On Monday, the filmmaker David Lynch found himself in the midst of a moment that can only really be described as, well, Lynchian:
“Director David Lynch: Trump Could Go Down as One of the Greatest Presidents” https://t.co/AcgnIZNh6e— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 25, 2018
How did this happen? It starts with the Guardian’s June 23 interview with Lynch — who is famously dodgy and strange in interviews — which included a paragraph with some remarks from the Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks director that set the internet buzzing:
He [Lynch] is undecided about Donald Trump. “He could go down as one of the greatest presidents in history because he has disrupted the thing so much. No one is able to counter this guy in an intelligent way.” While Trump may not be doing a good job himself, Lynch thinks, he is opening up a space where other outsiders might. “Our so-called leaders can’t take the country forward, can’t get anything done. Like children, they are. Trump has shown all this.”
The quotation immediately got picked up on Twitter, truncated to suggest that Lynch was calling Trump “one of the greatest presidents in history.” Breitbart then picked up the story, which soon made it onto the president’s radar, and subsequently, his Twitter feed.
The Breitbart story, along with others, makes a point to note that Lynch’s political leanings are impossible to characterize; he voted for Bernie Sanders and previously supported Barack Obama. But the Breitbart article retweeted by the president closes by asserting that Lynch is “one of the few Hollywood figures to openly express sympathy or admiration toward President Trump since his rise to the Oval Office,” along with other celebrities like Kanye West, Roseanne Barr, Clint Eastwood, Kid Rock, and Jon Voight.
It’s, at minimum, a bit of a stretch to read Lynch’s words in their full context and see them as expressing “sympathy or admiration” for the president. But it didn’t really matter on social media, where the quote stoked a day of arguments about what Lynch did or did not say and whether that should lead people to praise or decry him or his work. Eventually, Lynch himself weighed in on Tuesday with a Facebook post directed at Trump:
“This quote which has traveled around was taken a bit out of context and would need some explaining,” Lynch wrote. “Unfortunately, if you continue as you have been, you will not have a chance to go down in history as a great president ... You are causing suffering and division.” He finished with a call to observe the Golden Rule: “All you need to do is treat all the people as you would like to be treated.”
The whole matter is a tempest in a teapot, a microcosm for a now-familiar cycle in which celebrities say something with a meaning that isn’t perfectly clear in an interview and set off a firestorm that then must be addressed.
It’s also another example of an increasingly familiar phenomenon where Trump and his fans declare that figures from Hollywood, as well as sports and other fields of entertainment, are irrelevant to political conversation and paid entertainers who should stick to entertaining — until they say something even mildly positive about Trump, that is. Once that happens, their opinions become worthy of broadcasting from platforms as influential as the president’s official communications.
But mostly, it’s just silly, and more than a little Lynchian. More than two decades ago, in 1996, David Foster Wallace visited the set of Lynch’s film Lost Highway hoping to interview the director. He never did, but he wrote an article anyhow in which, among other things, he defined what makes a situation “Lynchian”: “a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment within the latter.”
Lynch’s films and TV work are biting, unnerving critiques of an American dream gone rotten at its core. Our quotidian life has something dark and sinister at its center, Lynch suggests, and through elements of the horrifying and the uncanny he pulls those elements to the surface.
It’s a striking analog for the president’s Twitter account: a mundane website that used to be slagged for being where people “post pictures of their lunch” becoming a site where the most powerful leader in the country spews rage, insults citizens, and makes policies. If that seems weird and scary, it’s because it is.
The whole incident will blow over soon, though plenty of film critics quietly hope it will lead some Breitbart readers to watch last year’s masterful, terrifying Twin Peaks: The Return, even if only as a way to “own the libs.” But it’s a good reminder, too: If there was ever a time that reality felt like it was being directed by David Lynch, it’s right now.