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Lost or Shakespeare?

April 15th, 2009

Lost or Shakespeare, that is the question. I watched my first episode on Wednesday 8th April and it started well. A bald and sweaty man, looking a fair bit like Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, was lowered down a well. Aha, I thought, as he descended into the gloom, an allusion: into the heart of darkness. A light flared and the well closed up. A bit of grief resulted, then headaches stopped and noses stopped bleeding. The well re-appeared but was full of dirt.

A kind of wicker man was briefly seen. Mr Kurtz had apparently successfully turned a wheel underground to stop the headaches. Above ground, by the well, a man named Jim seemed to be suffering the most volubly, in a terse kind of way, staking a strong early claim as the main character.

Half an hour later we’d been back and forth in time by three years twice, two men had been shot, a woman had given birth, someone had got drunk and blown up some dynamite. There were sore heads again.

Jim was the central character in this episode. Talking in two sentence bursts, he is hairy, sweaty and disgruntled. His character is further characterised by using quaint words like, doozy, boss and chief. Jim and a blonde named Juliet watch each others’ backs. She’s a good shot, kills two men from 30 metres with a rifle, two men who put a hood over a struggling woman.

The best scene for me: the woman in the hood, who was saved by Jim’s yelling and the Juliet’s good shooting, leads her saviours through a sonic fence. They fall about with sore heads again and she blithely removes ear plugs. Is she a criminal? That might explain the hood. Some ambiguity and mystery, then, but it was hard for me to care if anyone got up from their sore heads this time. Still, it takes a while to be drawn into anything.

After the ads came a section which lost me, which seemed uniquely Lostian and a point of difference from other shows, the part of it which makes it worthy of study. There were puzzling references to earlier episodes. A long haired man in grey overalls talked about a fence. A dark haired man in blue overalls called Richard wanted the two dead bodies dug up for some reason. A cymbal bonged. The name John Locke was said ominously, as was The Dharma Initiative. There must be justice for the dead men. There was tension music. Time was mentioned. News came that a sub was leaving the island. French horns, strings.

Juliet told Jim (she calls him James) that she will leave in two weeks on the sub (after three years on the island). No more bloody noses. But who will keep Jim’s back? He needs two more weeks! Piano, strings, moonlight on the water. She granted his request.

Three years later: sun, fresh shirts, fresh veggies, combed hair, Jim walking into domestic bliss. Strings strengthened. The blonde and he embraced, complimented each other tersely as they held a sunflower. “I love you.” “I love you, too.”

Jim sat by the bed of the man in grey overalls who was letting off dynamite previously. What was Jim reading? The man woke up and Jim told him he’s a daddy! Strings. He explained the reason why he got drunk. Something about a dead man (I missed this bit because the phone rang). Jim spoke (to string accompaniment) about regret, about a girl. Memories, he said, meaningfully, they fade.

Jim and Juliet were in bed, spooning rigidly, when the phone rang. Jim answered and was disconcerted. He drove a blue jeep to a peninsula and met a blue combi driven by blue clothed people. Strings. Jim’s hair wafted. He removed spectacles he had not worn once until this scene. Evangeline Lily (I know my Woman’s Day), wearing a singlet, looked meaningfully at him. Credits.

If you’re still reading this blog, you will know that I found Lost pretty silly, from the characterisation down to the over lush soundtrack which sounded portentous and pretentious to me because the two-dimensional characters don’t elicit empathy. The banks of violins were like a canned laugh track in an unfunny comedy, drawing attention to exactly what was missing: in this case emotional drama.

I think that the reason characters like these become engaging is because we watch them unselfconsciously so much − more than we watch the people we know in real life. Over the years we come to know these characters physically in quite an intimate way. Their mannerisms, the way they move and the way they speak are wired into our bodies. In this way their appeal basically works on the same level as people on reality TV (except people on reality TV are more animated and interact in a more fluid way).

Lost is not reality TV. Inexplicable and impossible things happen and people act woodenly. And it’s been running for five years. The result of all the esoteric knowledge abut Lost on the internet seems to be largely a result of the show’s long run and the natural accruement of events which can be recalled. The knowledge being generated here says things about Lost rather than life. This is the difference between Shakespeare (or any other classic literature) and Lost. Great literature says something about life (as well as having special qualities in itself which make it literature), but Lost is just saying things about itself.

Lost may be groundbreaking in its self reflexivity, or intratextuality, but I seriously question the coherence or significance of what it says about itself. The pieces of the jigsaw (though fun) often seem arbitrary and essentially trivial. It is of interest in what it is rather than what it says.

I’m making a lot of claims after watching one episode, but I think that if Lost is to be studied it should be from a cultural/technological angle. The TV series is notable as the generator of a new kind of interactive cyber puzzling community. But could someone do it better than this, harness this new internet interaction? What’s David Lynch doing? A sudden thought! Have I completely missed the point? Is the corniness in Lost intentional and celebrated by its fans, like at a strange movie festival?

Shifting literacies , , ,