Saturday, October 5, 2013

Thank You for Reading!

....and reading Chloe's Twin Peaks senior thesis!

Hi and welcome to this page! After many requests, I have decided to publicly release my senior thesis for my undergrad degree in Communications from the University of Minnesota. This was written in Spring 2013 for my Feminist Media Studies class.

There was a lot of interest in this paper due to its topic - the popular 1990 television show Twin Peaks created by David Lynch. I did not write this paper to hate on Twin Peaks. I'm not writing this paper to say that it's an awful show and deserves no hype. In fact, I quite enjoyed watching it and that is why I was eager to write about it. I went into this essay having only a few things in mind to write about. The further I analyzed it, the more I discovered about what truly lies within. I am not hear to tell you that you are bad for liking Twin Peaks. I am not here to tell you that no one should watch Twin Peaks. I am just here to give you an analysis of how the show portrays gender and how it perpetuates rape culture. My thesis is not that it is a bad show. My thesis is that it is not a progressive show.

I will leave comments open but I will not be replying to them. I am not going to defend my words, etc. I will delete any comments that slander my character rather than my thesis. If you don't like my words - that's fine! Go ahead and fight them! If you think I'm some crazy stupid fat ugly feminist bitch, keep it to yourself.

And before reading, I must warn, there absolutely are spoilers! The entire show will be spoiled in this paper. If you haven't finished watching it and don't want to know how it ends, refrain from reading!

Thank you and enjoy!


The show Twin Peaks, created by cult movie maker David Lynch, debuted to an American audience in 1990 on ABC. The show was immediately met with enthusiasm and great intrigue not only in the US, where a third of television viewers tuned in for the pilot, but also in the UK where viewership topped seven million (Odell & Le Blanc, 71). The question on everyone’s lips – “Who killed Laura Palmer?” – was introduced as the premise of the show when the body of a small town’s homecoming queen washes up on the shores of Twin Peaks, naked and tightly wrapped in plastic. The quirky characters in the pacific mill town were the perfect palette for Lynch to create a dynamic plot filled with punchy dialogue, odd reactions, and secretive lives. The amount of drama that Twin Peaks hosted made it seem more like a soap opera, but the avant-garde filming techniques and slow pacing made it acceptable as primetime television and even had it recognized, still to this day, as a piece of art.
      At the time of Twin Peakspremiere, David Lynch seemed too big for the mainstream. Lynch, known for being adventurous, erotic, disturbing, and over-the-top in his filmmaking, seemed an unlikely pick for primetime television. With past credits including Eraserhead (1977) and Blue Velvet (1986) – “a body of work offering an indelibly bizarre flow of images and themes” (Jerome, 1990, para. 1) – the fever that Twin Peaks set fire to made David Lynch a household name and propelled him – and his stories – into mainstream pop culture fame.
But what the story of Twin Peaks masks, through Lynch’s use of avant-garde filmmaking and quirky characters, is a white male’s rape fantasy and the misogynistic, but not entirely unreal, world which it is set in. The damaging part of this, however, lies not just within the show’s short term popularity, but in its enduring cult following which has already lasted more than two decades.

I had started watching Twin Peaks after suggestions from my mother and a close friend, but what really pushed me to starting the series was the way that the pro-feminism online magazine Rookie dedicated much of their writing to Twin Peaks and David Lynch. The writers of the magazine (all teenage girls) took Twin Peaks road trips, painted their nails in inspiration of David Lynch, made Twin Peaks donuts, and wrote lengthy articles about their admiration for various characters of the show. In a post from March 7, 2013, the editor of Rookie writes that, “your life will improve when you watch it.” Needless to say, they had me convinced that this series was something special, even progressive, and, furthermore, empowering in the way which women were represented. And so, I began watching Twin Peaks, trusting that it was off the beaten path and amusing – it held up to both of these – but not anticipating that what lay ahead was, more than anything, the sexual fantasy of a white male, complete with BDSM, rape (and girls who “want” to be raped), high school girls who work in a brothel, and women who are nothing but objects who use their sexuality to get what they want. That is to say, there was absolutely nothing progressive or empowering about Lynch’s Twin Peaks, and the haunting part of the show lies not within the suspenseful episode endings, the dark dialogue, or the murder mystery itself, but rather in the fact that this show was seen as a revolutionary next step for television. When you get past the avant-garde filmmaking and the quirky dialogue, all that lies beneath David Lynch’s Twin Peaks is a prime example of the rape culture that mainstream media does well to reproduce. 


            I will be analyzing Twin Peaks storyline of rape through the lens of rape culture, defined as “a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women … a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent” (Buchwald, Fletcher, & Roth, 2005, p. XI). Rape culture consists of prominent rape myths, which I will also be discussing. Some of those rape myths, as identified by Diana Russell, include, “There is no such thing as rape because if a woman didn’t want to have sex she could easily avoid it … the few rapists who exist are sadistic, crazy psychopaths … rape is the ‘natural outcome of opportunity,’ which is to say that if women give men the opportunity to rape them, men will naturally take it,” (Meyers, 1997, p. 25). I will also be drawing from myths of battering, as identified by Mildred Pagelow, which include, “Those involved are pathological – the woman is masochistic, the batterer is ‘sick’ … the woman provoked him … battering is restricted to lower classes,” (Meyers, 1997, p. 26).  Rape culture exists purely in a misogynistic, patriarchal society where hegemony is necessary in maintaining a culture of rape. Hegemony, as defined by James Lull, is “the power of dominance that one social group holds over others” (Lull, 2011, p. 33). Hegemony is a process of consent that typically benefits a minority group at the expense of a majority group. Twin Peaks is exemplary of rape culture through the way in which it portrays the rapist and by its glorification of Laura Palmer’s rape. Hegemony is present in Twin Peaks through the way that male characters “set the limits – mental and structural – within which subordinate classes ‘live’ and make sense of their subordination”, quoting Hall (Lull, 2011, p. 34). Female-identified characters in the show are granted little to no authority in any situation of importance, and are generally granted few freedoms. How female-identified characters live their lives is constructed purely through the choices of male-identified characters.
In further analyzing how women are represented in Twin Peaks, I will be using Liesbet van Zoonen’s theory of technologies of gender. This is appropriate because van Zoonen’s theory makes the claim that media demonstrate how to perform gender by “accommodating, modifying, reconstructing, and producing disciplining and contradictory cultural outlooks of sexual difference” (van Zoonen, 1994, p. 41).  These demonstrations construct a discourse of gender, or “a set of overlapping and often contradictory cultural descriptions and prescriptions referring to sexual difference which arises from and regulates particular economic, social, political, technological, and other non-discursive contexts” (van Zoonen, 1994, p. 33). Twin Peaks constructs nearly all female-identified characters within a certain discourse of gender and the only deviation from this discourse is applied to characters who are supposed to be seen as perverse, pitied, or comical.

I will be doing this media analysis using all episodes from both seasons of Twin Peaks, which totals 30 episodes. Most of my research will focus on the rape and murder of Laura Palmer, which concluded in episode 10 of season two; however, important gender discourse exists in further episodes of the series. It is important to understand that this discourse continues, even once the murder has been “solved.”

Literature Review

            Despite its enduring popularity, not much academic work has been conducted about Twin Peaks. When searching the show in the Communications and Mass Media Complete library of EBSCO, only 18 academic journals appear, with even fewer of these – three – directly addressing the portrayals of women or sexuality within the program’s two season run. Two of these three findings celebrate Lynch’s informative approach to how rape and incest is presented in the context of white, middle-/upper-class society. In one of these essays, the author writes that, “by sympathetically focusing its audience's attention on the sexual victimization of women, Twin Peaks demands that its audience understand not just that sexual violence occurs, but that our culture tolerates a range of practices that serve to authorize violence against women” (Davenport & Smith, 1993, p. 255). I disagree with Davenport and Smith’s argument that Laura Palmer is not portrayed as the Seductive Daughter and that the show does not contribute to the victim-blaming technique present in rape culture. Twin Peaks does little to condemn this “range of practices” or even the rapist himself, instead focusing largely on Laura Palmer and what she did to get raped, rather than what our society does to encourage rape. However, I agree with Davenport and Smith that it is commendable for prime time television to be introducing the topic of rape, incest, and abuse as a “norm” within white, middle-/upper-class families. This is the first rape myth which Twin Peaks expels when it introduces the rape and murder of Laura Palmer into an almost entirely white, middle-/upper-class neighborhood.

            I agree with Sue Lafky when she writes of Twin Peaks that “it is hard to read the show as offering a progressive vision of the social world” (Lafky, 1999, p. 10). I will be using some of her insights in my own work, as they are reflective of many of the major findings that I contribute to this dialogue of Twin Peaks with a feminist approach. However, instead of focusing on incest, I will focus largely on how Twin Peaks supports rape culture and contributes to media’s constant reproduction of rape culture.

Discussion of Findings

            I have identified 10 female characters – including Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) – with pivotal roles throughout the series’ two season run. In comparison, there are at least 15 male characters with equally important roles, and at least five more who have significant contributions to the plot, if not frequent ones. There is also one character – Denise/Dennis – who is a transgender DEA agent played by David Duchovny and comes in for three episodes during the second season, playing a significant role in how gender-power is conveyed in Twin Peaks. The show exemplifies van Zoonen’s statement that, “women who do appear in media content tend to be young and conventionally pretty, defined in relation to their husband, father, son, boss, or another man, and portrayed as passive, indecisive, submissive, dependant, etc.” (van Zoonen, 1994, p. 17). The perpetuation of these characteristics creates a gender discourse for how the viewer is supposed to understand female characters within Twin Peaks and the reality it creates.
            Twin Peaks begins with the discovery of Laura Palmer’s body on the shores of the river. She is discovered by local fisherman Pete Martell (Jack Nance) and soon after special FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is called in to help solve the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer. With a penchant for pie, coffee, and Douglas firs, Cooper is presented as quirky and original. He is a fresh face – and some comic relief – in the small logging community suffering from the mysterious death of their homecoming queen. Along with Twin Peaks sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) and his two deputies Hawk Hill (Michael Horse) and Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz), Agent Cooper takes over the case of the brutal rape and murder of Laura Palmer. In solving the case, Cooper calls in additional help from the town’s doctor, Dr. Will Hayward (Warren Frost), and FBI agents Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) and Gordon Cole (David Lynch). The One Armed Man (Al Strobel) also plays a major role in helping Cooper and the Twin Peaks police department solve the mystery. All of the people called in to work on the case are men. Although there was another victim of the attack who was able to escape – Ronette Pulaski – she is unable to speak and is described as “in shock”, presenting little to no valuable information about what happened the night Laura Palmer was killed. Outside of interviews with Laura Palmer’s close friends and relations – mostly yielding tips of little use – the only woman to provide valuable information in the mystery is the Log Lady (Catherine Coulson).
            The Log Lady – uncommonly referred to as Margaret – is eccentric, anti-social, and maybe even mentally unstable. She is quite possibly the oldest female character on the show and is not conventionally attractive. The Log Lady carries a log around with her every where and it is implied that her current mental state set in shortly after her husband’s disappearance. She first comes to agent Cooper in episode two to let him know that, in regards to Laura Palmer’s death, “One day, my log will have something to say about this. My log saw something that night.” What her log did see was revealed in episode six, and provided important information to solving the murder. She even goes back to Cooper in episode seven of season two to tell him that, “we don’t know what will happen, or when” but only that something will happen again. This is a valuable prediction of Maddy Ferguson’s murder by the same murderer. Although the Log Lady talks for her log, it is suggested the log is giving these tips, not the Log Lady herself. She refers either to her log, or as herself and her log as “we”, but she never refers to herself singularly. She does not exist without her log. Lafky writes of the Log Lady that she, “limits most of her socializing to a log that she believes offers her wisdom, companionship, and – perhaps – protection from patriarchal violence … her log seems endowed with phallic potency” (Lafky, 1999, p. 11). The Log Lady is the only female character in the show not relationally linked to an existing male character and so instead must be linked with an inanimate object taking on masculine qualities of power (the log “tells” her what to say). The only female character existing outside of Twin Peaksgender discourse, the Log Lady is made to seem batty and undesirable.
It is also important to discuss the one male-identified character that exists outside of the male gender discourse. In Deputy Andy Brennan’s first appearance, he is seen sobbing over the death of Laura Palmer upon the sight of her body. Later on in the same episode, he also sobs hysterically by the spot where Laura Palmer and Ronette Pulaski were raped, saying to the police dispatcher, “Tell Harry I didn’t cry.” It is completely understandable why any character, regardless of gender, would cry (in fact, Leland Palmer is seen crying hysterically on many occasions), however Andy’s purpose in the show is to provide comic relief. He cries often, and it is often ridiculed or portrayed as shameful – he is weak. Furthermore, a large segment of the first season regarding Andy depicts his inability to fire a gun. Several lessons and hours at the shooting range eventually lead to his ability to wield a gun, and he eventually saves a comrade’s life. However, this small example is necessary to understanding the gender discourse that Andy falls into. He aligns more closely with the female gender discourse than the male discourse due to his weak emotions and his inability to work a gun (a power symbol). Despite his power as a cop, he is generally portrayed as the least intelligent of the deputies, bumbling and dependant on his cronies. FBI agent Albert Rosenfield even comments, “Where do they keep his water dish?” Although Andy is a likeable character, he is not supposed to be understood as the hero, or even as someone who the viewer would want to be. Similar to the way in which The Log Lady is portrayed outside of her gender discourse, Andy is comic relief and not to be taken very seriously.
Three female characters – Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle), Maddy Ferguson (Sheryl Lee), and Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) – decide to take the mystery into their own hands after feeling like they should be granted some power in this case (indeed, all people directly working on it are male). Donna Hayward is Laura’s best friend and the daughter of Dr. Hayward, while Maddy Ferguson is Laura’s cousin and niece to Leland Palmer (Ray Wise). Both of these characters are introduced as relationally linked not only to male characters, but also to Laura – something that others officially on the case do not have. The first time that the girls try to help with the case is when Donna, along with boyfriend James Hurley (James Marshall), breaks into the office of Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn), the town’s psychiatrist, to steal an audio tape that Laura Palmer recorded shortly before her death. In order to do this, they employ Maddy to dress up as her look-a-like cousin and summon Dr. Jacoby to a new location by calling him on the phone and seductively talking like Laura. This is only episode seven, the first escapade of any female character actively trying to solve the murder, and we already know that the purpose of the girls in solving the mystery is to use their bodies to get what they need. In the second season, Donna pretends to be in love with shut-in/botanist Harold Smith (Lenny von Dohlen). In episode six she makes out with Harold while Maddy tries to steal a copy of Laura’s diary in his possession. Once again, we see a female character using her sexuality to get what she needs for the case. Furthermore, Donna is reprimanded by Sherriff Truman for her detective work when he calls it a “game” and compares her information to the story of the boy who cried wolf. Because she is a young woman actively trying to work on the case, Donna is given no credibility and all her efforts are demonized or made foolish.
Audrey Horne, daughter of Twin Peaks businessman Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymer) – business partner of Leland Palmer – decides to also take part in the case. Although it is never explicitly stated why she wishes to do some sleuthing, and she is never linked to having been close friends with Laura, it is implied that Audrey’s desire is in hopes of pleasing Cooper, who Audrey yearns to be romantically attached with. In Audrey’s case, she does not seem to have any desire for power, but rather just for a man. In episode seven, Audrey gets a job working at the perfume counter at her father’s department store and eventually goes undercover working as a prostitute at the brothel One Eyed Jack’s, where both Laura and Ronette worked. Once again we see a female character in the show using her sexuality to help uncover the secrets surrounding Laura’s murder in a way that no other male character has needed to do. This escapade also turns Audrey into a damsel in distress character after she is caught sneaking around and is forcefully drugged with heroin. Cooper and the Bookhouse Boys, a band of vigilantes, must rescue her from the brothel. Audrey’s efforts are hardly celebrated and are more or less ignored.
In episode 13 of season two, the transgender DEA agent Denis/Denise takes on male identity as Denis to go undercover in a drug bust because it is “more appropriate” – it will be more believable for a man to be in that power position. However, when the drug bust goes wrong and Cooper is taken hostage, the DEA agent takes the female identity of Denise as a way to seduce the two men holding Cooper hostage. Even when a character moves between genders, the power position is the male identity, whereas the only power the female identity assumes is through sexuality.
In season two, after Nadine Hurley (Wendy Robie) wakes up from a coma, she is granted superhuman strength. No other female characters have been given any type of physical power. However, even with this superhuman strength she is rendered physically harmless when she wakes up thinking that she is still in high school. Despite a scene in episode 13 of season two when Nadine uses her strength to save husband Big Ed (Everett McGill) during a violent attack, her superhuman strength is entirely focused into the wrestling team at school to impress a boy.
When trucker Leo Johnson (Eric DaRe) is shot in the head and loses all cognitive and physical capacities, he remains a threat to wife Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick), who he battered and threatened with murder before his handicap. Shelly purchases a gun for herself but is unable to shoot it properly, rendering the gun, and all power it represents for her, useless. When Leo is stabilized after his attempted murder, Shelly allows him back into the home because her boyfriend, high school football player Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook), convinces her to do so for the insurance money. This demonstrates the little power that Shelly holds over her own life, much less the life of her catatonic husband. Leo Johnson is the epitome of male patriarchal violence, even when he is constricted to a wheelchair, unable to speak and being spoon fed like a baby.
Within this discourse of gender, the female-identified characters in Twin Peaks are required to surrender power in exchange for sexuality. Men, regardless of physical capacities, are still more powerful and given more option to choose than are women. The only power that women hold within this discourse is the power of their sexuality. Even their power of sexual consent is robbed from them in many cases. All female characters (except the Log Lady, and even that is unclear with the gender identity of the log) are at some point in relation to a male character. Without this male relation, women are powerless, “positioning all women vulnerable to male violence and in need of protection” (Meyers, 1997, p. 9). This discourse demonstrates the hegemonic structure of power in Twin Peaks. As written by Stuart Hall, “hegemony is accomplished through the agencies of the superstructures – the family, education system, the church, the media and cultural institutions, as well as the coercive side of the state – the law, police, the army, which also, in part, ‘work through ideology’” (Meyers, 1997, p. 20). Despite Twin Peaks being a detective show, there are no female police officers and no female FBI agents (Denise works for the DEA, and even there, her “power” position is suggested as male). The only women on the show who work outside the home are Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton) and Shelly Johnson, who both work at the local diner – not a major political power position in the community. Although both Laura and Ronette worked at the perfume counter, that was played as only a cover for their prostitution at the brothel. All other women on the show are seen either working in the home as wives, or as daughters who are students. By allowing women few – if any – positions of power, men will always be the most powerful. Women, as the subordinate group, will always need protection from the dominant group, and by doing so, they consent to being told where their limits lie.
Even when considering the two business women of Twin Peaks – Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie) and Josie Packard (Joan Chen) – it is difficult to call them very progressive. It is implied that Catherine Martell is pairing up with Benjamin Horne over the saw mill property. The only time the viewer sees them discussing business, however, is after they’ve had sex. The line between business and pleasure is not entirely clear, and Catherine’s business strategies are muddled by her affair. Perhaps she, like so many other female characters, is using her sexuality to get what she needs. Shortly after the saw mill fire, Catherine disappears and comes back disguised as a Japanese business man. She proposes something new to Benjamin Horne, and then blackmails him. As a man, Catherine is powerful and business savvy. As a woman, she is sexual.
Josie Packard is hardly an example of a progressive female character, either. Although she can, at times, be understood as business savvy, her motives are never clear and she double crosses many people. She frequently flees to Sheriff Truman and more often than not comes off as a helpless child and a vain woman (there are many shots of her staring wistfully into the mirror). In episode seven, when the viewer finds out that Josie hired a hit man to kill her husband – supposedly for land and money – it’s suggested that she perhaps has some power or control over not only her own life, but the lives of others. However, this quickly dissolves in a confusing plot line where her power is also muddled. In an effort to clear my confusions, I retreated to Wikipedia, where it is written of Josie that she, “ultimately dies of heart failure from ‘fear’ after an encounter with evil spirit Bob after having shot and killed Thomas Eckhardt, a long-time tormentor of hers due to his obsession with Josie” (List of Twin Peaks characters, n.d.). This description is hardly progressive. Although she does kill Thomas Eckhardt (David Warner), her former abuser, she immediately dies from shock after seeing – just seeing – Bob (Frank Silva).
As the mystery of Laura’s death draws nearer to a conclusion, the viewer is given more and more insight about the murderer – an evil spirit named Bob. Bob appears first in episode two when Laura Palmer’s mother (Grace Zabriskie) has a vision of Bob – a long haired, middle aged man with primate-like stature – in the family’s living room. She screams hysterically but no one else sees him. In episode two of season two, Maddy Ferguson sees Bob in the same living room, advancing towards her, climbing over the couch like a monkey. The only male character in Twin Peaks to see Bob is Dale Cooper, who has a vision of this “evil spirit” in his vivid dreams. Otherwise, the rapist exists purely in the minds of women, who fall into hysterics at the very sight of him. In fact, Mrs. Palmer is portrayed in later episodes as nearly incapable of living. In episode seven of season two, she is seen crawling down the stairs, panting and desperate, where she crawls into the living room and envisions a white horse, similar to the way she envisioned Bob, before passing out. This scene seems to demonstrate the absurdity of Mrs. Palmer’s visions – including that of Bob, the rapist. When Cooper has a vision of Bob in his dreams, he is represented as keeping a clear mind about the vision. He is presented as strong and stoic; the women weak and hysterical – to the point of death. By keeping the rapist as an imaginary figure, this also places the rapist (and the rape) purely in certain characters’ heads. By not giving him a stable form, at least immediately, he – and the rape he committed – is merely an apparition, something that isn’t real.
Furthermore, by suggesting that Bob is an “evil spirit” and something incorporeal – a monster, even – this encourages an idea that “men who rape, murder, or otherwise commit acts of violence against women are ‘sick’ or in some way pathological ignores the social roots of violence” (Meyers, 1997, p. 10). By constructing Bob as some beast from another world, the links between rape, hegemony, patriarchy, and misogyny are completely cut off.
It is at the end of episode seven of season two that Bob is finally revealed to us, the audience. As Maddy Ferguson runs downstairs thinking that she smells something burning, she is greeted by Bob at the bottom of the stairs, who then transitions into Leland Palmer, as he grabs Maddy and begins strangling her. During the graphic attack scene, the attacker transitions between Bob and Leland. While the character is Bob, everything is in slow motion and under a spotlight. The noises being made are animalistic, as is the way that Bob attacks Maddy. The noises and the technique that Bob uses in his attack are similar to lions hunting their prey. When the character turns back into Leland, the extra effects are gone, and Leland picks Maddy up as if hugging her, spinning in circles and crying while whispering “My baby!” He then turns back into Bob, kissing Maddy on the face and neck while making animalistic noises. You can no longer hear any protest from Maddy. Although she is conscious and looks as if she is making noises, the only sounds you can hear are those coming from Leland/Bob. This avant-garde technique reduces the pain and fear felt by Maddy, and instead focuses on the emotions that Leland and Bob feel. This scene could even suggest sympathy for Leland, as he sobs uncontrollably in the victim’s hair. It also reinforces the idea that the Bob is not human, but rather a beast.
This scene, and further scenes depicting Leland/Bob in similar ways, confuses what Bob represents. Is Bob really an evil spirit that possesses people? Is he an alter ego that Leland assumes when he rapes and murders? Is Bob figurative of prior history of rape that Leland was victim to? None of these questions are ever addressed, and all answers are left up to the viewer to decide. Since it could be any of these three, or possibly more, I will discuss the implications of all three of these representations of Bob.
As discussed before, if Bob truly is an evil spirit who simply possesses people, then that places not only the rapist but also the rape in a realm of the unreal. If Leland truly is “possessed” then he is, under this context, innocent, despite being the physical person to rape and murder. This interpretation suggests that rape does not happen under normal, human circumstances, and those who do rape and murder are “possessed” and furthermore, cannot be physically held responsible.
Bob could also be figurative of prior victimization from Leland’s childhood. In episode nine of season two, Leland says to Cooper, “I was just a boy. I saw him in my dream. He wanted to play. He opened me, and I invited him inside, and he came inside me.” This could suggest that Leland was raped as a child and Bob represents the anger and confusion that Leland has lived with ever since.
It’s also plausible that Bob could be an alter ego that Leland assumes when he rapes and murders. Considering that the rape of Laura Palmer by Leland was incest, it wouldn’t be an entirely baseless assumption that Leland takes on a different identity while raping his daughter as a way to make it seem more acceptable to himself. This interpretation would be plausible given patriarchal structures in American culture, however the show never clarifies the existence of Bob, thus breaking these structures.
The last two assumptions are made unlikely by further clues surrounding Bob which are revealed. Although Leland does confess to the murder of Laura, the attempted murder of Ronette, and the murder of a girl named Theresa in the surrounding area – he says that Bob made him commit all of these – Bob appears in additional episodes after the death of Leland. For example, he appears on the bed after Josie’s death, and the series finale suggests that Bob has possessed another character. These clues would make it seem that Bob indeed was possessing Leland only in passing and he was not figurative of anything more than evil. However, by not addressing any of these possible assumptions it is unclear who Bob is. This leads to an unclear understanding of rape in our culture. Although the entire premise of Twin Peaks exists around the brutal rape and murder of a teenage girl, the rape and the rapist are generally not addressed. The assumption that Bob is simply evil does not suggest any social structural ties to misogyny, patriarchy, or hegemony, all of which are directly responsible for the existence of rape. FBI agent Albert Rosenfield briefly suggests that, “Maybe that’s all Bob is – the evil that men do.” However, this insight is hardly progressive, either. The “evil that men do” has a name, and Twin Peaks brushes aside any areas of discussion for this evil.
Instead of asking, “Why did this man rape and murder Laura Palmer?” the question is rather, “Who was Laura Palmer that she was involved in such a gruesome attack?” Although it could be important to understand Laura’s life in order to find the killer, when the killer is finally exposed, there is little interrogation as to who he is. It is accepted that Bob was possessing Leland and that the death of Leland brought closure to the case. As previously suggested, this is problematic because it does not explore the implications of social structures which contribute to rape in our culture. Rather, what is revealed about Laura contributes to a culture of victim-blaming and creates a false reality about girls and women who are raped.
In the time that it takes to uncover the rapist, a lot is exposed about Laura and her “dark” past, including mysterious diary entries, a cocaine addiction, prostitution, appearances in pornography, and a safety deposit box containing $10,000. Not only is she portrayed as haven fallen into illegal activities, but it is even suggested that she wanted – and purposefully attracted – the rape and subsequent murder. Little is said about Ronette Pulaski, except that she, too, worked at the brothel with Laura, participated in BDSM with Leo Johnson and Jacques Renault (Walter Olkewicz) and also that she appeared in pornography. Both girls are portrayed similarly, participating in acts that the majority of girls and women, and rape victims, would not otherwise participate in. This representation is extremely dangerous to how rape is understood in Twin Peaks because it may suggest that only girls who participate in the activities that Laura and Ronnette did (prostitution, drug trafficking, BDSM, pornography, drug use) are raped. Of the 207,754 victims of sexual assault every year (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network, n.d.) it is extremely unlikely that all, or even the majority, participate in these acts willingly. The only representations of rape in Twin Peaks deeply incorporate these themes; thus, the reality created by Twin Peaks may suggest that girls who do not participate in these activities are not raped.
These representations of Laura and Ronette reflect the ideology of victim blaming that the victim is “…somehow responsible for her own suffering because she was on drugs, drunk, not properly cautious, stupid, engaged in questionable activities, or involved in work or exhibiting behavior outside the traditional role of women. Her guilt is signified through statements … that seek to explain why the crime occurred within the context of her activities” (Meyers, 1997, p. 61). Twin Peaks does much to provide the viewer with background information regarding Laura’s habits, work, and behaviors, which instead of shedding light on the culprit, only works to convince the viewer that Laura was responsible for her own rape and murder.
It is suggested that Laura wanted to be raped, and even that she sought it out by participating in these activities. Many of the responses to Laura’s activities are of pleasure, as if she deserved what had happened because she had been a “bad girl.” For example, in episode five Audrey is pleased over Laura working in a brothel. She also expresses pleasure in Laura’s use of cocaine, as though this information is a point of intrigue over what happened to Laura. Furthermore, although many characters are upset by Laura’s death, it generally does not come as much shock to those who knew her well. For example, in episode six, Laura’s ex-boyfriend Bobby Briggs explicitly says, “Laura wanted to die,” to which Dr. Jacoby replies that Laura “wanted to corrupt people.” This dialogue suggests that even Laura’s close acquaintances felt that she had deliberately sought out her brutal ending – something that the viewer is supposed to also feel.
Episode seven reveals a tape recording that Laura had made where she says of a mysterious man, “I think a couple of times he’s tried to kill me. But guess what? As you know, I sure got off on it.” This statement is ended with a giggle, downplaying the seriousness of murder, and encouraging the idea that Laura enjoyed the terror of her rape.
A diary entry revealed in episode four of season two reads: “Sometimes I worry that she wouldn’t be around me at all if she knew what my insides were like – black and dark and soaked with dreams of big, big men and different ways that they might hold me and take me into their control.” Whether Laura’s rape fantasy was conscious or unconscious is not revealed, but why it was necessary to be revealed in the first place is unclear. This diary entry suggests nothing of substance to the mystery, and the only value it has to Twin Peaks is to perpetuate rape myths. Susan Brownmiller writes of rape myths, “They deliberately obscure the true nature of rape … Once the proposition that all women secretly wish to be ravished has been established, it is bolstered by the claim that ‘No woman can be raped against her will’” (Brownmiller, 1975, p. 312). What these entries suggest to the viewer’s understanding of Laura is that she not only sought out and enjoyed her rape, but that it was not – could not be – against her will. Therefore, Twin Peaks may be dangerously suggesting that there is no difference between rape and sex.

These suggestions are dangerous because they contribute to victim-blaming. By explicitly stating, or even simply implying, that Laura wanted to be murdered or raped, the viewer is led to a false understanding of rape and victims of rape. Furthermore, what we learn of Laura in Twin Peaks does well to keep with what Meyers calls “the virgin-whore or good girl-bad girl dichotomy” which “divides female victims of male violence into innocent victims or women who are guilty of causing or provoking their own suffering” (Meyers, 1997, p. 53). Instead of understanding Laura as an innocent victim, we are led to understand her as a tormented figure who not only wanted to do bad things to men, but who wanted men to do even worse things to her. The viewer is led to believe that Laura is to blame for her own rape and murder, and even that she potentially got off on it.


            Twin Peaks is an incredibly complex, beautifully artistic show. The characters are charming, intriguing, and sometimes flat out irritating, and the constant flow of drama makes it difficult to quit watching. Although ratings dropped significantly after Laura’s murderer was revealed – leading to the show’s demise – it is undeniable that Twin Peaks had a large impact on prime time television watchers in the early 1990s. It is even more significant to note the enduring cult following that the show draws, including from younger generations that were not even born when Twin Peaks first aired. To discredit the show’s popularity would be wrong. However, to consider it as a revolutionary next step for television would also be wrong, and a gross insult to feminist theory.
            Twins Peaks presents little to no progressive thought on gender discourse. Women are weak, passive, purely sexual, and have absolutely no power over their own lives. They belong to men and without that relation to men, women are powerless and in need of protection – which they can only get from men. Men are strong, powerful, intelligent, and always in control of every situation. This discourse of gender in Twin Peaks is even present in characters that move between genders. The only representations of characters outside of their gender discourse are used for comic relief, demonstrating that to exist outside of gender discourse is to be pitied, ridiculed, and absolutely not taken seriously. Twin Peaks is a technology of gender because it contributes to the cultural outlook of sexuality and demonstrates how to perform gender.
            Twin Peaks also presents little to no progressive thought in our society’s culture of rape. The show’s entire premise is central to the rape and murder of a high school girl, which could have been an opportune platform to dispel rape myths. However, the only common rape myth that Twin Peaks does well to reject is the myth that rape and battering only happens to lower-class, non-white populations. The town of Twin Peaks is a predominantly white community (throughout the show, I could identify two non-white main characters – Hawk Hill, who is Native American, and Josie Packard, who is Chinese), and despite being a logging community, every character portrayed seems to be living a middle-/upper-class lifestyle. Most of the main characters are lawyers, doctors, successful businessmen, or widows of successful businessmen.
            However, the debunking of rape myths ends there. Bob, the rapist, is crazy, sadistic, and not even human, while Laura, the victim, is masochistic and is suggested as a departure from ordinary women due to her rape fantasies and willing participation in BDSM, prostitution, and pornography. Twin Peaks suggests that Laura gave her rapist the opportunity by participating in dangerous or illegal activities, and willingly going off with the rapist.

            As I have demonstrated, nothing of the show’s content is progressive. Although Twin Peaks is entertaining, cinematically well-crafted, and its characters are at times endearing, one can hope that the encouragement of rape myths and strict, traditional gender discourse is not the progressive next step for prime time television.

Works Cited

Brownmiller, S. (1975). Against our will: Men, women and rape. United States: Fawcett Books.

Buchwald, E., Fletcher, P., & Roth, M. (2005). Transforming a rape culture: Revised edition. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions.

Davenport, R., & Smith, H. (1993). The knowing spectator of Twin Peaks: Culture, feminism, and family violence. Literature Film Quarterly, 21(4), 255-259.

Edge of Our Seats: Movies and TV shows filled with tension, mystery, and things that are not quite right. (07 March 2013). Rookie. Retrieved from

Jerome, J. (06 April 1990). The Triumph of ‘Twin Peaks’. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved from,,317119,00.html

Lafky, S. (1999). Gender, power, and culture in the televisual world of Twin Peaks: A feminist critique. Journal Of Film & Video, 51(3/4), 5.

List of Twin Peaks characters. (n.d.) Wikipedia. Retrieved from

Lull, J. (2011). Hegemony. In G. Dines & J.M. Humez, Gender, race, and class in media: A Critical reader (p. 33 – 36). Sage Publications.

Lynch, D., & Frost, M. (1990 – 1991). Twin Peaks. United States: ABC.

Meyers, M. (1997). News coverage of violence against women. Sage Publications.

Odell, C., & Le Blanc, M. (2007). David Lynch. Harpenden : Kamera Books.

 Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (n.d.) Statistics. Retrieved from

van Zoonen, L. (1994). Feminist media studies. Sage Publications.