Lost and 9/11

Please note, whatever thoughts I have on this series comes after viewing Season One on DVD. I haven't seen any part of Season Two (currently on primetime TV) yet.

Initially, I went into Lost expecting a cross between Survivor and Gilligan's Island. While there were elements of both, the show very quickly staked out its own ground. After a strong opening salvo of episodes, it got bogged down in relationship minutae before recovering for the season finale (which proved to be a riddle wrapped up in an enigma). Soggy middle notwithstanding, Lost's basic premise made for compelling viewing. Beyond the soap opera of the plane survivors, the bikini and beefcake shots and the Lord of the Flies type shenangians, there was something else about the show that resonated deeply with the US audience (and still does). I believe it to be this: the core concept of Lost is a metaphor of the USA's post 9/11 predicament.

The plane strikes of 9/11 thrust the USA in uncharted waters. Suddenly, the world as we knew it had changed. It was full of enemies that could be nowhere and everywhere at the same time. The old laws no longer seemed to apply. Yet, the outpouring of sympathy and affection for the US after the attack, seemed to offer a second chance at creating a new world order, of overcoming whatever "blowback" type policies that had at least partly led to this tragedy. Unfortunately, the subsequent policies of the US government led to the increasing isolation of the country from the rest of the world. Furthermore, within the land itself, a diverse group of people had to find a way of communicating, cooperating and, ultimately, rising above the politics of division and suspicion.

Similarly, Lost starts off with a plane crash, hurtling its motley group of survivors into an island beset by invisible monsters and occurrences that just do not make sense. Polar bears in a tropical island anyone? Additionally, throughout the course of the first season, many of the survivors come to the conclusion they are getting a second chance to right whatever wrong they wrought in their pre-crash lives. This is particularly true of the character Locke who finds himself mysteriously cured of his paralysis immediately after the landing. The survivors themselves represent a cross section of the US population and their initial squabbles and mutual suspicions again look painfully familiar. Witness the early vituperation towards Sayed the Iraqi and the Korean couple who cannot speak English.

Glen Fuller has a great post on the post 9/11 genre of TV shows. His thoughts on Lost are similar:

'We have to get along' trope

The last one to hit my radar is the Lost tv series. Lost is so far the ultimate post-9/11 tv show. My mind boggles at how the creators/writers came up with a tv show that has such a homologous relation to the affective temperament of the post-9/11 audience. Lost is produced for the ABC tv network, filmed on location in Hawaii, and was first broadcast on the 22 September, 2004. The survivors of a plane crash have to learn to 'get along'; from the show's official website:

The band of friends, family, enemies and strangers must work together against the cruel weather and harsh terrain if they want to stay alive. But the island holds many secrets, including the intense howls of the mysterious creatures stalking the jungle, which fill them all with fear.

To trace a line in the universe of Lost and a line in the historical circumstances of 9/11 is very easy.

Lost (Historical circumstances of 9/11)

Plane leaves Sydney. (2000 Sydney Olympics last big global event before 'War on Terror.')

Goes off course, but no one from the 'outside world' knows it because the radio is broken. (Warning signs for a catastrophe go unheaded by the 'government'; failure of 'intelligence services.')

Plane crash. (9/11.)

48 passengers survive. Each major ethnic, racial and class group has some form of representation. (Global response to 9/11 transcended most cultural and political divisions.)

Survivors in constant terror from the strange beasts of the island. ('Survivors' of 9/11 are plunged into a global 'War on Terror.')

And so on. There are countless parallels. My brain hurts and if you watch the show you can find more specific examples.

However, so busy were the Lost creators in setting up their microcosm and the character conflicts and backstories, they didn't seem to get much of a chance to comment on the current state of affairs in the USA. Of course, the timeline gets in the way because the first season of Lost occurs over the first month of the plane crash. It also doesn't make aesthetic sense - setting up a parallel universe is fine but mirroring all the subsequent events is too limiting. However, the season one finale does hint at the start of a schism between Locke, the man of faith and visions, and Jack, the rational man of science. Perhaps this is a commentary on the current US political climate (evolution vs. intelligent design, for example)? There are other allusions that develop late on in the season as well - consider the terrorist acts by "The Others" and the use of torture by the survivors themselves. One theme I did not see much of though was how fear could be used to manipulate folks for your own gains. Perhaps there'll be more of that next season. That the possibility is still open is a measure of the richness of the show's concept.

Spread the dishum:  digg it del.icio.us reddit furl My Web

- January 5, 2006 6:43 PM // TV