Race/Ethnicity and ...
 

Race/Ethnicity and Gender/Sexuality in "The Return"  

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(@badalamenti-fan)
Roadhouse Regular

Greetings, all.  [n.b. my "forward-slash" marks in the topic title do not imply equivalency-- only relatedness.] There's a terrific discussion going in the "Part 16" forum re: how we might understand and interpret the depiction/status of women in The Return in relation to the near-total absence of people of color as principal protagonists (or, vice versa-- you decide). I describe the topic as "terrific" because of a general consensus therein that its participants have remained congenial in tone and civil in disagreement... Several folks have since remarked that the discussion has overgrown the scope of its original prompts (and its relevance to the particular "Part 16" forum), so I felt it might be worthwhile to "reboot" the topic here in the "off-topic" forum. I'll begin by posing an open-ended-but-nevertheless-focused pair of prompts as an invitation for discussion, with only one ground rule: 

...if you disagree with the implied premise that such questions are worthy of discussion, consider starting an alternative topic for discussion of why you find such a discussion objectionable. I think such a  request is in keeping with the democratic/pluralistic spirit of WTTP and will permit each topic to remain "on-topic," as it were. So here goes, in no particular order. 

1) A conspicuous absence of people of color in The Return has been widely commented upon, both here on WTTP and elsewhere by critics, journalists and bloggers both professional and amateur... This is, of course, anything but a new observation re: Lynch's career, but this facet of The Return seems particularly striking given the 11 years of silence that followed Inland Empire-- and, frankly, given the polarized social climate in the U.S. right now.  IMO, one can now reasonably (if not definitively), conclude that a relative absence of people of color is a characteristic trait of Lynch’s oeuvre.  For the purposes of this discussion, then, I’d like to go one step further by proposing that this trait of Lynch's work presents a curious contrast to the consistency with which he has otherwise explored themes of difference, alterity, identity and community since The Elephant Man…

 

--> How might we understand this facet of The Return?  

_________________________________________________

2) The plight/survival/recovery of female victims of violence and abuse (in particular, sexual violence) has been central to all of Lynch’s films since Blue Velvet (save, of course, The Straight Story)Arguably, Fire Walk with Me amounted to his most ambitious treatment of this topic given the manner in which it re-framed the interior life of a victim/survivor as the crux of Twin Peaks, a remarkable inversion of the objective centrality (or, central objectivity?) of her corpse/memory to the television series.

 à   What new light does The Return shed on this central theme of (nearly) all of Lynch's film/tv works to date? 

 

Finally, I'm particularly interested to know what, if anything, you find these two questions have to do with each other.  Eager to hear your thoughts!

 

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Posted : 02/09/2017 4:57 pm
(@aetherealrumour)
Lodger

OK, I'd like to make two observations regarding race. One, Lynch chose to address race mainly in the character of Hawk, which is important because of the northwest location. Hawk never reacts to white people's ignorance but instead is always generous in the face of stereotyping. I think Lynch likes to gently poke fun of Caucasian silliness in this way. Also, and I don't know whether there have been other threads on this, but when confronted with the owl cave symbol on the ring, Hawk says, "You don't want to know about that." The symbol is actually the ancient Norse Othala rune, which I think means race and heritage. Apparently it's a symbol used by Neo Nazis because it's not generally recognized. I read this on CNN's site.  So it's really fascinating to think how far back Lynch has been using the symbol as something evil. 

Second, I was almost offended on behalf of Appalachia in general (OK, I lived in South Carolina for a few years) by the depictions of Buella and friends in the first episode. It was such a grotesque representation of rural white poverty. So in this way I feel that Lynch is pointing to decay, rottenness that has been the stomping grounds of Mr. C all these years. I guess the over-the-topness of it was meant to set the tone of wow, look how ugly these white people are.

I realize that I haven't really looked at representation more generally but these are my most detailed responses to the broader question...

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Posted : 02/09/2017 5:29 pm
(@badalamenti-fan)
Roadhouse Regular

Thanks, Marian.  I find both observations fascinating.

Re: Your remarks about Beulah and co:

I suspect you're right that this depiction has less to do with any sort of prejudice toward the people of Appalachia so much as a viable metaphor for the decay, rottenness, putrescence you describe as a fertile habitat for Mr. C's evil.  If the depiction of the Beulah group was something akin to Lynch/Frost hyperbolically playing with the "white trash" stereotype of rural poverty, I find it interesting, by contrast, that he seems to have gone to some lengths to humanize the residents of the Fat Trout Trailer Park. I think we can reasonably read these as two related extremes in The Return's portrayal of white folk.

Moving from representations of "Caucase-ians"  (Wally Brando) to representations of "whiteness," I think you're spot on about how Lynch, Frost and Michael Horse use Hawk's good nature to illuminate white ignorance about race in a way that reveals it as grotesque. For me, this works in tandem with the relationship between Wally Brando's discussion of Lewis and Clark and the "actual" colonist/colonized encounters in TSHOTP... I absolutely agree that a consistent strain among the comic elements in The Return is the grotesquerie of overripe images of (masculine/macho/white) "American-ness," from the multiple generations of motorcycle "rebels without cause(s)" to the persistence of muscle-car fetishists. And this more satirical orientation toward (white) Americana marks a significant departure from much of the humor in the original series, IMO-- something worthy of discussion in its own right, I feel, and (I think) something harkening back to Wild at Heart in complicated ways ...  

I'm fascinated to learn about the Owl Ring iconography-- could you possibly share a link to the CNN story?  I'd be thrilled to read Lynch's use of a multiply-coded symbol like this as something akin to historical (mis)understandings surrounding the South Asian origins of the Swastika symbol ... Pretty clever, if this is the case.

With respect to white people, "whiteness" and crises of rural poverty, I've wondered about the reference, early on, to "Chinese designer drugs."  This struck me as odd. For many years, iirc, Afghanistan was the number one exporter of heroine to the U.S., and it's certainly the case that U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers are the source of much of the opioid/heroin epidemic... Meth is similarly a "domestic" industry, both of which would have struck me as more likely means of deploying "Sparkle" as a topical device-- maybe the meth/opioid epidemics were deemed  "too hot to touch" (or meth simply too derivative after Breaking Bad ...)   For me, the phrase "Chinese designer drug" brought to mind the discomfiting use of the Pacific NW's ties to Asia in the original series... the "mysterious Orient" despite the region's occidental proximity and various hybrid cultures... Perhaps ca. 1991 the Asian business/organized crime trope wasn't so much of a cliche-- I'm not sure.

_________________________________________________________

It's a curious business, the polyvalent morality at work in The Return.  Given the nearly all-white cast, white people across the social spectrum are natural objects of Lynch's and Frost's humor...   Sometimes they work as gentle satirists (e.g., Andy, Lucy, Wally Brando), other times their satire takes a much more incisive turn.  I, for one, am still puzzling over the implications of the moral equivalency Hutch and Chantal make between their profession and that of government-sponsored/authorized killing...  Not sure whether this is a rupture that can be read to unveil something about the authors' perspective(s) or whether it's just a send-up of the amorality of Tarantino's films...  Or, perhaps, taken together, these frames really drive home the moral point re: senseless violence and mindless celebrations thereof, or the inadequacy of violence as a solution to bigger problems ... ditto re: the inversion we get when Chantal, dressed above her social station, murders the actual "white collar" criminal in Duncan Todd.  She gets a last meal of (surplus-corn) fast food, then she's unceremoniously (and horrifically) killed...  by a short, bald guy in a southwestern-U.S. post-mortgage crisis "Old West," no less.  Tarantino and Gilligan (and their legions of white male  fans?) look like the ones getting the "Bronx cheer" here ... 

There's so much to discuss, it 's hard to know where to start!  

ReplyQuote
Posted : 02/09/2017 6:17 pm
(@badalamenti-fan)
Roadhouse Regular

Going to go ahead and throw another one up on the board here:

One of the big things to have  "happened" to mainstream consumer culture since 1991--most of all in its widespread adoption by white people (and mass-media advertisers) in all corners of the U.S. is ... 

 .... hip-hop music and culture.

Kinda' odd--and certainly intriguing-- to get Hudson Mohawke and the Jim-Morrison- ish "rapped" (generous scare quotes here) vocals by the lead singer of The Veils in Part 15, but Rebekah del Rio as the sole non-white performer ... singing a song out of time and place... 

I suspect what we have here is Lynch repurposing his critique circa 1986-1992 of 1980s/1990s nostalgia for the 1950s with a new critique ca. 2017 of contemporary nostalgia for the 1980s and 1990s...  but it's hard, IMO, to not see "whiteness" as implicated in both ... 

EDIT:  . ... let alone the all-black big band playing "Audrey's Theme" backwards during the Part 16 credits... a cue, that is, of course, deserving of acknowledgment as one of Angelo Badalamenti's greatest(!), backwards or forwards..  Whew, if that isn't an image that sticks with you, for better or worse...   It's oddly consonant, however, with that of Señorita Dido listening ad nauseum to the same strain of W.C. Handy-ish "jazz" in Part 8 ... 

 

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Posted : 02/09/2017 6:49 pm
(@seattle-swede)
RR Diner Patron
Posted by: Marian Rubey

OK, I'd like to make two observations regarding race. One, Lynch chose to address race mainly in the character of Hawk, which is important because of the northwest location. Hawk never reacts to white people's ignorance but instead is always generous in the face of stereotyping. I think Lynch likes to gently poke fun of Caucasian silliness in this way. Also, and I don't know whether there have been other threads on this, but when confronted with the owl cave symbol on the ring, Hawk says, "You don't want to know about that." The symbol is actually the ancient Norse Othala rune, which I think means race and heritage. Apparently it's a symbol used by Neo Nazis because it's not generally recognized. I read this on CNN's site.  So it's really fascinating to think how far back Lynch has been using the symbol as something evil. 

Second, I was almost offended on behalf of Appalachia in general (OK, I lived in South Carolina for a few years) by the depictions of Buella and friends in the first episode. It was such a grotesque representation of rural white poverty. So in this way I feel that Lynch is pointing to decay, rottenness that has been the stomping grounds of Mr. C all these years. I guess the over-the-topness of it was meant to set the tone of wow, look how ugly these white people are.

I realize that I haven't really looked at representation more generally but these are my most detailed responses to the broader question...

I regret I just don't have the time available to fully reply, especially given all the thoughtfulness you and the OP have already put into this truly important topic, much more so the gravity of the consideration discussed in the prior thread; the mind swims.

One reaction.  There's no focus on Appalachia, I'm sure of it; I feel this.  I know how you could get this idea; it's a sensitive thing, I get it.  I could take you literally 30 minutes from my home in Seattle, where I have lived most of my life and show you Buella and her clan.  I mean it.  For a few years I spent time in the research triangle in North Carolina, arguably one of the most educated, most urbane and sophisticated areas of the country, yet a half hour in any direction would yield the same.  I also lived in Chicago...starting to get the trend?   I know places in America where honest, normal, educated people still don't know what tofu or a baguette is...that doesn't mean anything is wrong with them or their lives.  

My more salient point.  I don't think Lynch is looking down on Buella.  Not in the least.  Do you remember the days when he managed his own pay-website...(brain farts...late 90s, early aughts?), the series of hometown interviews he produced, undirected, unscripted, on his 50-state road trip?  All earthy, blue collar, down home people.  They were wonderful to watch. I don't know if they are available anywhere now. That class (inferior word~!) has not been discussed in our message boards, or not in the way that you reacted in your post, and yet it is so prevalent.  Hutch, Chantel, Buella, Daria, 119 junkie, the farm men, truckers, et al.  They're throughout the series, but we notice them less then the attractive people.  Our prevaricating nature assumes we won't be offended by or confronted with their type at all, and they will, in fact, remain sequestered (in their Appalachia) where they belong.  Ethnic minorities and women are the focal points of the (prior) thread, however, I think Lynch is handling this discriminated community in a deliberately conspicuous manner.  

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Posted : 03/09/2017 12:48 am
(@kyle-anderson)
RR Diner Patron
Posted by: cyndeewillow

You say something interesting and intelligent and then ruin it with statements like this. Why do you think you have the right to assert that?

First of all, sorry for the delayed answer. It was intended to be very provocative. I have studied that issue for quite a long time and I think now that "race" is mostly a social construct. Mostly, not entirely. I always keep in touch with update genetic studies to find out whether "races" exist or not from a scientific point of view. Most scientists believe there are too small genetic differences between apparently different groups of people (e.g. Europeans/White Americans, Aboriginal Australians, Nez Perce, Chinese Han, Ethiopians) to identify them as races (or sub-subspecies). From a mere cultural point of view, differences exist, but remember that around the year 1000 Scandinavians (known as Vikings at that time) were considered 'savages' by Mediterranean people; now probably is the opposite.

I'm not a native English speaker. Please be kind...

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Posted : 06/09/2017 1:39 pm
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