February 10, 2002

saucy subtlety

Lots of weird people go to Walmart at 1:00 on a Sunday morning. The sunken eyes and harsh glares said they blamed me for their odd shopping habits. By the look of the customers, Walmart must offer an oozing face sore discount in the wee hours of the morning.

I finally got the Twin Peaks DVDs. What a wonderful show. Incredibly weird, but it’s subtle enough to pull it off effectively. I love the music; a saucy jazz background of brushes on snare drum, acoustic bass and vibes solos. The music makes the show breathe.

The DVD collection has drawn a bit of flak because it didn’t include the pilot episode, which some say is integral to understanding what’s going on. I disagree. I think the pilot demystifies the story’s origin… and it’s the mysterious nature of the show that is one of the most alluring draws. By making definite all the things the pilot does, it dashes any speculation on the viewer’s part. I would rather hear about the discovery of Laura’s body instead of watching because then I can doubt it. Maybe that’s not the way it happened. Maybe Martell is lying. I like the feeling that I’ve been plunged right into the thick of mystery.

I love the subtlety. One reason I can’t stand sitcoms is their insistence that you don’t miss anything. No joke can sneak by undetected because each one must set off the irritating Can o’ Laughs. Twin Peaks lets you discover the humor for yourself. There is no huge finger that jabs you in the eye and points out the huge book on Tibet, or the fact that a lady who talks to a log is fun-ny(!). With Twin Peaks if you’re not paying attention you’ll miss it, and if you weren’t paying attention earlier you won’t even understand the reference.

That’s one reason I don’t like 99% of TV. They grind up nonsense and spoon feed it to viewers. It doesn’t matter if I watch or not; the same message would be broadcast and would be interpreted in the One Obvious Way by anyone else. I’m not benefited in the least by watching. Most shows are not rewarding or engaging, but patronizing. You never walk away from Friends and wonder “What did that all mean?” This shameless undermining of the audience’s intelligence is the fault of the writers. It takes confidence to toss out a joke without the guarantee that people will get it on their own. It also takes wit to come up with enough good jokes that you can take such risks.

Twin Peaks is a lot like watching a live jam band. The musicians all groove along, and if you’re listening you can pick up the subtle melodic and rhythmic shifts. Sometimes an artist will toss in a quote from another song, and you can’t help but laugh along with the other band members… because you get it. They don’t stop the show right there to explain to the audience that Mr. Rhythm Guitar just played a line from Rhapsody in Blue, and wait until everyone nods in understanding that the bands starts again.

In a similar fashion I think you could argue that friends (people you know, like and trust, not the televised dreck) that have lots of inside jokes are smarter and more creative than those that don’t. There’s a certain amount of mental activity required in storing and recalling common experience in a humorous way. Yes, call me cruel and old fashioned, but I do believe some people are smarter than others.

Activities are much more rewarding when you are expected to bring your own knowledge to the situation. Always keep dear your ability to retain and process information and be weary of those who would rather you forgot about it. Don’t short your intelligence because of someone else’s lowered expectations.