That TV show you like is going to come back in style

One of our most-read posts over the years is this one from 2010, reflecting on the cultural and personal impact of David Lynch’s seminal 90s TV series Twin Peaks. Readers familiar with the themes we keep returning to in this blog will be unsurprised to learn that I was a big fan of the show, which originally aired when I was a student, and which provided the fuel for hours of late-night, drug-enhanced discussion in my social circle. I even travelled to the Pacific Northwest to visit Snoqualmie, where much of it was filmed. (In true Lynchian spirit I went hiking in the snowy woods outside of town, and nearly froze to death, though I never did find the Black Lodge, or run into Laura Palmer.)

You may think then that I would be excited by the news this week that Lynch is revisiting Twin Peaks, with the long-awaited third series due to appear in 2016. I suppose that I am, but there is some trepidation too – I know that, however good the new episodes might be, I’m likely to be disappointed, because it’s not 1990, and I’m no longer a 20-something student with nothing better to do than sit up all night smoking dope and obsessing over an ephemeral cultural artefact. My enjoyment of the show will inevitably be clouded by the feelings of loss I harbour for the potential of my youth.

Then again, loss and dislocation were central to the original Twin Peaks, and the renewed narrative may well pick up on these themes in a way that will beguile me like it did all those years ago. I guess I’ll just have to stock up on coffee and cherry pie, and sit down to see how it plays out…

We got five years, my brain hurts a lot

Today is the fifth anniversary of the very first post on this blog. To mark this auspicious occasion I had been thinking of collecting our best 100 pieces into an ebook, but then I realised that that might be just a little narcissistic, even for me, so I’ve settled for compiling a (slightly) shorter list of the posts I’ve been most pleased with over the years. They’re in chronological order, to show the development of our style, such as it is. Most are from 2009-2010, which was really our golden age, but every year has had some highlights.

Actually, what’s been my favourite part of writing this blog has been working in all the references to music I like; here’s another one.

2007

Virtual intimacy
This ain’t the Mudd Club
Attack of the Mutant Space Zombies
On the Game Grid
Working for the Linden Dollar
The thousand natural shocks
Elf actualisation

2008

Conduit (not) for sale
Diane …
Reptilia
A foreign country
Bunny worship
Uncertain principles

2009

Modern Romance
The best laid schemes
Nietzsche work if you can get it
Cargo cult consciousness
Greenies may have invaded some time ago, we hear
Et in Arcadia ego
Less than zero
Plunging Necklines
Live from East 3rd Street
Twilight of the Replicants
Ferrisburg, Vermont
Do boys make passes at avatars with glasses?
No man is an island
Flogging a dead zombie
Twixt and between
The killer awoke before dawn
Scenes from the Class Struggle in Second Life
Why we hate and fear the BBC
On being kind not cruel
Liberté, Egalité, Virtualité
Virtual Bakumatsu

2010

You say you want a revolution
Two Galleries
O Superman
The Kid With The Replaceable Head
The Linden Principle
Прощай Woodbury
Digital Death Day
That gum you like is going to come back in style
From Off the Streets of Cleveland
Bastille Day 1989
On the unreliability of memory
Virtual alchemy
Upon the dismal shore of Acheron
Anatomy of a scandal
The rest is silence
The Revolution Will Not Be Twitterised
Cut Away
Red Ties
Reoccurring Dreams
That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

2011

The Social Network
The wrong move at the right time
The Great Gonzo
The Leopard
The Solution
Spaced Out
Do You Believe in Rapture?
The Physical Impossibility of Running an Art Gallery in Second Life
Subdivisions

2012

Planned obsolescence
I’d work very hard, but I’m lazy

Davy Jones R.I.P.

I’m too young to have experienced The Monkees first time around, but the show was a staple of after-school TV when I was growing up in the 70s, and their movie Head became one of our late-night favourites in my student days, so I was sad to hear that Davy Jones had passed away. Another sign that time is moving on I guess.

It’s Summertime

Readers may have noticed that we’ve gone into our summer recess a little early this year. This is mainly because I am easily distracted by fair-weather pursuits like getting stoned and lying in the park, but also because I have a couple of other projects on the go at the moment that have seduced me away from the virtual world.

So, in lieu of actually writing a proper post, I’ll link to some topics that I would have covered in more depth in the last couple of weeks if I weren’t such a slacker.

In the wake of the Ryan Giggs super injunction fiasco, the attorney general for England and Wales has warned Twitter users that they could face legal action if they breach privacy orders. This may sound like an empty threat, since most Tweeters, myself included, are outside the jurisdiction of the English courts, but I suspect that the authorities may try to restore respect for the law by launching some selective prosecutions, especially now that Twitter have shown a willingness to hand over user details without much resistance. (To be fair to Twitter, their TOS have always made it clear that they will rat you out if the Man comes calling). It’s another reason to believe that social media is perhaps not the unstoppable force for change that its most vocal advocates would have us believe.

On a related subject, the BBC have just finished screening All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace, a trio of documentaries by Adam Curtis critically examining the effect that computers and their associated ideology have had on popular consciousness. It’s excellent stuff; if you’re quick you might catch it on the iPlayer, otherwise look out for a repeat.

And finally, as we’ve noted before, proof that our municipalities are woefully unprepared for zombie attack.

The holidays are looming, so that might be your lot until July, unless it rains a lot.

Won’t you please be my friend?

In an effort to win back the confidence of the government, I have redoubled my efforts in the social media sphere by setting up a Facebook page unashamedly in the identity of my avatar. This clearly breaches the rules of the social networking site, but I have heard that they are turning a blind eye to SL-related profiles, so hopefully I won’t be deleted.

I currently have a grand total of zero friends, and I’m not exactly sure how I should go about remedying this problem. I guess the Lab would like me to invite all my non-virtual acquaintances over, so that I could introduce them to the joys of the grid, but, in common with most other residents I’m sure, I have a real-life reputation that I don’t want associated with Johnny Staccato, thank you very much. (It’s called Second Life for a reason.)

So I’m reduced to trawling the internet, forlornly appealing for attention. Perhaps not the best way of dispelling the notion that Second Life residents are needy, socially-challenged losers.

I think the problem is that Facebook and Second Life are functional in diametrically opposite ways; the former is useful for integrating our diverse social networks, but the latter is attractive because it allows us to dis-integrate the different strands of our personality. That the Lindens don’t seem to understand this (if they did they wouldn’t be pushing a Facebook strategy, and would have been much quicker to ban alt-linking products like Redzone) is just one more reason to be pessimistic about the future of Second Life.

The Great Gonzo

On this day back in 2005 the great Hunter S. Thompson signed off for the last time, with a gunshot to the head. He had his reasons for such a dramatic exit, but it seemed like a tremendous loss at the time, a feeling that has deepened in the intervening years as the authoritarian shift in US politics has cried out for the sort of biting social commentary that was Thompson’s speciality.

Thompson is best known for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, his 1971 account of a drug-fuelled trip to Nevada, but I think his finest work is Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, a collection of his reports on the 1972 US Presidential elections. …Vegas is a great book, but ultimately rather downbeat, charting as it does the defeat of 60’s counterculture at the hands of the Man. …Campaign Trail is much more optimistic, as Thompson gets caught in the tide of the McGovern campaign and starts to believe that progressive politics might just have a chance. It ends in disappointment of course, when Nixon wins with a landslide, but at least Thompson didn’t have to wait too long to see Tricky Dicky’s downfall. (Years later Thompson would write the definitive Nixon obituary, He Was a Crook.) …Campaign Trail‘s depiction of the youthful energy of McGovern’s supporters is still inspirational today, and should be required reading for community organisers and political activists everywhere.

To mark the anniversary of Thompson’s death The Quietus has a previously unpublished interview, along with a brief but useful biography. The BBC produced a fine documentary on Thompson’s life and work a couple of years ago, and Terry Gilliams’ film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, with Johnny Depp as Thompson, is worth seeing too.

The style of journalism that Thompson pioneered has become so commonplace now that it’s almost a cliche, but out of his many imitators none have come close to the man himself. I’m going to settle down tonight with my dog-eared copy of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, and have a few drinks in his memory.

Panorama on video game addiction

Tonight’s edition of the BBC’s flagship current-affairs programme Panorama covered the topic of video game addiction. I had been looking forward to the show but it was rather disappointing; it contained no information that anyone with even a passing interest in the subject wouldn’t already be familiar with.

After featuring the usual suspects – reformed addict, concerned parent, industry spokesman, academic (Mark Griffiths in this instance) – and taking the obligatory trip to South Korea, the reporter did come to a reasonable, if uncontroversial conclusion – games are fun, most people have no trouble with them, a few develop problematic use, this might become a significant issue as more people play.

I guess it was a good enough introduction, but it felt like a missed opportunity to discuss some of the more controversial aspects of the issue, like the exact nature of the disorder, and treatment approaches, in greater depth. A half-hour TV show has its limitations I suppose.

Anyone who is looking for a (slightly) more substantial review of the topic could do worse (I would humbly suggest) than to refer to this article that we posted earlier this year.

Everybody’s got a bomb

I’ve had a bad cough for the last week or so, what with all the cold weather, and it’s been keeping me awake at night. Consequently I’ve been watching more late-night TV, mostly junk like CSI reruns or televised poker, but also a couple of semi-good movies, including Cold War drama-doc Thirteen Days.

Actually “semi-good” is being generous; the heavily-fictionalised account of the Cuban missile crisis is rather melodramatic, as it portrays the heroic Kennedy brothers (aided by a brooding Kevin Costner) facing down the evil communists, while simultaneously restraining their own gung-ho generals, who are itching to launch a full-scale war. The story is inherently gripping though, and, even though obviously I knew there was going to be a happy ending, I enjoyed the building tension as it looked like the two sides had boxed themselves into an inevitable conflict. (My favourite film about the crisis, which deals with the themes much less earnestly, but rather more effectively, is Joe Dante’s Matinee.)

Watching Thirteen Days reminded me a little of the 1980s, when, after years of relative détente, it looked like Ronald Reagan was determined to start World War Three. I was never one of those kids who got all neurotic about the prospect of nuclear armageddon, but I was a bit freaked out by watching things like The War Game (made and suppressed back in the 60s, but still a favourite at leftist meetings 20 years later) and The Day After, though I wasn’t ever concerned enough to do much beyond going on a couple of CND marches. (Central American solidarity was my main political interest at that time, as I recall).

Then the Soviet Union collapsed, and we all enjoyed the 90s, free, we thought, from the shadow of complete destruction. There was still plenty of war to go around, of course, and not a little millennial angst, but it was probably the safest decade since the end of the Second World War (for those of us in the West anyhow).

Fast-forward to today, and we’re all supposed to be worried about The Bomb again, though this time round it’s not the Reds we’re told we should be scared of, but North Korea, Pakistan and Iran, or al-Qaeda, or just “terrorists” in general. I can’t say that I lose too much sleep over those last three, but North Korea and Pakistan (and to a lesser degree Israel and India) are more concerning. While these countries don’t have the capacity to nuke the whole world (or, hopefully, provoke anyone else into nuking the whole world), that just means they are less restrained by the logic of mutually assured destruction, and might use their weapons for local strategic reasons. At least with the old East/West standoff one had the idea that Washington and Moscow knew that once they started fighting it was going to end badly for everyone, but one can’t be so confident that the smaller nuclear states will never convince themselves that a first-strike strategy might be successful.

There’s not much to be done about it I guess, except to keep on working away at building the sort of progressive international movement that will eventually bring the people of the world together and abolish war altogether.

That, and partying of course.

That’s Not My Name

My avatar’s third rezday fell last month, which I rather overlooked, since I was focussed more on Premium Account renewal day, which was last week, and whether it was worth $80 or so to keep my patch of virtual land for another year. I eventually decided it was, or rather I didn’t decide that it wasn’t, since I would have had to actively cancel my subscription, so I’m on board for the next 12 months at least, assuming Second Life lasts that long. I effectively got this year for free, since I had a big enough pile of accumulated L$ from my stipend to cover it, though I suppose I could have just cashed them out.

It does make me wonder what the average age of an active SL avatar is. I imagine that the distribution would be bimodal, with a huge peak of very young residents, and another spike of oldies. (I feel that I should know this for sure, since, according to Google, SLS is the top authority on current Second Life demographics.)

Anyway, in light of this anniversary I was moved to do something that I’ve thought about a few times, but never got round to, that is create an alt. I’ve been feeling that it’s about time that I linked this blog with an actual Second Life identity, rather than continuing to lurk behind a double layer of pseudonymity, but I didn’t want to expose my primary account, because it has a history of its own, which I felt should stay undisturbed.

So here’s my new virtual face; pretty much the same as my old one:

apart from the different-coloured hair and a couple of other tweaks.

Thanks to the new “Display Name” feature (which people seem to be down on, but I think is a great idea), I’m able to go by the name of “Johnny Staccato“. I’ll obviously need to get a sharper suit.

Not that that’s the real me of course…

That gum you like is going to come back in style

I don’t look at the TV much these days, and I very rarely find myself following an episodic drama series. The last time I even partially got into a show was when I caught most of the first season of The Wire, which I quite liked, but the effort of committing myself to regular appointments with the box was too much, and I never made it past the first episode of season two.

I was thinking about this the other day when I read an article at the AV Club which considered the cultural impact of David Lynch’s cult 90’s series Twin Peaks. It reminded me not just of how slavishly I had followed that programme, but of the way that even left-field shows like Lynch‘s unsettling masterpiece could attract mass audiences at that time.

Compared with today it was both easier and harder for a show to be a big hit back then; easier because there was less competition for the audience’s attention – the UK had only four terrestrial channels to choose from, satellite and cable were niche products, and there was no internet – and harder because there was no way to see things other than by sitting down in front of the TV at a set time – no DVD box-sets, no Tivo, and no internet TV. We did have VHS recorders I guess, though the elderly model I had at the time was much too unreliable to trust with an unmissable event like that week’s Twin Peaks.

I had been a big David Lynch fan since I saw Eraserhead late one night on TV, and I’ve liked everything he’s done since (even Dune), especially Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive (the latter is in the running for my favourite film of all time), so it was always likely I was going to be a Twin Peaks devotee, but what confirmed my addiction was the community that grew up around the show on campus. I was already hanging out with most of what became the Twin Peaks crowd, but we certainly bonded that little bit more over long evenings of coffee and cherry pie (actually, “coffee” and “cherry pie”) discussing our various theories of what the story was about. I’d like to say that we still get together every year to reminisce, but, with a couple of exceptions, I haven’t talked to any of those people in the best part of twenty years. Probably best to leave the memories undisturbed.

Anyway, the point that I’m meandering towards is that often what sticks with you about a cultural experience is not so much the event itself, but more the social connections that surrounded it. What’s changed since my Twin Peaks days is that, thanks to the wonder of the interwebs, it’s no longer necessary to be geographically co-located with your fellow fanatics to feel part of a community.

Certainly my experience over the last three years has been that, while it was the virtual eye-candy that initially pulled me into Second Life, what’s kept me around is the narrative that unfolds in the relationships between residents, played out partly in-world, but mostly in the SL blogosphere.

I don’t want to overstate the profundity of the SL storyline – it’s more potboiler than classic literature – but it’s diverting, harmless, and, best of all, it creates a pleasing illusion of interactivity. I can tell myself that I am involved in writing this tale, in my own small way, and that makes me just committed enough to stick with it through the many, many dull patches.

There’s an interesting paper by Wanenchak in the latest edition of Game Studies entitled Tags, Threads, and Frames: Toward a Synthesis of Interaction Ritual and Livejournal Roleplaying. It’s well worth reading in its entirety, but the part pertinent to this discussion is the brief review of Goffman‘s frame analysis as it applies to a collaborative online narrative:

… frames allow players to engage with the gameworld in such a way that their narrative construction and interactions become sensible to themselves and to each other.

What I find most fascinating about the Second Life narrative (and what I think gives it a claim to being a unique cultural phenomenon) is the fact that the frames that people are using are often unclear, shifting and overlapping. To put it in different terms, although they are operating in the same “gameworld”, which includes not just the SL grid but also the associated blogs, tweets and what have you, people are engaged with often wildly differing levels of immersion.

The effect of this is, more often than not, to render the meta-story unintelligible, but occasionally it all comes together to produce an instant of dream-like clarity that makes the whole project seem worthwhile. I would give some examples of this, but I suspect that, like real dreams, the beauty of these moments is highly subjective, and that any description I attempted would sound hopelessly prosaic.

Which brings us back to David Lynch. What I think he does better than any other director is capture the fractured reality of dreams and nightmares, in a way that is at once unsettling and beguiling. Sometimes – just sometimes – being part of the world of Second Life is like living in Twin Peaks.

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