Thoughts from a "Lost" newbie

So, I'm sitting here watching the first part of the pilot to "Lost." I've not seen the show before, I'm not convinced I'll like it, and I'll fuck you up if you reveal anything about the plot to me because I'm not one of those people who is okay knowing the details of shows/movies/plays/books that I might be interested in seeing. This is directly contradictory to the story I told my best friend years ago about always reading the end of a book as soon as I get it so that if I die, I'll at least not have missed the ending.

Believe it or not, it was the only way to get him to stop telling me crucial plot details. He's my best friend: it was lie or kill him. Besides, he should have known better. I'm a fast reader, and if the book's good enough, there's no way I wouldn't finish it, death or no.

But that is all beside the point.

Having managed to avoid anything "Lost" related for ages, it occurs to me that the big mystery to it must be that it'll all be a dream in which someone copes with their fears of flying following September 11. I know. That's all so "Bobby Ewing" (for you kids, that's an old TV reference: go look it up - it'll be useful pop cultural knowledge for relating to your aging superiors and will help you understand why they distrust anything that smacks of dream sequences. Take your time. We'll wait.) .

Back? Good.

It seems to me that the mystery at the heart of the last twenty years of "big reveal" media is this: at the end of it, it's all about how there's something we distrust within ourselves. For ages, our stories were about how we battled nature. Or how we battled each other. Or how the things we created made us vulnerable. And, of course, us versus ourselves isn't new. It's the pervasiveness that fascinates me. So how do you make a disaster show a mystery if you don't make it about trust in ourselves? In the case of "Lost," what I find interesting is the start where we're thrown into the story immediately. And we're instantly confronted with a broken airplane, flames, screams, disaster. And disaster is a word that's taken on a different definition, a different meaning for most of us in the last seven years.

In the show now, there's a noise - maybe music, maybe something creepy in the forest in the dark. No one's sure what they saw. It sounds like a howl. Were I the sort to talk to the characters and offer them advise, I'd remind them that we always confront ourselves when we walk into the forest.

I like that in this show - as in "Heroes" - they've taken a chance and had characters speaking in a different language, that we're forced to grapple with another language. One of the things that was so compelling about "Heroes" to me was the brave choice to try and make us identify with people - by making us follow their story lines - who don't speak our language. Sure, eventually they gave in and had them learn the language, but they held out for awhile in the first season. And Season two, whatever else was wrong with it, made us grapple with multiple languages. That's worth commending, particularly when we can still read reviews that suggest it's laughable that contact with other cultures might make us smarter (it's true - check out the (admittedly out of full context) review from Cynthia Fuchs on Rotten Tomatoes.com of the movie "The Visitor" (a movie that is well worth checking out).

Anyway.

A colleague of mine commented that most of his students don't have the visual fluency to view a movie with subtitles because they can't keep up with reading and watching at the same time. He claims - and I've no real reason not to believe him other than hope - that most of the students in his class have never seen a foreign film. But beyond providing some additional skills to students, I like the use of multiple languages because it makes things a bit more like the world I live in. Now if we could just get subtitles for all those accents I don't understand plus all those languages, TV might be awesome. Even better when there are scenes with no subtitles - just language and intent and the need to muddle through it.

So anyway, what I think is this: you start a show with an unexplained plane crash, survivors are left to make sense of it, there's not only a looming threat but there are people you're not sure you can communicate with who your survival may well rely on. How is this not a microcosm for the world we live in now? How could America not deal with its fears but through media?

I ventured a theory in high school, in the midst of a short story we had to write, after reading "1984" and "Brave New World" that asked us to venture our own utopia/dystopia for the future (awesome assignment, Mrs. Hall!) and what I wanted to write about - and maybe I did, though I remember thinking that I couldn't pull it off then - was about a future world where all America could do was produce entertainment. It was all amusement parks and studio backlots; it's what we did best and what we valued most. And now I think it's where we think things through. This is why I'm so distressed by reality TV and "American Idol." If media is where we think things through, then reality TV represents our worst "what were they thinking" moments.

Anyway, I'm assuming members of the group must betray each other. That they'll have to turn on each other. If my metaphor will hold, then the lesson becomes not just that the Others (yes, I've heard much about the show) must be wrestled with and made familiar and understandable, but that we must as well.

Anyway, I should really pay attention to the show. This pilot episode - part I - is long. But I suppose thought provoking.

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Maggie said...

That's a really interesting point about forcing us to grapple with otherness.

I'm relatively late to "Lost" as well (I started watching the DVDs last summer), and I won't spoil anything for you. But despite some unevenness (every episode is not a Perfect Gem, by any stretch), the thing I like best about it is it also forces you to constantly re-evaluate who is a "good guy" and who's not. Just when you think you have a character figured out, something else about them is revealed.

There are a few exceptions to this, but in general I like that kind of normative slipperiness.

June 2, 2008 at 6:08 PM
Samantha said...

There's a plane crash???? Thanks a lot!

Just kidding. :)

I really have no interest in watching it.

Another brilliantly-written post from you, though!

June 2, 2008 at 11:10 PM