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Twin Peaks (USA, 1990)

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Twin Peaks is widely regarded as a missed opportunity. Made by David Lynch as the pilot for a planned TV series, it was salvaged into a film by adding an ending sequence. The film’s roots in television are obvious, introducing a sprawling cast of characters – some of whom don’t even get lines of dialogue, such as the mysterious Log Lady. If an ongoing series had been made, it would have been delightful to learn more about these characters, but sadly we had to wait a few years until Mulholland Drive to get a proper taste of Lynchian television.

As it is, the film is often seen as a failure. The ending sequence does appear disconnected from the extensive busywork beforehand – after introducing character after character, each with their own problems and conflicts and each a potential suspect in the central murder mystery, the film abruptly reveals the murderer to be someone we haven’t even seen before, who is hiding out in the basement of the hospital. The murderer’s partner/foil shoots him, then apparently dies of a heart attack, and that’s it, except for a strange and dreamlike coda in a red-curtained room that is widely regarded as inexplicable.

However, I think Lynch has given us all the clues we need to make sense of this film. Let’s take a look.

The bulk of the running time is spent exploring the town. As mentioned, nearly everyone seems to have a secret – not just the teens caught up in Laura Palmer’s strange life, but the adults too. (Notable exception for contrast – the adorably literal sheriff’s receptionist Lucy who seems incapable of leaving anything unsaid, secret or otherwise.) The film is also named for the town. The fact that none of these characters is involved in the crime seems at first to be a pointless rebuke to murder-mystery expectations, but I believe the message is the reverse – that in some sense the town itself is responsible. The film’s focus on the network of secrets and sadness in the town suggests that these secrets in some way caused her death. Laura is the homecoming queen and loved by all – but she clearly is caught up in terrible things, and this picture-perfect town is implicated. (The Norwegian investors subplot, for example, makes perfect sense through this lens – Laura’s death stains the town so much they walk out on the deal, and the town, immediately.)

We get more evidence that the townsfolks’ secrets are the cause of the murder when we meet Mike and Bob at the end of the film. They seem ordinary enough on the surface, but these two men are clearly meant to be interpreted as strange, magical beings from somewhere else (there are two worlds, as the magician’s chant reveals). If Bob could hide in Laura’s room while her mother looked for her, he is clearly using some otherworldly nature to do so.

Mike tells the story of how they lived among the people, above a convenience store no less. The film seems to be telling us that Mike and Bob are drawn to people like the ones we have been watching for the previous ninety minutes – deeply flawed and full of secrets. Or, to flip it into the kind of magical logic suggested by the killer’s use of rituals and magic chants, the town’s many secrets bring down dark spirits upon their head, with Laura Palmer, the homecoming queen/drug user/friend-of-prostitutes-and-murderers, as the incarnation of the town’s dual nature and the prime target for sacrifice.

While Mike has reformed from his murderous ways, Bob promises to kill again, provoking Mike to murder him. The case seems to be resolved, but it is clear Cooper is unsatisfied. As candles blow out, Cooper makes a wish – and we immediately cut to 25 years later.

The meaning of this cut seems clear: his wish was to understand the strange logic of what he witnessed in Twin Peaks. He has spent his career on this quest, and finally, as a much older man, he has found his way to the somewhere else. There, he meets a spirit wearing the form of Laura Palmer. (Bob claimed to catch people in his “death bag”, which presumably means he steals the form of his victims and carries it back to the second world.) The spirit, we are told, is full of secrets. She whispers into Cooper’s ear the answers he was seeking. Credits roll.

I don’t make any grand claims that this film approaches the thematic coherence of later works like Lost Highway, but I think it holds together a lot more thoroughly than most give it credit for. Indeed, from my perspective there is only one piece of the film that remains with me as both unexplained and deeply disturbing. 

The final sequence of the film begins with Laura’s mother remembering that she had in fact glimpsed Bob in Laura’s room that morning. As she screams in terror and calls for help from Laura’s father, we can see over her shoulder a mirror on the wall. And, blurry but definitely visible in my Blu-Ray copy of the film, we can see a face in the mirror – and it is unmistakably that of Bob himself. He is apparently right there in the room watching as Laura’s mother loses her wits! Creepy as hell.

In any case, this film is recommended, and not just so we can imagine what a Twin Peaks TV series might have been like. Instead, let’s appreciate it for what it is – a satisfying and complete film in itself.

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Small Group Action: Getting going

friends

I need your help.

I’ve been working for a bunch of years now on an idea to help us turn our feeling that things aren’t right into real action that has an impact on the world. It’s a toolkit that I call Small Group Action. It’s been used in workplaces and in classrooms and by groups of friends, and it works. It was the basis of my Masters research and I know it can make a difference. 

It’s time to get SGA out into the world, so people can put it to work. I’d welcome any support you can give me.

What is Small Group Action?

It’s very simple: you get a few people into a small group, say 4 or 5 people. You agree to do one action together – a short-term commitment only. You choose the action together, and plan how to get it done. Then you go for it.

4 or 5 people is big enough to do small but substantial things. (You can chain actions together for added effect.) It’s also small enough the group is easy to manage. Short-term means it’s an easy commitment to make, and you get the satisfaction of doing something sooner rather than later.  Group effects help keep you on task – you can actively motivate each other, and no-one wants to let the others down. 

All simple stuff, but harnessed together, all pointing in the same direction? It makes for a powerful engine. 

(There’s more than this, of course, but this is the heart of it.)

What am I trying to do?

The goal is to get the SGA toolkit out into the world. I’m in need of advice about the best way to do this! Some ideas: 

  • A small SGA handbook and forms that walk you through the setup process, all free to download and print.
  • An online tool or app that takes you through the setup process, then sends out reminders/notifications.
  • A website/community that shares ideas for actions and promotes success stories.

Obviously the social nature of SGA lends itself to social media, but I’m not sure how this could integrate effectively with Facebook/Twitter/Instagram etc. 

What do I need from you?

First – advice. Help me figure out what the hell I’m actually trying to get done, here. Comments are good, here on the blog or on Facebook or Twitter. Or email me!

Second – enthusiasm. If this is a thing you could see yourself using, sing out.

Third – expertise. Visual design people, community people, web people, psychology people, UX people, game design people, comms people – any offers of help or guidance gratefully received.

OK then. Here we go.

UPDATE: I’ve put a step-by-step and an action checklist over on the Taleturn website.

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Diving Under The Sea

The sun was shining bright and clean, which was part of it. The warming day felt like memories, not so cold you’d flinch, not so hot you’d ever slow down. Just right, and you squinted as you checked the sky was still blue, and you were a kid so the blue went up and up forever. 

Walking with my daughter along the riverbank, our dog pacing nose-low through the uncut grass, and she said “Daddy, let’s play a game.” We held our breath and pretended to dive under the water as we walked. I made the sound of bubbles, enjoying the sight of her unbrushed hair tipping over her forehead as she pretended to swim ahead. And then she surfaced and turned to me with an amazing smile and asked, “Did you see it?”

There was something happening, I could sense it even then as I replied “I think I saw a shark,” and she said “The shark is still far away, but did you see the skeleton? Come and look!” She dived below the surface again. 

I followed. And we went down below the water together.

A bridge ahead of us softly hummed the wheel-songs of mid-morning traffic. Alongside us, our dog inspected the long grasses on the bank with one paw lifted and tail stiff. The river calmly tried on new dresses, giving each shimmering gown one moment then discarding it forever. 

There was a skeleton in the water. It was deep enough that the colours were all washed out, but still light enough to see. Sand beneath us, and waving long fronds of sea-weed, brown and soft green, and the slow progress of water snails. The skeleton was sitting against a rock, empty eyes gazing out at my diving companion and me.

We surfaced again, and our eyes met. “I saw it,” I said to her, and she told me that the skeleton was probably old, maybe from pirate days and there might be treasure there, but that shark was coming closer so we had to be quick – and I agreed and she took a deep breath and down we went again – 

– a long moment, swimming into the shadow of the great bridge. We came up for air again, and she said to me – “we made it”. 

And without waiting for any reply she swung ahead of me, skipping to catch up with the dog.

I wanted to stay down there, but the skeleton dissolved into images and my footfall bore my weight again. A child, and a dog, and the big blue sky. I’d felt it. 

I remember how it was, to play. On weekday afternoons I look around my old schoolyard, now hers, while I wait for the last bell to ring, and I can sense the ghosts of distant planets and secret tunnels. I remember what we did, and what we said, and how easy it was. But I don’t remember how it felt. Perhaps we have to lose the feeling, as we get older. We start looking too hard at the world, seeing more of it than we once did, but always less as well. And yes we can still choose to imagine, can hurl ourselves into imagination in ever greater ways, but how it felt when we were children – that slips away.

But I’d felt it. Something about the rhythm of it – disappearing into an unknown, silent and separate, and then bursting into the air and telling each other what we’d seen – some barrier fell away. I caught her, just for a moment. And I knew that feeling, I knew it from a long time ago. It was something I’d never expected to feel again. I felt blessed, and uplifted, and calm.

With the dog on a lead, we walked across the bridge to the other side of the river. Cars and trucks passed by, engines raw. I watched my daughter ahead of me, up on her toes to look over the side and down at the river. And I looked down too; down into the water.

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Chilcot

I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. Me in 2004: “But that’s what he deserves: to fall from grace, spectacularly, hugely, humiliatingly, with all his self-delusions laid bare.”

We knew all this years ago of course. Again, me in 2004:

how come no-one has pointed out the most damning fact to come to light in the whole Hutton inquiry, namely this: Downing Street sought to make the dossier as strong as possible in order to garner support for the war. The only conclusion one can reach from this is that they had already decided to go to war on grounds other than WMDs. If they already had enough evidence of WMDs to go to war, they would not have needed to strengthen the dossier.

My rage against Tony Blair burns white-hot as always and the Chilcot report gives me hope: not that he will answer to his crimes (oh how I wish) but that the way the world talks about Blair will finally change. Because despite everything, he has been treated with something like reverence by media and political elites ever since he stepped away from the role of PM.

Maybe this is what it takes, then, to convince the powerful and mighty and wise that they were obviously foolish all along: seven years of careful work producing millions of considered words. How long, one wonders, would the report need to be for the courtiers to accept the Emperor really did have no clothes?

Me, right after the Glasgow march against the war in February 2003:

The ball, I feel, is in Tony Blair’s court – and there is every sign he is unmoved by the display of doubt in the drive to war. This will have immense political consequences, and soon.

“soon”!

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Infrequent linky

So regular linky readers will have noticed my frequency of posting has decreased. I’ve decided not to fight this tendency, so for the time being linky will be coming only on an occasional basis. Several reasons:

Declining readership: I threw in some basic stat counters when I did my Buffy series, and readership here is showing a slow but steady decline. I don’t particularly care – but this is, I think, part of a general disengagement with blogs all over the internet as social media and the app ecology get more settled in place. It isn’t a dealbreaker for me, but it doesn’t help…

Link roundups are like old-fashioned dad don’t you know anything: As Twitter and Facebook become ever more essential to online life, it is increasingly clear that a weekly link roundup is old-fashioned. Often I’ve put a link in the post draft on Monday, seen it blow up on Wednesday, and by Friday it’s old news. Links get shared fast and individually! And while I do believe there is a role for curation (I love the Nextdraft newsletter which is delivers smart linky three times a week), I don’t think I do it well enough to stand against the trend. But you know what? I don’t particularly care about this one either.

My ipad: the real driver of change, then? It’s my ipad. Because over the last year I have increasingly moved my casual internet use on to my trusty old ipad 2. This beast is now quite old in computing terms, but it’s chugging along as well as ever. (I am impressed, Apple!) It is now more pleasant than the laptop for Facebook and Twitter and Plus and Gmail, which is most of my internet activity right now. I can even do some solid productivity on it in google docs or dedicated apps like celtx and Final Draft. (And Scrivener for iOS is coming!) But one thing it does not do well is task switching. And task switching is the fundamental requirement for assembling a linky post. When I see a link I want to grab the URL and paste it into a draft linky post, or in some intermediary spot if possible. But the ipad just strugggggles with this. I hope & trust newer ipads do it better, but I’m not looking to upgrade until I’m forced to.

So. That’s the score.

Anyway, here’s the partial draft that’s been sitting here for a month now:

“The first “job” today’s kids have to answer is, what the hell am I going to do that anyone is willing to pay me for? And each kid, increasingly, is expected to answer this alone as an individual. When poor or less-educated people do this, its called “hustling” but when it trickles upwards to the children of the 1%, its our national economic plan.” Entrepreneurship means I give up (via Allen Varney)

Fully appreciating culture without appropriation: a guide in 15 steps (I saw this all over the place)

The Grim Test, a method for evaluating published research for shady manipulations (via Michael R)

The first two phone book volumes of Cerebus are available in PDF for free download! (I’ve tried three times but the download has failed each time. Maybe you’ll have more luck?)

And, just yesterday, via Pearce and already turning up everywhere else because that’s how these things work: Disney Princesses as cats as sharks

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Rapper’s De-Linky

Lots going on but I’ll quickly share some linky goodness:

Via Pearce – an excellent ten-minute breakdown on how rappers execute rhyme and wordplay. Great for anyone interested in words and rhythm – poets & English teachers will like this!

And related: Hamilton and the glory of language

“America’s economic illness has a name: financialization. It’s an academic term for the trend by which Wall Street and its methods have come to reign supreme in America, permeating not just the financial industry but also much of American business.” From Time: “American Capitalism’s Great Crisis

Via Rachel B – can you guess the correlation?

The Atlantic has an interesting interview about how much of our experience of reality is illusory. There’s not enough here to be convincing, but I’m curious to know more.

Also from the Atlantic, here’s the latest bout of Conor Friedersdorf “university students are coddled entitled milliennials” pearl clutching, linked so I can hate-read it later: The perils of writing a provocative email at Yale.

Via David R, how the myth of Irish slaves became a favourite meme for racists

Film Crit Hulk writes some fascinating stuff about new (online) media channels and the future of TV. Features the McElroy brothers, whose D&D podcast The Adventure Zone is reliably entertaining – the Alligator put me on to that one last January.

This NYT account of the aspiring novelist who became Obama’s foreign policy guru really explains a lot about the Obama administration. I figure this guy would not have fit in with any other President in recent memory, and wouldn’t work with any of the candidates for the office either. Fascinating. West Wing enthusiasts are particularly recommended to read this.

And finally, Hobbes & Me

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Stone Junk Linky

Why are the penises on ancient statues so small?

Via Aaron, credits to Empire Strikes Back in the style of a James Bond movie.

Star Wars – Episode V "The Empire Strikes Back" Homage (Title Sequence) from KROFL on Vimeo.

Can someone explain to me how the heck this is possible? Elaborate 3D animations the size of an animated GIF?

The Atlantic on the growing divide between the Game of Thrones novels and TV show.

Via Johnnie: a 90-minute chat show where host Samm Levine (one of the geeks from TV’s Freaks & Geeks) interviews John Francis Daley (another of the geeks from TV’s Freaks & Geeks). I haven’t watched this yet!

Via d3vo – a ten-minute science show that does a pretty good explainer on why social psychology is in trouble, and what it has to do with yummy tasty cookies. There’s waaay more to talk about, but this is a good starting point.

And finally, via Lew, and I’m gonna borrow his selection of pullquote: I have no deeper explanation for why human females can dissolve rocks with our genitals. It simply is.

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Teen Linky

via Evie: Stop telling me our relationship with our teens should suck. Our culture really loves to talk about how awful teens are. This is a necessary corrective.

Nonverbal autistic woman Carly Fleischmann launches her talk show interviewing a very game, and very lovely, Channing Tatum.

You’ve watched that Radiohead music vid that does a 70s horror movie in kids puppet format, right?

The Washington Post digs into the insult “egg”, which is hot on twitter right now. Here in NZ it has a long and proud history. You egg.

Via d3vo, river rockets of the Soviet space age. These look like they fell out of a classic Dan Dare strip!

And finally, this great blogpost starts with a sexist controversy surrounding a recent Wonder Woman comic book, and ends up surveying the ways toxic masculinity is messing up whole swathes of pop culture appreciation. (Even Monkees fandom for pete tork’s sake.)

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Plastic Linky

I loved this edition of Manfeels Park. Hee hee! (Remember that all the dialogue is drawn from real exchanges online, with source link below the comic!)

Via Gareth: the voices of Pinky & the Brain read… Pulp Fiction. (Just one scene!)

(and via Cyrus, a highly entertaining script reading of The Matrix)

Great personal story: I was a Men’s Rights Activist.

Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) has been sharing shooting script pages from Star Wars, and there’s stuff I haven’t heard of before – like how Obi Wan was meant to survive the Death Star! This must have been changed on set!

Insanely huge Lego Star Destroyer

Original Pope of this blog (and upcoming contestant on Mastermind) David Ritchie discovered io9 shamelessly ripping off our “Pantheon of Plastic” idea: which actors played the most characters who got action figures?

And finally, via Pearce, from the NYT, the battle over the Sea Monkey fortune. Even more interesting than it sounds.

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Remaking ANZAC Day

Every year on April 25, New Zealand (and Australia but I’m talking NZ here) marks ANZAC Day, which commemorates soldiers who fell in wars great and small. Particularly it remembers the horrific slaughter at Gallipoli in World War I, which is often seen as the moment where NZ became a nation.

It is always a contested event: the nationalism and militarism of the day are obvious, and there is a fundamental ambiguity over whether the solemn ceremonies deplore the violence, or strengthen the narrative that it was necessary. But each year, attempts to complicate the mythology of ANZAC day are met with furious resistance by a populace who simply want to remember their relatives from previous generations who died doing their best in a horrid distant war, and to pray that no such horror ever comes again. The talkback radio phones ring hot decrying the insensivity of protesters.

This year, two fresh threads in this critique have emerged that seem fruitful as ways to attack the nationalist and militarist mythmaking around the day but seem to have avoided this fierce backlash.

First, the idea of explicitly expanding ANZAC Day’s commemorations to include the wars within New Zealand (commonly known as the Māori Land Wars). The idea is covered beautifully by Toby Morris’s latest Pencilsword comic strip, “Lest We Forget“.

Second, a set of guerrilla sculptures erected around Wellington showing a soldier receiving Field Punishment Number 1, a brutal punishment meted out to pacifists who refused to fight. Public opinion is generally in agreement now that this is a blemish on our past. Protest group “Peace Action Wellington”, normally being tarred and feathered at this time of year for its protest actions, is this time being written about with something approaching admiration in the daily paper, and the comment section as I write is solidly in favour of the sculptures.

Great work on both accounts. I look forward to these threads being expanded further in years to come.

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