Tuesday, February 27 2024

In the midst of television today, saturated with inconsistent programs,
it’s comforting to discover from time to time a series such as Lost. It’s credited with having brought deep issues to the
screen- the identity and fate of man, his responsibility facing free
will, the sense of guilt, the possibility of redemption- and having a
fairly explicit religious dimension, even if it was politically
correct.

From 2004 to 2010, the Walt Disney production distributed by ABC caused
millions of viewers from 200 countries to hold their breath in suspense
throughout the series. It sparked many debates and articles and even
more than a dozen books, written not only by television critics or fans
of the series, but also by sociologists and philosophers.

Some of these studies have shown their disappointment with the high
number of questions that the screenwriters have left open without a
response. It certainly was not due to lack of time, since the actual
series were much longer in respect to the original project. It was done
so deliberately, as the producers themselves have explained in various
interviews. Some critics have shown appreciation for the genius of the
creative choices that attempted to make connections and references to a
wide range of mythical, religious and anthropological themes.

Even the titles of the books published speak to the type and tone of
reactions to this media phenomenon:

The Myth of Lost, Lost and Philosophy, The Search of Meaning, The
Gospel According to Lost, Lost ed i suoi segreti (Lost and its
Secrets), La filosofia di Lost (The Philosophy of Lost), Pensare
Lost: l’enigma della vita ed i segreti dell’isola (The Lost
Mindset: the Enigma of Life and the Secrets of the Island),

to name a few. There are even more articles in corresponding thematic
and cultural magazines.

I think it’s fitting to add a personal reflection to this global
phenomenon for various reasons. On one hand, the series still continues
to be watched, be it through the internet, DVD, or the new digital
television channels, which broadcast reruns of the series all
throughout the world, with small but significant audience share. On the
other hand, many of the issues brought to light touch on topics closely
related to the family. Furthermore, Lost is one of the few
quality television series directed at both young people and adults
(however it is not recommended for children).

The attraction of this series has been attributed to its stylistic and
narrative originality. For example, the common yet appropriate use of
flashbacks of the castaways’ past lives, showing the mistakes they’ve
made in life. Or the mesh of genres that made it a thriller-mystery
with elements of drama and romance, along with instances of comedy and
adventure. In addition to these stylistic qualities, it mustn’t go
unnoticed that, unlike most internationally successful television
series, this one does not overdue the sensual content, with the
exception of a few isolated scenes starting from the third season.
Furthermore, immorality, matrimonial infidelity, dishonesty, and
selfishness were generally presented as evils, as realities that are
harmful to the person and society.

The credit, of course, must be sought in the authors, above all in the
creators and main screenwriters: Jeffrey Jacob Abrams, Damon Lindelof
and Carlton Cuse. It’s not easy to maintain a high level of quality and
narrative coherence when there is a contractual obligation to write 120
episodes that last almost an hour each. Furthermore, I think it is
worthy of note that the authors themselves have recognized, without
shame, the influence that their personal experiences had on their
creative work- their Judeo-Christian religious convictions, their own
family conflicts, etc. Their testimonies can be found in interviews
collected by Carlo Dellonte and Giorgio Glaviano in Lost ed i suoi segreti (Lost and it’s secrets), Dino Audino
Editore, Rome, 2007.

It is also quite interesting that one of the recurring interpretations,
offered by Lost fans, is that the island, where the castaways
have spent the last six years, is a metaphor for purgatory. It is there
that their past faults reappear or are accentuated, and other no less
distressing dangers arise. The island could equally be a metaphor for
God himself, or for a deity compatible with the monotheistic religions,
that helps the protagonists take advantage of their isolation to
confront their own mistakes and guilt complexes, to abandon their
excessive rationality or their radical individualism.

The authors did not want to speak out on these nor the many other
speculations in search for meaning. They have stated that they would
prefer each viewer to reflect on their own and draw their own
beneficial conclusions. However one cannot deny that that the series
has, to a certain degree, touched upon these issues and has done so in
an engaging and effective way: through incorporating intense human
stories, with very diverse and clearly defined characters. This last
aspect, according to the authors, is critical to the success of tv
series with such a long duration. It’s the easiest way to hook the
viewers who tend to identify themselves with one of the characters, by
relating to their defects and admiring their efforts to overcome
themselves, making them out to be a kind of modern hero.

These scenes (above all in the flashbacks that tell the previous lives
of the castaways) present the sad reality of today’s society: serious
family arguments, dishonesty in work, insincere habits, greed,
violence, selfishness, inferiority complexes, personality disturbances
or the like.

Besides these wrongdoings, there are virtuous acts, which the viewer
follows during the thousands of incidences that the castaways suffer on
the island. They offer the viewer a few clues that allow them to make
cause-effect associations regarding the events of the island: acts of
generosity in sharing scarce resources, teamwork, trust in the others,
acts of reconciliation, words of advice or encouragement, spontaneous
manifestations of sincerity, and even putting one’s life on the line to
save their companions.

In this sense I think that it is correctly highlighted that the series
follows the classic narrative structure of mythology that has a clear
philosophical dimension, because the root issue lies in the search for
life’s meaning, on one’s view of the world. It is a task that becomes
easier when one looks from the absolute geographical isolation, from an
island populated by dangers that are seemingly superhuman, as Simone
Regazzoni has interpreted in his book La filosofia di Lost
(The Philosophy of Lost) Adriano Salani Editore, Milano 2009.

Regazzoni asserts that the ambiguity that the screenwriters
purposefully left aside, without resolving some very important issues ( what are we doing here, why am I suffering these punishments,
etc.) represents a more actual reflection of society today. Each main
character sees his own situation, his own past life, his own future,
from a different perspective. That plurality of perspectives draws the
viewer to search for his own responses to the ultimate questions, each
one being legitimate.

In my opinion, Regazzoni’s conclusions are excessively over
relativistic. In reality, he tries to read the entire series through
the existential and nihilistic approach of Jacques Derrida and other
deconstructivist authors.

In spite of his forced interpretation, I appreciate his attempt to
analyze the depth of the series through an anthropological standpoint.
It is true that there are always the risks to exaggerate, to invent
meanings that the authors never thought of, to simplify in a few pages
themes that had been developed for many hours because of script
“demands”, or to be criticized for excessive optimism in the search for
positive values.

I believe that this is a good example to show how it is worth studying
the content of some television programs because they are clear
manifestations of the current way of thinking and being, at least of
the creative minority of the Hollywood professionals who greatly
influence the social reality.

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