Friday, May 26, 2006

Stealth Philosophy

Stealth Philosophy

Fans of the ABC television show, "Lost," may not realize that they are actually watching a clever illustration of the clash of philosophies.

Hell, I didn't realize it myself, mainly believing the show to be a grand mindf--ck cooked up to deliver ratings.

But this Salon article lays out a convincing case by explaining what each of the main characters represent. Here is the key snippet:

"Jack (Matthew Fox), for one, grew up with an unpredictable alcoholic father, which once compelled him to focus excessively on work, and now leads him to want to exert control over every aspect of life on the island. He seems to represent the traditional Western authority figure -- in his mind, as the leader of the group, he should dictate every course of action and be informed of everything that happens at camp. When disaster strikes, Jack repeatedly blames the fact that he wasn't told, as if, with the proper information, he could prevent any negative events from occurring on the island.

Locke (Terry O'Quinn), on the other hand, who's named after John Locke, an anti-authoritarian empiricist concerned with human knowledge and the rights of man, seems to feel that meaning and the proper course of action can be determined by carefully observing and cobbling together information about the hatch and the strange occurrences on the island. This interest in evidence makes Locke a rational, reasonable presence, but it also makes it easy for "Henry Gale" and other characters to manipulate him, simply by offering faulty evidence ("The numbers ran out and nothing happened!") that supports their claims. This basic difference in perspective naturally sets Jack and Locke at odds with each other.

And then you throw in Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a man of the cloth whose faith is based both in empirical observations and in the personal traumas of his past, which include being responsible for the death of his beloved brother, a priest who inspired Eko to become one. Strong faith alone motivates Eko's actions, from building a church with Charlie (who, as a former addict, needs something concrete to occupy his time on the island) to taking over the button-pushing when Locke becomes disillusioned by the discovery of the second hatch.

In contrast to Eko, you've got Sawyer (Josh Holloway), a relentless pragmatist whose parents' brutal murders have made him distrustful of any outlook that's remotely optimistic or faith-based. Sawyer embodies the brutality and contradictions of capitalism, relentlessly insisting on the exchange of goods on the island, maintaining control over the guns and drugs without being swayed by sentimental or emotional appeals. He brings his own sort of order to the camp, but not without underpinnings of greed, guilt and longing. While he's exceptionally good at keeping himself occupied, between reading books and playing poker with mangoes as betting chips, he's an opportunist and a con man who lacks a reliable moral compass. His self-hatred is evident in the name he's given himself -- Sawyer -- the name of the man who killed his parents.

Sayid (Naveen Andrews) represents the rules of engagement -- or lack thereof -- in times of war. He's suspicious and is always on the offensive, sniffing out traitors. He feels certain that, with enough focused effort, he can get to the truth -- at the heart of the island, or at the heart of any man. This approach came in handy in handling "Henry Gale" -- Sayid was suspicious of the man from the outset, became convinced that he was lying after interrogating him, and then took it upon himself to discover the truth about Gale's crashed hot-air balloon -- but it also makes Sayid one of the more brutal and perhaps overconfident members of the group.

Kate (Evangeline Lilly) may be the toughest to parse of all of the island's characters. Like Sawyer she's practical and opportunistic, with a criminal background, but her major crime -- killing her abusive father -- was motivated by years of emotional turmoil and vengeance. Unlike the other main characters, who have elaborate belief systems in place to justify their actions, Kate seems to lack any kind of philosophy or spiritual center, and ends up being led in circles, from anger to guilt, from Jack to Sawyer and back, by her emotions."

I must say that I'm impressed by the clarity of the analysis, and was left with a newfound respect for the writers of the show, flawed though this second season has been.

Now if network television can find a way to make money off of a "broccoli" topic like contrasting approaches to life (rather than another teen comedy), what can you do to commercialize high culture or eternal truths?

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