Samantha Martinez Ziegler
University of Turku
The Twin Peaks fandom on the net has had a lifespan of over 30 years since the cult series began airing on U.S. television in the year 1990. Up to the present time, fandom culture has evolved, and the Twin Peaks community as well. The focus of this essay is to explore the history of the Twin Peaks fandom from its origins on the Usenet newsgroup alt.tv.twin-peak in the early 1990s all the way to its move to LiveJournal, social media, and the hybrid platform Reddit in the 21st century. In my text, I also highlight how the unsolved mysteries and recurrent riddles of the Twin Peaks television series and Twin Peaks-related media have been instrumental to the ongoing activity of the fandom. Lastly, I consider what the longevity and adaptability of the Twin Peaks fandom on the net mean in terms of fandom culture and the foreseeable future of fandom. This essay was written in the spring of 2020 for that semester’s Academic Writing and Digital Culture class but was revisited and last modified in May 2021 prior to its publication in the journal.
“This has to have been one of the best shows ever”, a user posted on a thread on alt.tv.twin-peak, a Usenet newsgroup active in the early 1990s mainly dedicated to discussing and interpreting the American TV series Twin Peaks among its fans. “You are dealing with an obsessed group of people here”, another user commented in relation to the heavy influx of messages on the board during the show’s first two seasons. Users would log into the net and dedicate hours of their day to share their ideas and theories among other passionate fans. What we could now easily dismiss as common fan behaviour, in the early 90s, these interactions on the alt.tv.twin-peak newsgroup were one of a kind. They influenced and shaped fan culture for generations to come.
As noted by Henry Jenkins (1992), Twin Peaks posed a series of strenuous challenges and riddles open to interpretation for computer netters, like no other TV show had done before (Jenkins 1992, 55–57). The complexity of Twin Peaks gave its viewers the opportunity to spend days analysing and discussing, in particular, fragments of dialogue, camera shots, character mannerisms, and even background music. These communal analyses served as a base for users to subsequently formulate their own theories and later introduce them over several discussion threads, a behaviour that can still be observed within the online Twin Peaks fandom up to this day.
With the premiere of Twin Peaks: The Return in the year 2017, the show’s third and final season, new questions have been added to the ones that have plagued the minds of fans for decades. Though rather than drawing negative emotions, these unanswered questions are the core essence of what the Twin Peaks community is all about: a group of enthusiastic fans who want their brains to be put to test with every new episode and every piece of new media. In this essay, I will go through the virtual history of the Twin Peaks fandom, from its birth up to now, while taking a look at the way the series’ mysteries have played a role in keeping the fandom active during the show’s nearly 26 year-long hiatus.
Origins of the Twin Peaks Fandom on the Net
When the first episode of Twin Peaks was broadcasted on American television on April 8, 1990 by ABC Network, viewers were instantly mesmerised by what they saw on their television screens. Twin Peaks was like no other TV series seen before. With Mark Frost’s brilliant story writing combined alongside David Lynch’s hailed eye for filmmaking, Twin Peaks blended several television and film genres and tropes into a unique and intricate type of its own. Set in the fictional town of Twin Peaks, Washington, the plot revolves around an FBI agent, Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), who joins the local police to investigate the murder of 17 year-old homecoming queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). However, in the two hour long pilot episode of the show, we soon discover that most of the mysteries revolving around Laura Palmer’s death go beyond what we can see. The odd, quirky personalities from the town folk make the viewers question what other secrets are hidden under plain sight. But the most important question, the one that was printed in the mind of every viewer after watching the pilot episode of the show, is unmistakable:
“Who killed Laura Palmer?”
As actor Kyle MacLachlan put it into words for a Showtime interview in 2017, this question, which computer netters amicably nicknamed WKLP early on, resonated around the world. And more importantly, it drove people with connection to the net to reach for their peers, who were interested in Twin Peaks, in order to discuss the episodes, share their theories, and spark new ideas and speculations. As a result, the alt.tv.twin-peak newsgroup on Usenet, an electronic networked discussion system, was born on April 12, 1990.
From early on, when television viewing was combined with taking part in discussion boards, “technologies of convergence enabled communal rather than individualistic modes of reception” (Duffett 2013, 388). Multiple discussion threads would start after each episode, often including the questions such as “did anyone else see…” or “am I the only one who thought…” in the title, suggesting a need to confirm one’s own produced meanings through conversation with a larger community of readers” (Jenkins 1992, 57). Users typed down their hypotheses and shared them with those “who shared their passion for breaking the code” (ibid.). Whether these theories would or would not be proven right was nonessential; it was the thrill of sharing these thoughts within a Twin Peaks obsessed community that motivated fans to keep the group active while the show aired on TV.
The first season of Twin Peaks consisted of 8 episodes, including its two hour long pilot. Rather than offering resolutions, through the course of the series, creators Mark Frost and David Lynch added intricate riddles and unexpected twists to the already multi-layered story told on TV. It was in the middle of the show’s second instalment, which was broadcasted on the same network from September 1990 to June 1991, that Frost and Lynch saw themselves forced to reveal the identity of Laura Palmer’s murderer.
The revelation shocked audiences around the world, including members of the alt.tv.twin-peak newsgroup. Interestingly enough, revealing the identity of the killer was not enough to tie any of the other loose ends of the series. Frost and Lynch had created an exceptional story that extended far beyond Laura Palmer’s murder, even though its consequences and the events that led to it were still considered to be the very core of the show. A few days after the reveal episode was broadcasted on U.S. television, a user commented “too bad we STILL don’t know what those owls are or whether or not they aren’t what they seem” on the alt.tv.twin-peaks group, the last phrase in reference to one of the most iconic and haunting lines of dialogue said in Twin Peaks: “the owls are not what they seem”. To this day, only fan-made theories surrounding the owls’ imagery is offered.
While Twin Peaks was still airing its second season, ABC cancelled the show due to low viewership in the U.S. The show’s final episode, titled “Beyond Life and Death”, was broadcasted on June 10, 1991, and for many years to come, it would become one of the most heavily analysed episodes within the expanding Twin Peaks community in message boards, online forums, blogs, among others. There are two main reasons why: the first one, a promise made by the deceased Laura Palmer: “I’ll see you again in 25 years”. This sparked interest and excitement among fans, despite knowing about the show cancellation. The second reason, by far the most evident one, was the final scene of the show. In it, FBI Agent Dale Cooper seemingly loses his sanity, repeating the same line over and over again: “Where’s Annie?”. These two scenes, among other supernatural patterns repeated through the course of the show, would mark the fate of fan discussions for years to come.
Fandom Migration and Adaptability — The Move From Usenet to LiveJournal to Reddit
The Twin Peaks fandom did not disappear after the show’s cancellation in 1991. If something, the show’s already laid down roots gained strength. A prequel film arrived in American movie theatres in 1992 by the name of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, written and directed by filmmaker David Lynch himself. The movie did not act as a way to tie the show’s loose ends since it is set before the events of the television show, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me focuses merely on the last days of Laura Palmer’s life. Once again, many fans with access to the computer net headed to the alt.tv.twin-peaks newsgroup right after watching the film, ready to share their theories or confirm beliefs they had during the early days of the show.
With the popularisation of the world wide web in the mid 1990s, many fans started moving from Usenet to different web pages, online forums, and fan club pages. Nowadays, this process is known as fandom migration. These web pages would essentially look like “shrines, full of pictures of celebrities” (Duffett 2013, 382). For instance, while users were already able to share images in the alt.tv.twin-peaks newsgroup in the early 1990s, the internet made this process considerably faster and easier than before. With these new innovations, the internet “transformed and further facilitated the whole phenomenon of fandom” (ibid.).
Following the end of the show and airing of the prequel film, the Twin Peaks fandom never ceased its activities on the net. Messaging boards would come alive with multiple posts discussing new theories “as new releases of the series arrived on VHS, then DVD, and then Blu-ray over the years” (Silver 2018). Some of these releases would include extra footage or deleted scenes, which fans would utilise to fill in the gaps in their own theories or spark entirely new ideas. After all, the show had enough unsolved mysteries and plots for viewers to generate different interpretations of the new information. Questions, theories, and opinions that were often found on alt.tv.twin-peaks were now posted elsewhere on the web. To illustrate, on thread started on a Twin Peaks LiveJournal under the title “Judy” in 2004, user greypele posted the following:
“I’m aware that Twin Peaks is not meant to make any logical sort of sense and that still, with that said, it is a great deal of fun to attempt to make sense of it, my question is: Who is Judy? […] I’m just asking for any theories or additional information. I’ve gone on another Twin Peaks a-thon and am, again, totally obsessed with trying to make connections while being very seriously terrified by the sound of a ceiling fan.”
Even a decade after the show originally aired, and with only a minimum amount of new footage released, the narrative surrounding the story of Twin Peaks kept inviting the viewer to participate in its analysis (Jenkins 1992, 55). Similarly, a decade later, in the year 2014, redditor cohle779 started a thread on the Twin Peaks subreddit (/r/TwinPeaks) after watching Fire Walk with Me, sharing their own theories and individual interpretation of the film. At the end of the post, the text reads: “what are your theories or findings? I also always wonder about who Judy is, what’s up with the monkey and what happened to Desmond”. Even with the ten year gap between the posts and the different platforms, the same questions are asked (“who is Judy?”), and no answer nor interpretation is discredited – a recurrent custom found in the fandom. On both of these occasions, fellow members of the Twin Peaks community have come forth and answered the threads by posting their own made-up theories about the subject in question, regardless of whether their hypotheses are plausible within the context of the show or not.
Fans want to dissect the source material with other fans. Following this notion, fandom allows fans to do so, and on the net, communication platforms become the virtual space to carry out these fan activities. According to Mark Duffett, even though fan text (otherwise known as fanon or, particularly, meta) “often creates particular details or character readings even though canon does not fully support it – or, at times, even contradicts it”, it is a vital part of fandom because ”it shows that fans can canonize their objects in a different way to the text’s official creators or guardians” (2013, 354–355). These fan-made texts, and more specifically in Twin Peaks fandom, these fan theories, have an effect on the way others perceive the original source material, often altering their perspective (ibid.). This ongoing fandom engagement creates a distinction between a “casual” viewer and a more devoted one.
The Return of Twin Peaks on Television and Reigniting of the Fandom Online
In the year 2014, after a series of cryptic tweets by Mark Frost and David Lynch referencing Twin Peaks, fans started to speculate online about a possible continuation for the TV show. However, it was not until spring 2015, when Lynch confirmed the then heavily rumoured return of Twin Peaks through his Twitter account. Although the announcement was made 25 years after the first season of Twin Peaks was broadcasted, Twin Peaks: The Return, the long awaited third season of the show, premiered on Showtime in May 2017. The Return consisted of 18 episodes that continued the plot from the first two seasons, keeping the majority of the original cast. The cliff-hangers from the original series were addressed, yet neither Lynch nor Frost ever offered straightforward explanations. Even if mysteries have been plaguing the minds of fans since the 1990s, The Return was not the creators’ way of answering age-old questions about the show, but a way to challenge the viewers with even more riddles than before.
Once the final episode of the season aired, and parallel to the fan reaction to FBI Agent Dale Cooper repeatedly repeating the famous phrase “where’s Annie?” in the closing shot of Twin Peaks in 1991, the feeling of shock took over the online Twin Peaks community with the cliff-hanger from The Return. In it, fans are presented with a new question, once again formulated by Agent Cooper: “what year is this?”. As one would expect, a new hoard of fan-made theories was created soon after episode 18 was broadcasted.
Since the first two seasons of Twin Peaks aired on TV in the early ‘90s, “fandom, the internet, and television itself necessarily all transformed, but Twin Peaks’ originary mythos of intertwining the three cast a long shadow over all of them” (McAvoy 2019, p. 88). Yet in spite of these changes, the need to confirm and validate one’s own ideas and sentiments within a large community of fellow fans in order to have a sense of belonging still characterises the Twin Peaks fandom to this day.
As I mentioned before, back in the early 1990s, multiple threads started on the alt.tv.twin-peaks newsgroup would start with “did anyone else see…” and “am I the only one who thought…”, followed by the original poster’s own thoughts on a certain topic concerning the series (Jenkins 1992, 57). In a similar manner, Reddit users have exposed alike behaviour after the broadcast of The Return. For example, an entry by redditor thefrightfulfulhog posted on the Twin Peaks subreddit after episode thirteen of the show’s third instalment is titled “Did anyone else see a similarity between these two pairs of shots?”. Another case that follows the same pattern is redditor thisheatdeceit’s entry on June 5, 2017 by the title “Am I the only one who thinks the ending of the new part is really sad?”. Over 25 years later, this type of fan behaviour, and more specifically, the need to find peers who agree with the sentiment expressed, is still present in the Twin Peaks community.
The Twin Peaks subreddit, along with microblogging platform Tumblr and other social media, not only make the experience of sharing fan-text faster than it was for Usenet users in the early 1990s, but also allows new forms of fan-made material to be created. In this manner, it is not uncommon to see that the most popular posts on Reddit are a collection of internet memes, or aesthetic photo edits, gifs and moodboards on Tumblr. Nowadays, the sharing of these images plays “a much greater role in the fan discourse” (Cherry 2019, p. 72) than it used to in its Usenet and BBS origins, nowadays becoming an accepted essential component of vocabulary for online communities. Moreover, fan-made images often accompany fan-text, analyses, theories, and other forms of meta text in order to illustrate their ideas or express their emotional responses to the content material. The sharing of these images, especially Twin Peaks-related memes, was remarkably observed during the first run of The Return in 2017 (ibid.).
Laying the Groundwork for the Future of Online Fandom
The stable presence of Twin Peaks online communities on different forums and social media platforms resonates well with other fandoms. As outlined throughout this essay, in spite of the lack of new source material and a hiatus that lasted for nearly 27 years, the Twin Peaks fandom has kept its online activity for decades by discussing and analysing old content among its peers (Silver 2018). The extensive amount of fan-made material, meta, and projects suggests an “excessive fan consumption of cult media” (Cherry 2019, 75). Whether the source material is old or new, fans continue to consume the source material of Twin Peaks and dissect it online. And one of the most fascinating things about this fact, is that this behaviour has persisted for nearly three decades.
During the 2010s, the exponential rise and popularity of social media platforms created spaces for new and lesser known fandoms. A notable example of this is the fandom of the TV series Hannibal, created by American writer Bryan Fuller and based on the series of novels by Thomas Harris. The series aired its three seasons on the television broadcasting company NBC from 2013 to 2015 up until its cancellation, consisting of 39 episodes in total. Analogous to the birth of the Twin Peaks fandom in the early 90s, the Hannibal fandom saw its rise right after the first episode aired in April 2013. The amicably nicknamed fannibals would participate in online discourse about the series’ content, often engaging in different analyses and theories, which continued following the show’s abrupt cancellation in 2015.
Nearly five years afterwards, the Hannibal fandom remains active online. For instance, by visiting the Hannibal subreddit, I was able to find lengthy discussions and blocks of meta text that keep on analysing the series finale, among other recurrent topics such as the nature of the relationship of the protagonists, and so on. While a new season of the show has not been confirmed by the show’s creator, fannibals are not giving up hope. The “Save Hannibal” campaign, a movement that was built solely on social media, has helped spark the conversation about the show’s revival (Caulfield 2019). It seems that as long as there is a passionate fanbase, there is hope. By looking at the history of the Twin Peaks fandom, which was active for over two decades with no new content before getting a new season of the show, and managed to adapt to technology advances, other fandoms could try to follow its steps.
Social media has undoubtedly changed the way we consume and experience fandom. To be precise, these platforms make fandom interaction more accessible and reachable than before. Whereas the most prominent and interactive Twin Peaks communities can be found on Reddit and the microblogging platform Tumblr, Twitter also became home to one of the most unique fandom experiences: a project by the name of Enter the Lodge. What started as a fan-made way to celebrate the story of Twin Peaks, soon became a popular production within the fandom. Started in 2012 and entirely written on Twitter, Enter the Lodge is a fictional continuation to the series’ second instalment. They also count with a website, EnterTheLodge.com, where the different conversations, plot developments, as well as images and documents have been archived.
Social media-based projects like Enter the Lodge put fan theories and meta text in practice: fans are able to develop their own hypotheses not only by writing them down and sharing them with others, but by participating in a role-play-esque project with fellow members of the community.
Over the course of the years, Twin Peaks and its community have left an important mark in the history of fan culture on the net. From its origins, thousands of threads started on the alt.tv.twin-peak newsgroup on Usenet in 1990 and 1991, up to now, with diverse web pages and spaces created on platforms like Reddit, Tumblr, and social media dedicated to the show. The Twin Peaks fandom has not only demonstrated fandom behaviour as its best by producing lengthy and complex analyses since the show was first broadcasted, but has in its process created a strong sense of community amongst its members. Thus, fan-made theories and assumptions are well received by the fans, and these often prompt others to participate in the conversation and continue the discussion. The Twin Peaks fandom has also set an outstanding example of what it is to adapt to new technological advances by migrating through different networked platforms. From the previously mentioned newsgroup on Usenet to shrine-like forums and social media, fans have found and created safe spaces where to share their mutual passion for Twin Peaks and all the unanswered questions the show has left behind.
The year 2020 marked the 30th anniversary of Twin Peaks, and trustingly, the fandom that was born alongside the show will keep growing and continuing to reach these life milestones for years to come.
All links verified 27.5.2021
Image 1. KissThemGoodbye.Net. Twin Peaks Screencaps. Retrieved from http://kissthemgoodbye.net/twinpeaks/displayimage.php?album=57&pid=78436.
Image 2. KissThemGoodbye.Net. Twin Peaks Screencaps. Retrieved from http://kissthemgoodbye.net/twinpeaks/displayimage.php?album=57&pid=79235.
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Image 5. Tumblr User chloedeckr.. Tumblr. Available: https://chloedeckr.tumblr.com/post/135764472337.
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 Fanon: fan + canon. The body of widely accepted fan-created embellishments of a fictional universe, storyline, or character. (source: Double-Tongued Dictionary)
 Meta or meta text refers to fan-made text discussing source material, story or character analysis, or other aspects related to fandom. (source: Fanlore)
 On Reddit, the popularity of a post is measured by getting upvotes from other redditors.
 An aesthetic edit or a moodboard is a style of image editing in fandom that refers to a set of images about an individual fandom or character, usually by adding a specific colour palette or by being desaturated. Source: fanlore.org.
 Fandom slang: a blend of fan + Hannibal. (source: wiktionary.org)