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How Pop Culture’s Lynchmania Misses the Point of David Lynch’s Work

Given that he hasn’t made a feature since 2006 and is apparently all about the music these days, it’s curious how remarkably popular David Lynch’s work is in 2013. Barely a day goes by without another new musician or artist describing themselves as “inspired by David Lynch.” This phenomenon isn’t new — Tim Jonze wrote a great piece in the Guardian a couple of years back about the influence of Lynch’s work on “underground” music — but it’s a craze that shows no sign of abating.

In one respect, y’know, great. In an age where mainstream culture is generally a choice between off-white and beige, it’s rather heartening to see someone as flat-out weird as David Lynch achieving such popularity and acclaim. You can’t imagine half of the good TV that gets made today existing without Twin Peaks, and the fact that a director with such a strange and unique sensibility ever got to make Dune (or was granted artistic free rein by a big studio on Blue Velvet) really gives everyone hope.

But I can’t help wonder whether something is being lost in all this Lynchmania, because citing Lynch as an influence has become a convenient synonym for “we’re kinda into weird shit,” or perhaps more accurately, “we want people to think we’re kinda into weird shit.” It’s become a sort of cultural shorthand, in the same way that playing any of the innumerable versions of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” has become a way for TV/film producers to say, “HEY EVERYONE SOMETHING VERY EMOTIONAL IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW.”

Perhaps the most hilarious recent example of Lynch-as-branding is young Chicago band Twin Peaks. I don’t want to pick on them unduly here — they’re not the first band to name themselves after something they like, and shit, they’re all 19 — but still, they called themselves TWIN PEAKS. And that is literally all they have to do with David Lynch or anything that could be described as even remotely Lynchian — their music sounds like Wavves, for god’s sake.

Beyond simple Lynchian name-dropping, the problem with Lynchmania is that a lot of the time it’s a case of embracing Lynch’s distinctive aesthetic alone, rather than his meaning. It’s pretty easy to create something with an identifiably Lynchian aesthetic — take the dreaded Lana Del Rey, for instance, who Jonze identified in his piece as the most prominent example of a Lynchian influence leaching into mainstream culture. He cites the video for “Video Games,” in particular, and its imagery of “drunken, stumbling starlets that, like Mulholland Drive, alluded to the dark side of the Hollywood dream.”

The video doesn’t really do that, though, does it? The song certainly doesn’t — it’s about your boyfriend not being bothered to drag his sorry ass away from his Xbox long enough to pay attention to you. And really, the video is just a savvy evocation of the Lynchian aesthetic, a sort of animated collage of isolated images — the Hollywood sign, Friedlander-esque LA cityscapes, super-8 footage of girls playing in the park — that provide a convincing facsimile of what a David Lynch film might look like. But that’s all it is, a heap of images. It’s branding, not meaning.

In this respect, pop culture Lynchmania shares the process of meme-ification that’s afflicted serious political issues, and it has the same inherent problems — reducing the complexities of David Lynch’s work to a zig-zaggy floor and a dancing little person is great if you’re just trying to proclaim to the world that you’re more interesting than your contemporaries, but less so if you’re actually trying to explore Lynch’s world and the themes and ideas that inform his work.

Ultimately, if all this Lynchmania provides a catalyst for people to dive further into his films and his ideas, great, and I hate to be one of those tiresome fans who jumps up and down and demands that people stop liking something I’ve liked for years. But come on, Twin Peaks the band, for the love of god, find another name.

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