David Lynch with his hand over his heart
Here is the citation for the edition I am using:
Johnson, Jeff. Pervert in the Pulpit: Morality in the Works of David Lynch. North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2004.

I’ll start by noting that I typically only read critical work that enhances or adds to my appreciation of something I already enjoy. Reading Pervert in the Pulpit has been a totally different experience. This book basically blasts David Lynch, who I’ve considered to be my favorite director since high school. I was extremely skeptical when I started reading. The first sentence on the back of the book states: “Filmmaker David Lynch’s work is viewed here as patriotic and Puritanical.” Whoa! That’s a bold statement for someone who represents the idea of counter-culture and weirdness to so many people (including myself).

After reading Johnson’s introduction, however, I was convinced… or, to be less-dramatic, I was intrigued and could see where his argument was going and how it was probably pretty convincing. As I write these notes, I’m 107 pages into the book. I’ve read Johnson’s analysis of Lynch’s short films and the features Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Dune, and Blue Velvet. I’m sold on his argument and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to watch a Lynch film the same way… and I’m not sure that’s a good thing (or am I just being conservative and nostalgic?). Nonetheless, I’m totally enjoying this book and don’t regret reading it.

On to the notes:


“David Lynch, instead of claiming the mantle of a counterculture hipster with an affinity for outlaws and disenfranchisement, [has] more accurately aligned himself with foot soldiers in the contemporary culture wars, carrying a banner for virtuecrats, neo-cons and Reagan conservatives” (1).

I’ve always considered Lynch to be a “hipster” and “counterculture,” so this statement immediately caught my attention… plus, I hate “virtuecrats” and neo-cons and Reganites, so I was curious to see how Lynch could align with them.

Johnson identifies a

“Calvinist instinct in David Lynch” (1).

I admit that I’m not terribly familiar with the philosophy of John Calvin, except that he was Christian and extremely conservative and that he was very influential in Geneva back in the day.

Johnson found Lynch’s “moral framing” to be more interesting than other critiques of his work.

“I could not look at his work … without identifying his moralistic slant toward mythological ideals of goodness, charity and benevolence threatened by forces of evil” (2).

“his ‘calling’ as a puritanical preacher, albeit one with a penchant for pornography” (2).

When Johnson looked to other critics, they

“self-consciously emerged as apologists for Lynch’s Puritanism” (2).

This has been my experience, as well. The most critical work I’ve read, Slavoj Zizek’s The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime, is very psychoanalysis-heavy, but makes no arguments about Lynch’s morality or ethical constructions.

The critics

“tended to dismiss his conservatism” (2).


“relied on the intertextual theories of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Freud… these theorists provide a handy vocabulary within with certain patterns of Lynch’s behavior can be both examined and exploited” (3).

“Lynch identifies with authority” (3)

ala Gordon Cole in Twin Peaks.

“Lynch epitomizes the voyeurism inherent in a crusade” (4).

Dale Cooper, Jeffrey Beaumont, Paul Artreides (all played by Kyle MacLachlan — “his alter ego”):

“rationalists plagued by the truth of their dreams” (4).

“I was always aware of watching Lynch watch Jeffrey watch Frank deny Dorothy’s visual pleasure” (4).

“All moralists, as Nietzsche says, are prey to their own morality” (4).

Introduction: Blackbeard, Calvin and the Outer Banks of North Carolina

When Johnson first watched Blue Velvet,

“I watched Blue Velvet every day for a week” (6).

When I first watched Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me I watched it every weekend for two months or something like that — so I could identify with Johnson.

“I was fascinated by Lynch’s oddball approach to the ordinary. He seemed like a kinky phenomenologist” (6).

“I was seduced” (6).

From a psychoanalytic standpoint, this is a really funny phrase to use, especially for someone who knows about film theory and the male gaze and whatnot. I’m sure Johnson used this phrase ironically.

Johnson analyzes Dennis Hopper’s acting history, which I think is rather strange, but whatever…:

  • “Redundancy became Hopper’s trademark” (7)
  • He is a “post-abuse neo-conservative” (7)
  • Blue Velvet having become the final repository, the culmination and exhaustion of the motifs and images from all his earlier work” (7)

Lynch’s films

“reinforced a wistful benevolence, projected a vision of nostalgic America that existed only in a Reaganesque, bright-eyed Eagle Scout’s good-deed diary” (9).

“the good people, the elect, are beautiful, wholesome, well-balanced, with a penchant for fifties’ fashion and family values, while the bad people, ugly and carbuncular, deal drugs, engage in promiscuous sex, produce pornography and mock in blatant acts of blasphemy the virtues of American hearth and Heartland” (9, emphasis mine).

This seems pretty par with literature in general — good people are good, bad people are bad… but I guess it’s good to be reminded.

Lynch uses

“desire as a destructive force, the root of evil” (9).

Themes in American literature: guild, sin, and redemption (9)

Lynch is

“a rather straightforward reactionary working within the tradition of typical Calvinist thought in American literature” (10).

“Like Mike Lewis in Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1959), Lynch seems to derive a kind of voyeuristic pleasure from indulging in what he condemns” (10).

This is, I think, the key to understanding Johnson’s argument.

“Lynch dodges questions about ‘message'” (11).

Lynch is known for being tight-lipped about his films — he never discusses meanings, interpretations, etc. Is this because he doesn’t want the true message to get out?

“Reading Lynch through Freud is, of course, irresistible; but more than a method of analysis, Freudian readings of Lynch identify a framing device around which Lynch builds his narratives” (11).

I.e. id and ego. I love Freudian readings (and Lacanian readings, more so), so I agree that it is “irresistible.”

“[Lynch] reminds me of a debauched priest asking for prurient details during confession, or a judge who needs to read a pornographic text a few times too many before he deems the material obscene” (12).

This reminds me of a few things: first, Foucault’s discussion of confession and rape trials where people had to give explicit details of their sexual activities in order to “turn on” the priests and judges; second, something I read during my Media Studies class about obscenity trials where jurors and congressmen, etc. would spend obscene amounts of time “studying” and “verifying” the pornographic content.

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