A Damn Fine Cup of Coffee: David Lynch and the Art of Experiential Storytelling
Marketing Content Strategy

A Damn Fine Cup of Coffee: David Lynch and the Art of Experiential Storytelling


“Maybe there’s not an idea in every bean, but for me there are many good ideas hiding in coffee.”—David Lynch

I am pretty much obsessed with David Lynch. After I’d bit into his freshman release, Eraserhead, I knew there was no coming back. There was no part of his career too esoteric, no movie too inscrutable. More than anything, though, it was the ardor with which he created that made a believer out of me. This guy was the real deal.

What’s in a Name?

As any self-respecting Lynch adherent will attest, his career resists categorization. Although some mark him as a champion of surrealism, Lynch more likely falls somewhere between existentialism and transcendentalism.

Whichever “-ism” he subscribes to, Lynch is nothing if not an outspoken Luddite. He has often spoken of the disparity between man and experience—consumer and consumed—and, in doing so, has identified one of the most significant underlying facts of creation: As Aristotle put it, “art merely imitates life,” and as a consequence, we must work to bring our readers to that mythical “moment of transport.” But how can you transport someone who is reading your story on her/his iPhone during her/his morning commute? Is this even a possibility?

Milk pouring into a cup of coffeeOur task as storytellers, artists, and brand marketers is to come as close as possible to what Lynch describes as a “collective consciousness experience.”

The power of shared experience is inestimable; it’s that feeling you get when you describe early morning fishing trips with your uncle when you were younger, and someone screams, “Yes! I know exactly what you mean!” This is what makes storytelling a powerful and worthwhile art. And in content marketing, this is what allows a brand to be seamlessly intertwined with compelling material to create an opportunity for conversion—even if it is experienced on an iPhone.

Damn Fine Coffee

As you may know, David Lynch has his own branded signature coffee line—one that he claims he endorsed after rigorous blind taste testing and personal curation. This, however, stands in direct opposition to his hate for consumerism. How could David Lynch, master of profundity and perversion, sell out and lend his name to a coffee brand? Was this some subtle irony or commentary concerning those who would so avail themselves of this bean?

As it turns out, the answer is simpler than academics would like to admit. Lynch loves coffee; he has loved coffee his entire life, and one day he decided he wanted to endorse a brand that made him happy, that he felt could provide others with a shared experience of good, clean happiness. Indeed, he claims to drink upwards of “seven large cups per day” of his brand (it must take hours of transcendental meditation to get his heart rate to a safe BPM).

But what does this have to do with storytelling? Anyone who’s anyone knows Agent Cooper from the popular TV series Twin Peaks loves himself a good cup of joe. Lynch’s oeuvre contains many arresting motifs, including long, dialogue-free shots, erratic emotional outbursts, broody, schizoid soundtracks, and—go figure—cups of coffee.

Coffee shows up in all of Lynch’s work as a unifying thematic device. We all generally drink our morning coffee to dispel the sleep clinging to us from our late nights.

Lynch’s characters, however, drink coffee to bring the viewer into the moment, to isolate the event, and to freeze time for just a moment. In that moment, we all drink coffee, so to speak—we all get to “be there.” This represents the moment of transport, the shared experience; it should be the mission of any content creator to invite the consumer in for a cup of coffee whenever they tell a story.

Brewing Inspiration

We love watching Lynch weave his webs, bizarre or avant-garde as they may be. We love watching because we want to feel uncomfortable, because we are interested in the “why” of his stories. When you’re telling your story, you need to work to draw in your audience in that same way; write about what you truly love, what you can confidently say you believe in.

This is where powerful, motivating storytelling is sourced—authentic, unapologetic creation. If you source your inspiration disingenuously, you will be sniffed out and dragged through the mud by your readership. What better to prove this point than one of the many Twitter campaigns that have turned into seismic PR fiascos? Find your “cup of coffee” and never look back.

So, how do I personally feel about coffee, you ask? I love a dark, aggressive roast. I like to feel the guilty, fleeting condescension of having bought “bird-friendly, renewable” blends at Whole Foods. I grind the beans myself, listen to the shrill whir of the rotary blade as it pulverizes each bean into a coarse powder. I steep the grindings in my glass french press and, ever so patiently, compress the plunger into the oak-brown liquid, each successive inch it climbs downward bringing me that much closer to my morning respite. I pour it into a perfectly sized cup, barely able to restrain myself from sipping the scalding brew. At long last, the waiting is over; I bring the coffee to my mouth, inhale the evaporating, aromatic steam from the surface, and sip my first sip. Ah, sublime!

So, what do you say? Time for a cup of coffee, methinks. I hope you agree.

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