'Twin Peaks' Episode 5: Why Alex Jones Beats Dr. Jacoby In The Paranoia Racket

Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) in Episode 5 of 'Twin Peaks: The Return.'
Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) in Episode 5 of 'Twin Peaks: The Return.' Showtime

One of the more delightful new mysteries introduced early on in Twin Peaks: The Return surrounded Dr. Lawrence Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn, The Haunting) and his golden shovels. Unlike other shows, which have an economy and rhythm — a sense that each scene is an efficient cog in an unfolding character arc — the new Twin Peaks doesn’t grease rails for the viewer. Watching Game of Thrones is a constant carousel of faces, as we check in to exactly the moment we need to understand what comes next for each character. Twin Peaks, by its sheer indifference to those typical storytelling modes, exposes those narrative mechanics of prestige TV. And few scenes felt more alien to typical TV expectations than watching Dr. Jacoby spraypaint shovels gold, practically in real-time.

Episode 5 revealed the truth behind those golden shovels. They have nothing to do with the Black Lodge or Cooper and his doppelganger. Instead, Jacoby has gone from eccentric psychiatry to paranoid conspiracy webcaster, complete with snake-oil prescriptions for the modern condition, just like Alex Jones and his ilk.

But how does Jacoby stack up against his competitors? Does he earn Nadine Hurley’s attention?

Jacoby opens his podcast with some radio patter:

“It’s seven o’clock, do you know where your freedom is? Coming to you live and electrified from Studio A, high atop the escarpments of White Tail Peak. The roof, woof-woof, of the American Hindu Kush. This is Dr. Amp, doing the vamp for liberty, climbing the ramp for justice and lighting the lamp of freedom. So, what’s on your mind tonight? I mean, you know I’m going to tell you mine. We’re sinking down deep in the mud and the fucks are at it again! The same vast, global corporate conspiracy, different day.”

His props are impressive — Jacoby has an air raid siren that plays patriotic music, a “cosmic” flashlight with adorable angel wings and a light box with the Statue of Liberty — but Jacoby’s show can’t touch Alex Jones (and his media empire Infowars), the reigning star of our paranoid age.

The Alex Jones Show opens: “The Alex Jones Show, because there’s a war on… for your mind.” Herein is Jacoby’s first lesson, should he truly want to capture an audience: it’s more about your enemy than you. Right-wing conspiracy sites like Breitbart are currently learning this to their detriment. Recast as the supporters of Donald Trump, rather than the enemy of liberals, Breitbart’s traffic is tanking. People who are alienated and directionless define themselves against an enemy, rather than for any particular principle.

It’s hard to say how Jones, who takes calls from the President — the outsider become insider — is weathering a similar problem. Jones has been railing against globalists, elite conspiracies and Muslims for years, so when a picture of our president clutching the Earth in his hands alongside autocrat Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and torturer King Salman, it’s hard to imagine his viewers enjoying this mishmash of Trump defensiveness and total surveillance fearmongering:

Identifying evil is typically very, very simple for radio hosts, who thrive on the simplistic, but Jones finally discovers a very bizarre variety of occult obscurantism to defend Trump’s part in this ultimate celebration of globalist evil. Without a villain, he has no clear thesis, but it’s a mistake Jacoby will never have the platform to allow himself, unless he steps it up.

Jacoby never defines himself against his villain, which is only mentioned once: “vast, global corporate conspiracy.” He happens to be right, but it’s a boring and useless enemy if you want to have a captured audience of fanatics that will buy your gold shovels.

What Jacoby most needs is the specificity of the trivial — the feature most lacking from David Lynch’s and most portrayals of the paranoid demagogue. Radio conspiracists don’t rant vaguely about freedom and oppression, using the same speech day after day after day. Instead, Jones builds his rants around the trivial bullshit that eats up the daily news cycle. Their audience isn’t here for abstract ideas, they listen for specific new things to be angry about. There must be constantly refreshed attachment points for rage. The most recent videos on Alex Jones’ YouTube channel aren’t about the globalist conspiracy generally, but about Trump’s London tweets, Vladimir Putin’s interview with Megyn Kelly and “CNN staging fake news” (non-cultist interpretation: having protesters line up to get a clear shot of their signs).

But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope for Jacoby and his Dr. Amp persona. He’s so, so painfully close to a secret it took Alex Jones more than a decade to learn. See if you can spot it:

“What’s lurking in that toaster waffle, those muffins, that frozen children’s treat. Poison! Deadly poison! That’s what there. And what’s waiting for you? Cancer! Leukemia! Autoimmune disorders! Pulmonary embolism! Warts! Psoriasis! Eczema! Cardiac arrest! Where are the cops when you need them? Anorexia! Body image bullshit! Microbial toxins! Bacterial toxins! Environmental toxins! Our air, our water, our earth, the very soil itself, our food, our bodies, poisoned! Poisoned!”

One of the biggest mistakes people make in trying to figure out the appeal of foaming conspiracy theorist shriekers is to assume they fill the same role in their fans’ lives as traditional news outlets. The “fake news” panic makes it even harder to think outside of this context. People imagine the appeal as primarily political. But for the vast majority of his listeners and viewers, Alex Jones’ appeal is personal, not political. It may generate a small cohort of political fanatics, but the conspiracist mass shooter is more a side effect. The real goal is to mop up people alienated from their society and offer them empowerment through snake oil.

Seth Brown at NYMag charts how, since the 90s, Infowars tried out all sorts of diversified revenue streams: t-shirts, DVDs, subscription services, plus traditional radio and web advertising. Then, in 2013, Jones started peddling Infowars Life Silver Bullet Colloidal Silver, Infowars Life Brain Force Plus, Infowars Life Liver Shield and Infowars Life Super Male Vitality. It took Jones years, but he finally struck upon a great secret: his audience doesn’t want the revolution or the politics, they want solutions to their personal problems. Offer a compelling narrative that excuses their narcissism — we must become the Super Males to prepare for the coming revolution — and abracadabra, you don’t need to worry about advertisers anymore.

Jacoby is so goddamn close. He even has a product! During his video he takes a sip from a “huckleberry extract and clean-boiled water from the pure artisan springs of White Tail Peak. Fuck this acai berry shit from the Amazon.” There’s your commercial right there! What are you doing peddling shovels?

Jacoby, you have so much to learn.

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