America is not a young land: it is old and dirty and evil before the settlers, before the Indians. The evil is there waiting.
-William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch (1959)
Even though the strangest Twin Peaks characters are from the mind of David Lynch, he isn’t their only creator. The singular author myth is dead, and Lynch’s characters are enchanting because they are, in part, co-created by us. But not only by us. Landscapes, archetypes, and Native American sources—indigenous doppelgängers—are involved, and this makes Twin Peaks both a dream and a real-life nightmare.
This essay looks at two American icons: Jumping Man—a Twin Peaks Lodge entity who appears briefly above the convenience store in Fire Walk With Me, at the top of the stairs in Part 15 (“There’s Some Fear In Letting Go”), and walking down the stairs in Part 17 (“The Past Dictates the Future”); and Kokopelli—an ancient American god who appears on cliffs and cave walls throughout the arid Southwest, and on lighters, keychains, and other tourist kitsch inside convenience stores.
Carlton Russell: “David told me that my character was this talisman come to life.”
When we cross Jumping Man with Kokopelli, the two superimposed stories generate a third, like a moiré pattern, a new image that is neither merely Lynchian nor Native American. I believe Lynch encourages this exercise of the imagination by literally superimposing his characters on top of each other.
For the moiré or interference pattern to appear, the two overlapping patterns cannot be completely identical, but rather must be slightly tilted, or have a slightly different pitch. Similarly, a harmony happens when the notes are different, but strange oscillations and rhythms occur when the notes slide closer together.
What we sort of know about the Jumping Man: He is played by writer, clown, and performance artist, Carlton Russell. His characteristic needle-nose appears on the frog-moth’s head in Part 8 before we see it crawl into young Sarah Palmer’s mouth. We see a very similar needle shoot out from inside Sarah Palmer’s face right before “Do you really want to fuck with this?” And her face is projected onto Jumping Man’s in Part 15. Jumping Man’s strange squeaking, it turns out, is Lynch’s own voice sped way up saying something like, “back away, get back.” His white make-up style is seen on Leland and Laura Palmer for a brief moment in Fire Walk With Me, suggesting that multiple lodge entities can possess anyone. This supports the lazy albeit esoteric interpretation that The Room Above the Convenience Store is a metaphor for the human brain, and its entities are aspects of the human mind.
Compressed into a dreamy, oversimplified hieroglyph, Jumping Man is a black actor in a red suit wearing white face paint and a long, pointy nose (not a mask, that’s his actual, deformed face). He jumps around and screams silently like an animal in pain, a creepy clown, and a Japanese Butoh dancer.
He wasn’t even supposed to be at the meeting above the convenient store—he wasn’t in the script, and yet there he is, surrounded by smoke, showing off his teeth, and doing things backwards. A last-minute decision by Lynch, is Jumping Man teaching the young boy magic? He is spotlighted like a magician. Is this the Magician who longs to see? Kokopelli likewise is often referred to as a magician used for hunting, rain, and sex magic.
Is Jumping Man also Cooper? When Jeffries stumbles into the FBI office in Fire Walk With Me, he points at Cooper and shouts “Who do you think this is there?” and right then we see superimposed, for the first time, the image of Jumping Man. It seems there are multiple connections between Jumping Man, Cooper, and Jeffries.
I argue that Jumping Man is Kokopelli’s tulpa, manufactured for a purpose. His connection to the frog-bug makes the resemblance even more unmissable. Kokopelli’s symbol is an artistic rendering of a blood-sucking robber fly! The flute is his proboscis.
If we step back and spin around, Jumping Man resembles Kokopelli as Mickey Mouse resembles Tusan Homichi, the Hopi mouse kachina. That’s part of Lynch’s Americana: cultural hybridity mixed with imperialist nostalgia and a small dose of what William Irwin Thompson calls Disneyism. It’s no surprise that a TV show that seeks to reflect an authentic, American horror story lifts most of its mysterious characters and plot points from Native American sources. Lynch and Frost did this intentionally, but it’s also largely unconscious. Native symbols, spirits, and stories fill our collective unconscious, operating behind the scenes, from ‘fugitive poses,’ haunting our white settler narratives, surviving settler colonialism and cultural genocide.
Jumping Man may be a fleshed-out figment of an idea Lynch had while daydreaming on the warm hood of a car, but Jumping Man isn’t only a dream. He is also a creamed corn mutation of Kokopelli, a reflection of something else American, and so he is capable of pointing us to Native presence.
There is dreaming in meaning, but there is also meaning in dreaming. What is behind David Lynch’s subconscious? What is behind our own? How much of our transcendental Big Mind “ocean of solutions” is influenced by our ocean of Americana? Is Twin Peaks really just an artful reflection of the horrors of settler colonialism?
We should remember that the Citizens Opposed to the Offing of Peaks (COOP) played a tiny role in the successful fight to preserve that sacred Snoqualmie waterfall. However, historian of ethnoecology, Geoff Bil, laments that their efforts warrant “scarcely a footnote in what has been a quarter-century of predominantly indigenous-led anticolonial activism; it did, however, represent a largely unprecedented confluence of interests between Twin Peaks and the peoples whose ancestral lands provide so much of the show’s scenic backdrop.”
The Butoh “Dance of Darkness” Connection
We can talk about ‘dimensions of being,’ Lynch’s psychology, how Eraserhead was influenced by the anxieties of being a father, and Twin Peaks by the anxieties of being an American. We should talk about these things. When I saw Jumping Man opening his mouth to scream, I thought, hey, that looks familiar! Japanese Butoh dancers paint themselves white and cathartically bring to expression un-acknowledgeable cultural trauma through their characteristic silent screams and contemporary dance seizures.
Butoh, like Jumping Man, is linked directly to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese connection is also in the frog-monster, who can be seen as America’s Godzilla. Of course, ours would be born from the Trinity test site in White Sands, New Mexico. These visual languages suggest Jumping Man is about masked trauma in the atomic age.
While Kokopelli signals the coming corn, Jumping Man signals the coming creamed corn.
Jumping Man’s phallic nose, deformed face, his whiteness, and his ruby red suit stand for many things at once. We are looking at an entire symbolic matrix before we even begin to include his avatar in the desert: the deformed memory of a Yugoslavian moth dedicated to Jack Nance.
A deeper look at the Native American doppelgänger will help us appreciate what Jumping Man is doing for Lynch, and what Kokopelli is doing for us.
What we sort of know about Kokopelli: He is a rock art motif dating back to at least 700 AD, a kachina doll type, a young male fertility dancer disguised as a sex god/trickster clown, an Indian stereotype, and, last of all, and behind all these things, Kokopelli is an insect—a robber fly, ancient, noisy, humped back, with a long, flute-like proboscis, who signals the coming of spring, rainstorms, beans, and most importantly, corn. The flute becomes the penis in the castrated souvenir kitsch.
This musical, albeit vicious insect, is also apparently an expression of the great god, Maahu, and may also relate to Xochipilli, the Aztec god of agriculture, drugs, and fertility.
Real Hopi Kachina dancing cannot be revealed to outsiders, but we have permission to share one non-native ethnographer’s account of a post-contact Hopi Night Dance : “Every Kokopelli performer had a hump fixed on his shoulders, and a large red penis (made from gourd or carved cottonwood) strapped in position over the underwear. Each dancer carried a rattle in one hand and held his penis with the other throughout the performance. As they entered the kiva the kachinas lunged at the spectators, particularly at the women. They sang and danced facing the audience, advancing in unison occasionally and singing a slow song. The spectators laughed hilariously.”
Kokopelli dancers represent fertility gods and have sex with men and women. In these monthly Hopi ceremonies, kachina dancers of all shapes and sizes appear on the kiva roofs, surprising guests and joining the party. After the artful and erotic performances, they move on to the next kiva, and like a traveling circus, they recapitulate in one night what the insects and other non-human agents do in the entire season.
Hopi kachina dolls like Kokopelli and Tusan Homichi are kachina children, called tithu. Usually made out of cottonwood root, paako, an extremely sacred material, these toys are actually tiny talisman doppelgängers of the adult dancers, who are themselves tiny versions of the local gods, who are themselves tiny avatars for the cosmic intelligences or angels.
Lynch’s own tiny doppelgänger, his actual son, tries to connect with Jumping Man by wearing a mask, a suit, and by holding a wooden object that looks just like the one Jumping Man holds in his performance. Is it a bundle of sticks, a doll, a wand, a weapon, a rattle, a manikin scepter?
From one perspective, as an American God, Kokopelli seems to be doing just fine. Thriving even. He’s very popular, a technology of survivance, and an important agent of culture. Kokopelli ensures economic power to Native artists and appropriators. He’s “White Tourist Kitsch Man,” as gas stations and art markets sell Kokopelli products alongside dream catchers and whimsies, many labeled “Native made” to comply with the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. But do we really know or even care what the Kokopelli symbol stands for any more? Does the cartoonish silhouette point to those deep connections to landscape, to sex, drugs, magic, and intimate, human-insect reciprocity?
It’s another example of ‘diminishing returns.’ Kokopelli’s popularity erases him and, horrifyingly, the Indigenous people and landscapes to which he is seamlessly connected.
His iconic phallus is removed so he can become a cartoonish fantasy (imagine if Jesus was portrayed as a golfing logo), and while fantasy is an important part of literature and myth, problems arise when a landscape and race of people are constantly portrayed as magical and therefore fictional. “We are fighting every day for the protection of our sacred sites from being destroyed,” Adrienne Keene writes on her blog Native Appropriations. “If Indigenous spirituality becomes conflated with fantasy ‘magic’—how can we expect lawmakers and the public to be allies in the protection of these spaces?”
The humped back flute player was really only shared by a few tribes. The Zuni may have used Kokopelli as a type of sigil magic, carving and painting his image across the landscape and on clay vessels, while the Hopi specialized in turning their bodies into antennae to channel Kokopelli through dance, make-up, costume, and sex. East Coast Natives never heard of him. And yet, along with his cousin, the Ojibwe dreamcatcher, Kokopelli has become a metonym for all Native American Spirituality.
Now, he may even be a projection of Euro-American masculinist fantasies. Richard Rogers argues that Kokopelli articulates “intersections of gender, race, and culture… enabling the use of Native American culture and spirituality to (re)vitalize Euro-American masculinity and promote (neo)colonial appropriations.” Rogers also points to contemporary stories about Kokopelli as an inseminating rapist spirit.
Doubles, tulpas, doppelgangers, twins. It’s both wonderful and sad that we can almost always find some Native treasure behind a mysterious symbol in Twin Peaks. Mark Frost himself said the entity BOB is based on some indigenous folklore about a local, evil spirit. Or was it fakelore? Geoff Bi points out brilliantly how Hawk is, in a sense, playing Good Indian, and BOB is playing Evil Indian, a popular American TV trope. Hawk and Bob are like mythical twins.
And Hawk becomes Lynch and Frost’s Tonto; Michael Horse played Tonto in the 1981 film The Legend of the Lone Ranger. The loyal helper stereotype, who speaks “Hollywood Injun English,” reaches all the way back to Pocahontas, who is the mother of all Native America stereotypes, and any show about what is currently known as the U.S.A. has got to have a Tonto or Pocahontas Indian stereotype.
The Fireman is another great character from Twin Peaks, and may refer to the peyote artist-shaman at the center of the Native American Church ceremony, also called The Fireman, who “sculpts fire” by crossing logs and arranging hot coals into symbols throughout the night. Within the ‘Lodge,’ the Fireman, along with his female counterpart, presents an artistic, ritual performance to help bring balance to the earth (in part by transforming the participants). Sound familiar?
The Fireman’s flickering, fleeting artwork balances the universe and keeps everyone awake and dreaming until sunrise. Interestingly, the general term for the NAC Lodge is the Fireplace, honored because that is where we have been meeting to tell stories and transform our minds for ages. Today, we still gather around firelight, but it’s the light of the movie screen, or the tv, or the cell phone—a Fireplace in our pockets.
I hear listening to the mighty harmonies of Beethoven forges new neural pathways in the brain, giving the listener more room to dream. Likewise, contemplating the layered metaphors in Twin Peaks gives us more room to dream. Like any good religious practice, it leads to more dunks into the abyss and the sublime.
Twin Peaks works with a sentimental yet significant aesthetic, which has always been tied to Native American imagery and a history of abuse. Genocide, rape, toxic waste, and corn all flicker inside the Jumping Kokopelli symbolic complex. It’s a black mirror reflecting America’s darkest shadows. And like Carl Jung said, we become enlightened not by imagining beings of light, but by making the darkness conscious. Recognition and liberation are simultaneous.
Twin Peaks is the greatest television religion there is. All these hybrid American symbols—creamed corn, convenience stores, motels, Formica, Frog-Moth, Abraham Lincoln, Atomic Bomb, movie theater, overlay in the imagination to produce another, more complicated, more slippery story, one that visually hums and rattles like harmony and dissonance only produced when different sounds come together. Or like the overtones revealed in Tibetan throat singing: focusing symbolic languages into each other reveals a deeper/higher/wider dimension of the story.
Through its enchanting characters like Jumping Man, Twin Peaks helps us get in touch with our local histories, communities, landscapes, and with the dreamlike nature of our own minds. However, like any religion, it may also be just another colonial mechanism of native appropriation and erasure.