Panel 8: Small Screen Ecomedia



Panel 8: Small Screen Ecomedia

“Black Lodge Anthropocene: Twin Peaks Ecomedia”

Andy Hageman (Associate Professor of English, Luther College)

“Give It Time: Reframing Place Through Slow TV”

Amanda Hagood (Assistant Dean of Academic Special Projects, Eckerd College)


Q & A

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23 replies
  1. Sydney Lane says:

    Professor Andy Hageman will have limited internet connection until June 19th. He will respond to questions and comments but may be a day or two delayed.

  2. bbarclay says:

    Andy and Amanda, these are really great presentations. Thank you.

    You both find time and paradox (Andy, the terrible and good; Amanda, the fewer production resources and waste while also the problem of data infrastructure, etc.) significant to viewing your texts as green texts (or texts that model ecocritical approaches) or not. What connections or differences do you see in the ways time and paradox work on your texts?

    • CAHagood says:

      Thanks, Bridgitte. That’s a very thoughtful question.

      For a start, I think both of our presentations highlight the ways in which playing with time, and expectations about time, in moving images opens new ways of thinking about timelines and temporalities. Andy’s presentation, in fact, makes me want to go back and view *Twin Peaks* through the slow TV lens I’ve tried to develop in my presentation…think about all the eerie and unconventional long shots of commonplace items like ceiling fans, tables spread bounteously with doughnuts, and of course the famous title sequence that features saws, winding mountain roads, and the endlessly flowing waterfall. If slowness, as I have argued (borrowing, of course, from others) is a way not of rejecting or refuting contemporary speed, but trying to understand what it means to live in a complex way in multiple temporalities, then slow images like these should invite us to an interpretation of Twin Peaks (the place and the series) and the cultural moment it is portraying that goes way beyond good and evil, past and present, natural and industrial. Instead, I think, they argue for Why is Lynch making us look at this creepy ceiling fan for what feels like a very long time? Possibly because it prompts us to think about how we are embedded in a timeline that seems linear, but is in fact endlessly circular…not the steady-growth timeline of the great acceleration we believed we were living in (and that Andy captures so well in those quotes from Lynch’s reflections on the 1950’s), but a more cyclical timeline of longterm ecological effects, rising and falling economies, and (because it’s Lynch) the ebb and flow of forces we might call good and evil through human lives.

    • CAHagood says:

      In a different vein, I think another interesting paradox about slow TV is that, for all I said about its potential to open up new ways of thinking about time and our relationship to place–a way of viewing that would seem to imply sustained critical attention to what’s happening on screen–you could also see it as a very good example of divided attention or multitasking. Some slow TV fans claim to enjoy it precisely because it plays unobtrusively in the background while you do other things, and you can step out of the room for a while without worrying about what you will miss. That would be an important difference, I think, between the kind of slow TV I was discussing and the things Lynch might be trying to achieve with slow effects (I definitely don’t think he wants you to look away).

      That said, multitasking is, in itself, a form of negotiating different temporalities. One of the things I really love about slow TV is the backchannel Twitter discussions that NRK sometimes shares in their live broadcasts, with viewers making comments like “Any sign that the reindeer are about to move? I really have to get to the grocery store” or, in the case of *National Knitting Night*, a winky comment like “What a riveting way to spend a Friday night, huh?” With comments like these, viewers are turning on its head the idea that multitasking is some kind of depleted, impure form of attention and actually practicing a kind of multivalent consciousness that is aware of multiple streams of time.

      • Andy.Hageman says:

        Yes, those winky comments resonate with the comedy mechanics of Rube Goldberg machines; there’s a laughter at how absurd the machines are in themselves and as synecdoche for the mechanization of life, yet that laughter signals also a significantly absorbed reverence for efficiency that came hand in hand with industrial revolution mechanization. I like thinking about the railway example temporally juxtaposed with Freud doing work on what he saw as rising psychoanalytical problems caused in part by railways.

    • Andy.Hageman says:

      Thanks, Bridgitte, for a probing question and to Amanda for a wonderful video talk!
      I so appreciate how Amanda has put our talks into conversation in response to this provocation, especially because as I was taking in her talk I was flashing on the controversial sweeping scene in the 3rd Season of Twin Peaks–a scene with “Green Onions” playing in the Roadhouse while someone very slowly sweeps bar detritus into a pile. It was a scene that quite a number of people posted on, citing it as typical of Lynch’s narcissism, self-indulgence. In fact, Amanda’s talk offered the idea of the viewer getting inside long/slow bits in contemplative ways rather than having their own interiors overridden that gets at what I see in scenes like the long sweep. The negative backlash feels like frustration invoked to disavow the addiction to speedy and sharply and predictably crafted narrative arcs. I agree that Twin Peaks doesn’t want you to look away and multi-task, yet it’s definitely challenging its viewers in part through the same slow tv aesthetics.

  3. rlmurray50 says:

    Hi Andy, What a great video essay presentation! Your opening absolutely illustrated the points you were making in your text. The opening David Lynch quote aligns perfectly with the video behind it, for example, and you recreate the surreal genre that’s part of *Twin Peaks*. It was interesting to me to think about “The Great Acceleration” of the 1950s in relation with the notion of “slow tv.” Nineteen-ninety saw the debut of *Captain Planet and the Planeteers* and *Northern Exposure* (as well as*Fresh Prince* and *In Living Color*), so I’m wondering how you might address how our cultural context might parallel in some ways that of 1990, when *Twin Peaks* debuted.

    • Andy.Hageman says:

      I appreciate the insightful comments and prompt, thanks! Watching Amanda’s piece, especially the part about television history and social/societal shared experiences, really got me thinking about distinctions in the broad field of tv audiences and in the particular field of Twin Peaks viewers. The early 90’s cultural context seems to get registered in Twin Peaks in ways that we can parse from our moment now–while lots of attention has been paid in TP criticism such as Lavery’s initial edited volume to internet forums/connections as platforms for working collaboratively through the series’ mysteries and for building community to pressure the network to keep the series alive, perhaps now we’re in a position to theorize even more about the role those platforms played in channelized tv and its future. Twin Peaks started as a so-called water cooler show, but the audience numbers declined and the location of discussion migrated. This has largely been attributed to series content and network executives, but it would be worthwhile to revisit this pivot point of the social viewing from f2f to online as a potential catalyst.
      What’s been interesting to me in my work with students over the past academic year is how many current college students are coming to Twin Peaks, nudged by the Third Season; the new season arrived just as many of the initial adopters of Twin Peaks have college-aged students who are primed for the Lynch aesthetics, and I’ve had a lot of students telling me about watching the original seasons with their parents. We’ve had some excellent conversations about what that experience of getting a next season after 25 years was like for me by contrast with their access to all of it in bingeable format and by contrast with a broad cultural attitude of impatience for the next seasons of series like Game of Thrones, for example.
      One last response thought this morning is that I think ecological consciousness is very different in 2017 than it was in 1990-91; in the vide essay I briefly visited the themes of the speeches that contestants in the Miss Twin Peaks Contest generated in the original seasons to distinguish the environmentalities of Twin Peaks then and now and this is a part of the talk that’ll be expanded in the version I’m writing. While the original seasons focused on ecology/economy antagonisms in the PNW in that moment, Season Three explores much larger scales of time and space and impact that seem to resonate with the rise of the idea of the Anthropocene.

  4. rlmurray50 says:

    Hi Amanda, Thank you for your engaging presentation. My favorite slow tv is a live stream of an eagle’s nest on the Mississippi River, but one of the teachers in a summer institute I direct is obsessed with the live stream of our campus corpse flower’s blooming.

    I’ve read that Bob Ross’s *The Joy of Painting* is now being used as a meditation and sleep app called “Calm” or Calm’s Sleep Stories of tree painting.

    You have made a good argument for slow tv as Green tv for those with access to time. Maybe the “Great Acceleration* of the 1950s is beginning to decelerate? We all have access to our own slow tvs, as well, in the form of our smart phones as cameras. What happens when our experiences of the human and nonhuman world are mediated through our phone lenses?

    Thank you for your intriguing presentation. You’ve noted effective ways to help make slow tv “greener.”

    • CAHagood says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments, and my apologies for being so slow to respond (though I guess that’s somehow appropriate…)

      I completely agree. Part of what was exciting for me about the idea of slow TV, what made me want to explore it further, is that anyone with a smart phone and just a little bit of internet-savvy might actually be able to produce their own “slow TV”, allow them to zoom in (so to speak) on topics that have a strong local significance (like the examples you shared). The audience might not be large, but the potential for impacting a smaller number of individual viewers, deepening their knowledge and nuancing their sense of time, is potentially high.

  5. Mtrono says:

    Andy, Amanda, thank you, I’d enjoy hearing from either of you as regards my question. (Andy, btw, i appreciate your having taken the time to create a visual essay. It has me wanting to watch your video again to consider further the connections between what is heard and seen.)

    What do you think about the kind of viewer subjectivity that is resistant to narrative slowdowns and to long duration shots that insist on active interpretation and meaning-making on the part of viewers? The reason I ask is that as much as I personally adore experimental texts and their fecund indeterminacies, it takes not only a certain temperament but also several kinds of critical training to enable one to gaze for an extended time at a shot of, say, a ceiling fan before thinking something eco like “……I am watching electricity being directed in such a way as to affect proximate, ambient air currents…does the electricity come from hydro, from waves controlled?….am I immersed in an allusive moment, meant to think about liquid, electrical, and air currents all at once?….are elements and human techne reminding me in this shot that currents of all kinds never exist in the current moment, only in process? Is this a visual pun?” (Or some such thing as that.) So many people bounce OFF of challenging visual texts and do not choose to co-produce meaning with them, and those of us who linger, interested, are small in number and would find meaning nested just about anywhere anyway. 😉 So as well as making the case that Twin Peaks is able to connect with various critical conversations, what about making the case also that visual essays such as yours CO-AUTHOR–on the wider cultural field along WITH Twin Peaks–the ecological insight?

    • Andy.Hageman says:

      Thanks for the kind remarks and the excellent inquiry! On the video essay itself, it was a stellar experience in faculty/student collaboration; I was able to get some institutional funding for a student research assistant just at the moment that an Environmental Studies major in my Intro to Film class got my attention through a great paper on Mulholland Drive and an expressed interest in learning more about film creation processes & tools.
      As to the potential reach of an experimental series like Twin Peaks, this is a matter I think about a lot. Art that enters the surreal strikes me as geared to and open to the challenges of comprehending global warming–global weirding–if you’re interested, you could check out the 2016 issue of Paradoxa I coedited with Gerry Canavan on the topic of Global Weirding. So, the surreal is extremely productive, yet it also can restrict potential audiences. I focus on Twin Peaks with the idea that it continues to reach beyond the audience already happy to watch slow and alternatively-narrative tv because it is so widely cited as a foundation for prestige tv and for those who’re currently making the prestige series; and because it’s a damn fine show! With the widespread success of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel Annihilation, I believe there’s potential for eco weirdness to appeal.
      And the fan as visual pun is great because the fan gets connected with BOB’s presence in the world–with Judy–and it makes me reflect on how I/we as “the fan” of the series are included and implicated.

    • CAHagood says:

      Apologies for being so late in my response–for the past two weeks I’ve been directing an environmental humanities “camp” on my campus and it’s taken just about all of my available time and attention. But I love this question and I’m glad you asked.

      I think there’s every possibility that slow TV is, unintentionally at least, elitist. Lutz Koepnick, whose work I cite throughout my presentation, makes this point very well in showing that many of the “slow” movements that have arisen in food, fashion, and even education have been driven at least in part by demand from those of us who have gained the most from our endlessly accelerating “fast” economy. So “slow” becomes a marker of taste as much as a meaningful way to rethink our modes and systems of production. (Though, of course, Koepnick is trying to get us to do a deeper reading of slow’s possibilities.)

      I did see a little bit of what I thought might be anxiety about slow TV’s potential to shut down viewers (i.e. bore them) in the promotion of slow TV programs as they became available for U.S. audiences through Netflix a few years ago. They tended to discuss slow TV as an “antidote” to an overwrought and contentious news cycle, or to wear a kind of ironic smirk while suggesting the same viewers might also enjoy watching paint dry. Another interpretation of the slow TV phenomenon, and one which I really liked, is that people are drawn to slow TV because it’s a way of not letting the screens “win”: you put it on, you pay some attention to it, but it doesn’t ask you for a state of full absorption. In that sense slow TV is a good answer for the “calm technology” called for by Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown, who predicted in the mid 1990’s that problem of the 21st century would not be lack of available tech, but available attention. (Amber Case has a great talk about calm tech here:

      I don’t think slow TV will ever gain the kind of blockbuster status in the U.S. that it has in Norway until it can find a subject that is equally culturally meaningful and compelling for Americans, who are, of course, a much larger and more diverse population. And maybe not even then! Though maybe there’s a small measure of this in the way Americans talk to one another via social media while watching sports events and political debates and speeches?

      But, with all that said, I love your point about how part of the storytelling for the works we are discussing lies in viewer response. And I think that is reflected in the rich social media conversation around slow TV “events” and the ways in which they provide viewers with an opportunity to reflect upon their subjects. Viewers were busily sharing memories, opinions, and reflections on what they were watching (including its unusual tempo) as broadcasts proceeded. In fact, as they learned more about making slow TV, I think this is precisely what NRK producers were trying to provoke. Thomas Hellum gave a really neat TED talk about this, if you’d like to hear more:
      Of course, this does make you wonder if watching these programs after broadcast, on streaming, is ever going to have a similar effect when we’re all watching on our own time.

    • Andy.Hageman says:

      Your inquiry sparked 3 things right away for me:
      1. Railways were significant catalysts for thinking for Thoreau.
      2. Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s The Railway Journey will offer sophisticated responses to your question.
      3. My old copy of Callenbach’s 1975 Ecotopia features the high-speed rail system envisioned within the novel. It’s a great novel for thinking through ideas about ecological infrastructure in different eras and geopolitical contexts.

    • CAHagood says:

      Absolutely! It’s so easy to lose sight of the profound impact railroads had on the environmental imagination since the ensuring decades have been filled with so many other incredible technological developments, not the least of which was the railroad’s greatest enemy, the car.

      But my mind, like Andy’s went first to Thoreau’s love/hate relationship with the Fitchburg railroad as documented in Walden.

      I believe that the choice of the Bergen train for the first of NRK’s slow TV programs was in part accidental–they were preparing a documentary to celebrate the line’s centenary anniversary, had a preponderance of train’s-eye-view B-roll, and stumbled upon the idea of a non-stop 7.5 hour broadcast. But it does make a really wonderful metaphor for slow TV itself: a long, unedited narrative following a defined path that invites you to fill in the details with your own shifting attention. You could think about the limitations of viewing slow TV in the same way you might think of the limitation of riding a train or any other form of mass transit (versus driving a car)–you don’t get to steer and you (theoretically) share the journey-space with a carful of other viewers. It’s a study in a less individualistic, more communal, way of viewing, I suppose.

  6. Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

    Hi Amanda: Thanks for your examination of some of the uses of slow tv. I have been querying my classes fro over 20 years about late night use of tv and the anecdotal responses seem to suggest some of the ideas you express. From about zero to 50% or more, students use their tvs for reasons other than narrative engagement. Many answered the question “how many of you go to sleep with the tv on?” with a variety of reasons, but the interesting idea was that it went from about zero to 50% in such a short period of time. I also think the wallpaper effect that some of your examples create is analagous to the way people leave their computers on with their favorite screen saver images. The notion of privilege that you bring up is also important because there is never a question of the cost of electricity and or anything else that enables these uses. They just exist without question.
    Thanks for introducing us to these new concepts of televisual and the environment.

    • CAHagood says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment! How interesting, and how telling, are your students responses to your query. I have a lot of conversations with my students about whether it is better to turn in hard copies or digital versions of their papers and have found a similar trend: it’s really easy for them to see the cost of producing paper, but harder for them to see the cost of sending and storing digital files (not to say producing the devices that do these things!).

  7. Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

    Hi Andy:
    Thanks for the continuing championing of Lynch. His ability to introduce mainstream audiences to his concepts of both the surreal and the environment really have had more traction since he went to the “small screen”. His ideas have always been “big” even as the way to project them have become “small.” Thank you Norma Desmond. And thanks for connecting us to both his tv work and his filmic imagination. He’s been trying to engage his audiences with the environment from his first works to his present creations.

    • Andy.Hageman says:

      Really appreciate this, Joe! The new bio/memoir Room to Dream provides some rich new material on ecomedia approaches to Lynch through a great approach to doing a definitive biography.

  8. Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

    Really interesting presentation, Andy! I like the artistic approach you’ve taken here, and it looks like this must’ve been fun to do. I was particularly interested in your choice to focus on the brief scene of them looking at and commenting on Mount Rushmore. I can’t see Mount Rushmore without having its racial politics in mind, though. What role does the history of the place play in your interpretation of this scene and its significance? Related, you argue that the intentional legaclegacy inscribed there refers to an Anthropocene recognition of the unintentional human legacy inscribed into the planetary or geological record. I’m interested in the shift you make here from intentional to unintentional, though. How are these things distinct as result of their intentional/unintentional status? Or: How unintentional is our human legacy, really?

    • Andy.Hageman says:

      Thanks so much for a last day thoughtful inquiry! On race critique, while Rushmore is indeed connected in multiple ways, your prompt resonates for me much more with Mark Frost’s contributions to Twin Peaks, particularly The Secret History of Twin Peaks. That novel writes the history of European colonization into the place and complex culture of the town of Twin Peaks and its forests in a way that the original seasons didn’t explore. This is an element I’m working on as I continue revising current work on the series. I also really appreciate your question on intentionality. You’ve got me thinking more about how the particular project of a mountain sculpture monument is quite distinct from a general carbon-fueled approach to production and circulation or the distinct project of the Trinity test in New Mexico. Each would have a different form of intentionality as they have scales of people imagining, approving, and doing as well as ranges of outcomes directly desired as well as adjacent outcomes perhaps known or not. In that way, the Mt. Rushmore scene, which at a first glance feels like a mere quirk, can catalyze attentive viewers to consider the scales and ranges of legacies at stake inside the series and out. You’ve definitely given me a good line to keep homing in on as I continue this work!

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