy within, the liberal elite. Spoiler: It begins with the media (including Hollywood, of course, to which Loesch et al offer a competing mythology to match Kellyanne’s alternative facts), and ends? Perhaps in the wholesale destruction of America, media-fomented political correctness having rendered even the police ineffectual. Loesch and the NRA’s fundraising strategy offers the viewer a chance to play superhero, to redress the failures of authority and save the nation. “The Violence of Lies” doesn’t show what this might look like – the prolonged, violent action sequences that are the mainstay of superhero movies are sadly missing here – but the imagination of potential NRA donors, one assumes, will be sufficiently excited to supply the lack.
Compared to Loesch’s video, the buzzed-about eighth episode of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks reboot seems kind of diffuse and depleted. Here, Lynch explores the mythological underpinnings of the Twin Peaks cosmos, and it’s all a bit Jar Jar Binks. I think the upshot is that a 1946 nuclear test in the New Mexico desert opened a channel for the evil spirits of the Black Lodge to enter our world. Lynch then jumps ahead to the same town in 1956, and a paranormal killer hijacking the local radio station to deliver an on-air incantation, which he repeats over and over (in a this-is-important tone not unlike that of Hollywood trailers): This is the water/And this is the well…
In other words, the medium is the message. Noted! In case you detected a certain on-the-nose quality to Lynch’s treatment of the mid-century American zeitgeist, allow me to complete the picture: The killer’s radio broadcast makes all the stereotypical 1950s innocents of this corny town go to sleep.
Lynch’s refusal to mythologise was a major strength of the original Twin Peaks series. At its height, the 1990s show blended postmodernism and surrealism so deftly that the bolt-from-the-blue dream sequences were warmly welcomed by mass audiences despite their never really making sense. The wacked-out visions were a pleasing counterweight to, and release from, the PoMo contradictions Lynch teased out through pastiches of pop iconography and TV tropes.
Twin Peaks: The Return has some marvelous stuff in it so far, but in peeling back the layers of his creation, Lynch has inadvertently exposed too much of himself. For one, if Loesch thinks sexism is a lie, she hasn’t seen what Lynch has been up to. Embarrassingly blatant examples of sexual chauvinism abound (“I’m old school,” says Lynch himself, playing FBI Director Gordon Cole), as do even more embarrassing attempts to leaven and justify those attitudes (more than once, a woman’s display of spunk wins an approving “Tough dame”).
Perhaps there is something fundamentally right-wing about the new pop mythology Lynch is angling to be a part of. It seems designed to obstruct access to the Otherness within history – the quality that makes the true meaning of any historical moment as agonisingly hard to pin down as that of a worthy postmodern novel. Real events begin to lose their essence once corporate media fastens on to them. We inch closer to David Foster Wallace’s nightmare of “subsidized time.”