The Twinkie Defense

The Twinkie Defense is a group collaborative performance by Creighton Baxter, Sarah Hill and Hayley Morgenstern. As a wholesome family, we decided to commence a performative investigation into the ramifications and absurdities involved in “The Twinkie Defense” and its legacy.…

The Twinkie Defense

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The Twinkie Defense is a group collaborative performance by Creighton Baxter, Sarah Hill and Hayley Morgenstern. As a wholesome family, we decided to commence a performative investigation into the ramifications and absurdities involved in “The Twinkie Defense” and its legacy. We actuate a queered family TV dinner scenario—in place of a television in this scene are three video cameras and our meal is a feast of Twinkies.
Thirty-four years ago today (May11), the defense rested in the trial of The People vs. Dan White. He stood accused of murdering both San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk and mayor George Moscone. The trial, which remains an extremely public historical case of injustice in the United States often gets misread and subsumed by the spectacle of what has become known as “The Twinkie Defense”.
“The Twinkie Defense” was coined following the trial of Dan White. White’s lawyer’s defense rested on the defense of diminished capacity. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language defines diminished capacity as:
“Lack of ability to comprehend the nature of a crime one has committed or to restrain oneself from committing a crime.”
Arguing that a severe depression, and the problems White was having at City-Hall
led to his inability to restrain from or comprehend his crime, the Twinkies became evidence that the once health-conscious White was severely depressed; that his overconsumption of junk food had caused a chemical imbalance in his brain and that combined with the stress of losing his job caused him to be in a mental state “lacking the ability to comprehend the nature of a crime.” Although White’s crime displayed many predetermined factors such as the window he climbed through to escape the metal detectors from catching his loaded gun and extra bullets. He shot both Milk and Moscone multiple times, reloading his gun prior to his second murder.

As Aunt Ida says in Female Trouble (1974) from the notoriously family-oriented mind of John Waters. “I worry that you’ll work in an office, have children, celebrate wedding anniversaries, the world of heterosexuals is a sick and boring life.”

Accounts of the trial describe the scene as Dan White’s confession played. The recording recounts White framing his actions thorough a rhetoric of hetero-familial pressures and responsibilities; his actual shooting of both Milk and Moscone being almost a side note to his telling of a family drama. As the recording played, it was clear the jury was sympathizing with White’s plight, with more than a few jurors crying at his “anguish”. “A 1979 San Francisco Examiner story on the anatomy of the White defense, written by Jim Wood … cited the makeup of the conservative, mostly female jury, many with children the age of [the] defendant (there were no gays and no African Americans). After a thirty-six hour deliberation, the jury announced its verdict- not guilty on two murder counts, but guilty on two counts of voluntary manslaughter.
The verdict of the trial ignited the White Night Riots, in stark contrast to the candlelight vigil held the night that Moscone and Milk died. The verdict of the trial became sensationalized in the media through the defense’s use of junk food as evidence of depression. Not a major part of the defenses case, “The Twinkie Defense” was coined by journalists and caught on with fervor. The spectacle created by “The Twinkie Defense”, worked as a way to thinly veil and whitewash the integral stigma and hatred toward those symbolized as a threat to the “family values” that Dan White held dearly and used to frame his confession. The flattening of this case through the catch-phrase “The Twinkie Defense” works to hide, trivialize, and perpetuate the various systems of oppression that were activated simultaneously in the murder of Moscone and Milk and the resulting trial.
The Twinkie Defense was performed utilizing the framework of disidentifactory camp as means to process and come to terms with queer historical trauma and invisibility. The action of eating an absurd amount of Twinkies attempts to activate a form of queer protest- that seeks to expose historical injustices and inaccuracies.

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