Boone going through Sawyer’s stash. Next thing you know, Boone’s bleeding, being helped back to camp. “What happened?” Boone: “Sawyer.” Sawyer, the only one who has seemed to horde property, the only one who has claimed property that isn’t personally useful, is now using violence to protect his plunder. A familiar story to any civilized culture: claiming possession of things that either already had a claim or were in a commons, then using force to keep it. This perpetuates the confusion between assets and income that allows unsustainable practices like economic growth to be pursued as a matter of ideology.
Sawyer’s letter seems to reveal that he seduced and conned a woman and that she and her husband were then killed as a result. And someone wants Sawyer dead. The price of deception is death and loss — and for those who experience that death and loss and don’t know another way to cope, they will want to perpetrate more of the same on those who caused it for them. A vicious cycle. But the vicious cycle is even more vicious, as we will learn, because of a further deception Sawyer is carrying out around this letter.
Shannon’s asthma acting up. The initial response, supported by doctor Jack: drugs, the medical solution, the pharmaaceutical fix.
Sawyer keeps flashing back to the con, in which he pretends to have things he didn’t really have — the seed money, the opportunity to make more money. He uses them — the illusion of them — so that others will give him something. A direct parallel to the asthma inhalers which, we will learn, Sawyer doesn’t actually have. Yet another deception we will only learn about later.
Shannon’s asthma is attacking. Boone insists she needs the inhaler, but Jack insists it’s anxiety for the most part. She breathes in through the nose as he instructs. It works. Hurley thinks it was like a Jedi moment. Was it an “old Jedi mind trick”? If so, then the Jedi aren’t as magical and special as they seemed, because this kind of mind trick is available to anyone. What’s most amazing is that something available to everyone should be used so seldom that it seems amazing.
Sayid says he will get the medicine from Sawyer. Torture. Sawyer is the enemy, the other, less than human, otherwise Sayid couldn’t do it.
Sawyer lets the torture go on, lets them go on thinking that he has the asthma medicine. Jack: “It doesn’t have to be this way.” Sawyer: “Yeah, it does.” After the torture is heightened and Sawyer reveals nothing, Jack wonders about him, “What the hell is wrong with you?” Sawyer only gives in when Sayid threatens to cut out his eye, but he will only tell Kate — why?
Flashback begins with someone asking him, “Do you want to die?” We learn the seed money wasn’t his in the first place, it was just fronted for the con. Sawyer is threatened with torture. Has Sawyer been tortured before? Reached his limits with torture before?
As a condition of telling where the inhalers are, Sawyer insists on a kiss from Kate, just as he’d asked for earlier. “You’re just not seeing the big picture here, Freckles,” he says, wondering if she’d let the girl suffocate because she won’t give him a kiss. She does it, and he immediately lets her know that he doesn’t have the inhalers, that the reason they’d all suspected him, the book — that had been packed with the medicine but that he was now reading — had simply washed up on shore. Why would he put himself through the torture when he didn’t have what they were after? Perhaps the kiss was the goal of the con — a moment of love and connection, even if false and superficial. More likely, it is power itself. He hordes goods, holds sway over those who want things from him. Others show leadership, but Sawyer is an alpha male, and he is doing his best to create an alternate power structure, one in which he can be top dog. If he is willing to endure torture to “withhold” goods he doesn’t even have, what will he be willing to do in the service of his actual possessions? On one hand, this is the true madness of hierarchy. On the other hand, it is, sadly, extremely effective in convincing others to bow to its power.
Sayid loses his temper when he finds out that Sawyer was lying. He believes it’s been lies all along and that Sawyer doesn’t want off the island. Sayid believes Sawyer must have broken the transceiver. They fight and he stabs Sawyer. Is this conflict, is this wound, justified, or is it the result of yet more assumptions and people letting their emotions get the better of them when they’d be better off keeping themselves in check?
Michael brings eucalyptus to Sun as she asked, Jin is up in arms about it, but nothing comes of it. Sun’s power in the relationship is increasing here on the island, where they are immune from so many cultural conventions that previously impacted them. Sun goes to Shannon with the plant.
Jack is holding Sawyer’s wound, keeping pressure on to keep him from bleeding to death. Sawyer says to Jack, “Let go, I know you want to…. If the tables were turned, I’d watch you die.” Does Sawyer actually have a death wish? Does he really want to die?
Flashback to the couple Sawyer was conning. He sees their kid, and we think now more than ever that this is the couple that will die as a result of the con, that this is the kid who writes the letter threatening to kill Sawyer. But he calls off the deal when he sees the kid. Our assumptions were wrong. We’ve been conned by Sawyer — and the writers — into thinking we understood the letter. The man we now know as Sawyer was once a kid, likely no more threatening than the kid we just saw — he has only become who he is now through profound trauma.
On the island, Sawyer wakes up, arm wound treated. Kate says he’s lucky to be alive — possibly little solace to someone who may have a death wish. While he slept, Kate examined the letter, wondering why he’d beat up Boone instead of just saying that he didn’t have the medication — does he simply want to be hated by everyone? Closer inspection tells her the letter is old — he was the kid, the letter written by him to someone whose con led to the death of his own parents. His name isn’t Sawyer. Sawyer was the con man, but then, as Sawyer says, “How’s that for tragedy? I became the man I was hunting. I became Sawyer.” In some sense, it was his only option — his only role model for survival given that his parents died, a role model that forces him to hurt others so that he can live. He wants nothing more now than to hurt the one who hurt him, so see the real Sawyer pay for what he did, to force the real Sawyer to feel the regret he seemed to lack. Perhaps this is why Sawyer wanted Jack to let go of the wound, so that he could know there’d be at least one person having to live with the conscious knowledge of having hurt him.
Sun applied the eucalyptus on Shannon’s chest. Jack realizes what it is and laughs. “Smart, Jack.” He seems embarrassed not to have thought to look for it himself in the island jungle. He thanks Sun, and all seems well. She has used her knowledge and talent, contributed to the group in ways nobody realized she could have, and all while making use of what was on hand, no lamenting what was “missing,” what they were unable to access from off-island.
Sayid decides he can’t stay. “I’ve worse things to fear than what’s in the jungle. What I did today, what I almost did, I swore to do never again. If I can’t keep that promise, I’ve no right to be here.” Sawyer seems successful at continuing to cut off parts of himself from conscious experience — the part that is deeply hurt by his parents’ death, a part which he perhaps feels would consume him if its feelings were permitted expression. Likewise, the parts of him that must regret the impact he’s had on all his marks, the subjects of his cons. Sayid had to squash himself in similar ways throughout the course of his previous torture work, but he obviously wasn’t successful at keeping it up. The shame and regret were powerful enough that he allowed them to be conscious and decided not to torture again. Would Sayid be leaving if the torture of Sawyer had “worked out?” Unknown. But Sawyer’s deception is a blessing in disguise for Sayid. When Sayid realizes the torture was for nothing, that it was only carried out because of Sawyer’s insanity, Sayid seems to recognize that insanity breeds more of the same. Sawyer may still want to live like that, but Sayid does not. Sayid, who knows his most profound fears are inside as opposed to out in the jungle, who wants to stop participating in vicious cycles, goes off to his own walkabout.
Sawyer almost lights the letter on fire with his lighter. But he doesn’t. He can’t shake his past. He’s still attached to it. He’s going to remain so for quite some time.
Walkabout — as Locke describes it, “a journey of spiritual renewal where one bcomes one with the Earth and derives strength from it.” As the survivors are all lost and trying to find themselves and the island represents in so many ways the Earth, it seems the entire series is an epic walkabout.
Noise, rumblings in the fuselage, waking everyone up. Jack assumes it’s Sawyer, lotting. Sawyer nastily announces to Jack, “Right behind you, Jackass.” A tiny moment, but one full of assumption, of generalizing, assume the worst of people, or at least assuming people will do what you’ve seen them do before. How times will this happen in the show? How many times does it happen in our lives? When so many of us are caught in patterns, doomed to repeat ourselves, it seems reasonable — and yet isn’t this inclination to assume one of the very things that keeps us in these patterns? All are afraid, but it turns out to be a boar — Locke smiles, recognizing that what was frightful is now the potential for food, for sustenance, that things were not as they appeared.
Sayid expresses concern over burning the dead bodies in the fuselage, without concern for their wishes, their religions. Jack may be right that there is no opportunity to sort that out. Worth noting who was sensitive to this, though — not just the Muslim, whose creed decries cremation, but the Muslim, the Iraqi, who knows very well how so many other misjudge people with these labels. The outcast knows better than any how important it is to be sensitive, inclusive.
Flashback: Locke plays his war game while at work. The culture that itself creates war does not allow its members to feel power, to struggle for survival. That can only happen in a game. One must leave the culture in order to feel true power, to truly survive.
Michael is going boar hunting with Locke. Walt: “Why can’t I come?” Michael: “‘Cause I said so.” Authoritarian parenting, no reason given. Does he respect Walt so little as to deny a reason, or does he respect himself so little because he can’t provide a good reason, and this is the only way to avoid confronting his own self-disrespect?
Locke tracking the boar. Noticing clues in the ground. Explaining the habits of boar. Using knowledge, skill, for survival. A sharp contrast with paper pushing as he’d done at home. There is something thrilling and threatening about his ability to do this. So many work lifeless jobs, making money to buy food that is kept from you unless you hand the money over. How many would keep doing this if they had the skills Locke had? How much of civilization would crumble if people left those jobs and could get food on their own like this? Here on the island, Locke can truly experience his own power and channel it toward life, no longer just a game. Those who abandon the game and do this in reality are a palpable threat to civilization.
Shannon needs to prove to Boone that she can catch her own fish. She invites Charlie to go for a walk. She gets him to catch a fish for her. Boone frowns on this. Is this the same or different from Locke? She has tracked her quarry, used her knowledge of its behavior, applied her skill to obtained food for herself. But in this case her quarry was just a man taken in by her wiles. Is it the same when one gets someone else to provide as opposed to providing for oneself directly? Are Shannon’s strategies threatening to or supportive of civilization’s typical power structures?
Jack doesn’t want to confront Rose who sits alone, but he convinced to because he is the one who saved her. He sits with her, and he manages to truly care for her, beyond his medical abilities. He acknowledges her desire to be alone and says it’s okay, simply suggesting that she take care of herself, drink. She doesn’t respond, and he says it’s okay if she’s wants to be quiet, they can just sit together. He is providing empathy and connection, stretching beyond his usual behavior patterns — and it does reach Rose, who opens up for the first time since the crash.
John’s flashback, he is annoyed with his boss, and says, for the first of many times we’ll hear the line, “Don’t tell me what I can’t do.” This line is particular interesting and resonant. The problem-based mindset focuses on what is not being done — the appreciative mindset reframes to focus on the many things that can be done despite what seems undoable, and in the process it often extends what is doable. Focusing on what one can do allows one to cultivate ability, strength, talent, power — just as we’ve seen John doing with the boar.
Several more resonances with this very significant line:
Compare Charlie and Hurley in their attempt to catch a fish. Comical compared to Locke. But what might they be able to do that perhaps Locke cannot?
Rose guesses that Jack became a doctor because of his caring way — but he says he was just born into it. Jack’s caring approach to Rose stands in very stark contrast to his medical work, in which he is known to have poor bedside manner. It is not a desire to care that led him to medicine, only a need to fix. Perhaps the caring side of him may lead him away from medicine. But toward what?
Kate tries to boost the transceiver signal, and the Monster comes, crashing down trees. Once again, the island does not want anyone to attempt to make the island visible to the outside world. Locke then sees the Monsters, appears to confront it, and it spares him. Do the Monster and the island sense something special about Locke, understand his appreciation for the island?
Rose says her husband is not dead. Jack tells her everyone in the tail of the plane is gone. “They’re probably thinking the same thing about us.” Once again, there are assumptions based on one’s perspective, failing to consider how things might look from another point of view. Immediately after this, Jack sees his father. Is there significance in this being juxtaposed with Rose’s talk, indicating that people aren’t really gone even though we thought they might be?
Kate returns with the broken machine and asks Sayid to try again. He becomes angry and frustrated that he must do so while lying to everyone who wants to know what he’s actually doing. He is upset about the deliberate deception. Will those who want to speak the truth get their say, or will they be pushed down by those who want the truth hidden? Will we be convinced to hold ourselves down instead of speaking our truths?
Jack tells Kate about the memorial and sees his father again — just as his father appeared before, right after Jack mentioned the memorial to Rose. Jack may seem unemotional about the crash memorial, but even for Jack much can be evoked by the prospect of remembering the dead. Right then, Locke, who’d been presumed dead when he didn’t return with the other boar hunters, appears with a dead boar. Not only did the Monster fail to take him, he’s returned victorious in his hunt. Someone thought dead turns out not to be — resonance for Rose’s husband, for Jack’s father?
Charlie takes a hit of heroin during the memorial. Must he himself to be present to death? What about when it runs out? Just like the antibiotics will run out and Jack will have new things to confront, so will this drug run out for Charlie. Just like batteries and lighter fluid will run out. Soon enough, more and more survivors will have more and more to confront.
Michael asks if Locke got any kind of look at the Monster. Locke says no. More lies, more deliberate deception about the island. Is he guarding his own private island experience? Is he sparing the rest something that may concern them? Either way, it will remain unclear whether good will come from the deception.
Flashback: Locke in the wheelchair after they’ve refused him to get on the bus for the walkabout. The event planners interpret things so literally — Locke can’t possibly walk about. But it’s a spiritual quest, not a physical one. Once again, Locke says, “Don’t tell me what I can’t do.” It’s then we see him on the beach, moments after the crash, and he can wiggle his feet. He has full functioning. He stands. Why? How? We don’t know, and neither does Locke, but his point is certainly proved — we can’t say what someone can’t do, lest we be proved simply wrong in light of new developments. Locke is up on his feet just in time for when Jack asks him for a hand. Immediately, his first act as a walking person again is to serve others. Back to the memorial, the wheelchair is in the flames, burning — Locke is moving past something from his past that restricted him.
The proper critics will scoff — I remember my Environmental Sociology professor being horrified that I was going to go through Titanic in chronological order rather than thematically. After seeing the look on her face, I did a rewrite, and I admit it’s a better way to write criticism and analysis. But chronological is exactly what I’m going to tend to do with Lost from here forward, both because it’s easier and also because I think it may prove interesting to have a thematic analysis done in parallel with the show, everything emerging organically as things go, all the pieces clicking into place only gradually.
This episode, though, and consequently the pilot as a whole, ends with a very notable moment, one that has huge implication for how we understand the meaning of the show and the phenomenon that surrounds it. This deserves some real attention, and I’ll try to do it justice. But first, we start at the beginning.
The episode opens with the gang who found the transceiver trying to get it to work. They can’t. Once again, it’s the wanting to be off the island, but somehow they can’t. They don’t have it in them, or the island won’t let them. They need to develop those resources within — and/or work with the island until the island is willing to let itself be seen.
The first flashback: Charlie, after talking with Kate about whether or not he’s a coward, flashes back to being on the plane. His hands are shaking. Fear, or just a physiological reaction to needing a fix? The flight crew seem onto him, and he gets paranoid that they are going to come after him, so he bolts to the bathroom. There, he takes some of the drugs he has stashed in his shoe, as the crew are demanding he opening the door. What do we learn here? Two things. First, in flashing back to this after considering his cowardice, we know that Charlie is on some level aware of the truth about drugs and addictions in general — that they are a refuge for the fearful, covering up their fear with something else. Second, we learn that civilization has no patience for fear — the flight crew is after him, and he ends up even more fearful now, fearful that they will punish him. Civilization can’t help the addicted, the fearful, in the refuges they take, because civilization is the very cause of them needing that refuge.
Shannon is sunbathing. Boone tells her he is helping others sort clothes and asks if she’d like to help. She blows him off and then ends up berating him for thinking too highly for himself. She is so disconnected from others that not only can she not help, but she needs to blame someone else, make someone else feel bad, because of her own inability. What fear is she not facing?
Jin makes Sun close her top button when Michael comes around searching for Walt. More controlling behavior between dominant husband and passive wife. Also, though, it is an act of embracing freedom outside civilization, met with civilization swooping in and reasserting its restrictions on healthy human behavior.
Michael, who had lost Walt, finds Walt in the jungle. Walt was comfortable walking off on his own into the unknown. Michael was afraid to do so. He scolds Walt: “What’d I tell you after everything that’s happened? …. You listen to me, I mean what I say.” Michael has not yet confronted his own fears, and so the jungle is a dangerous place. There seems little doubt that Michael may have real love for Walt, but he doesn’t know how to make Walt feel loved. Walt has perhaps not yet become as fearful as Michael, and on some level Michael resents that fact, reacting with authoritarian parenting that’s sure to push Walt eventually toward repeating the cycle of fear. Is it a coincidence that all of this happens just as Walt finds a pair of handcuffs? Definitely a symbol of authoritarianism, dominance, punishment, imprisonment and fear from a culture that is full of these things, that has an ever growing inmate population, and all despite its knowing the science that shows that punishment is not as effective as reward in modifying behavior, and neither as effective as simple validation and empathy when it comes to fostering intrinsic self-esteem. Parenting, no doubt, will prove to be a significant theme in the show, just as parenting is an absolutely crucial factor in the real-life repetition of vicious cycles — and in the real-life breaking of those cycles.
The first real fight between characters occurs between Sawyer and Sayid after Sawyer accuses Sayid of crashing the plane. To sum up these characters in single superficial words, we have, from Sawyer’s standpoint, the Patriot vs. the Terrorist. From Sayid’s perspective: the Redneck vs. the Iraqi, a national designation filed for Sayid with cultural but not ideological meaning. What fears cause people to make generalizations, to automatically assume that the “other” is the enemy? To make someone to be “other” and not part of “us” in the first place? Soon enough, there will be extremely significant developments in the story in terms of people branded as “others” and assumed to be enemies. It is the dichotomous, win-lose thinking that is inherent to civilization itself, so often filled with us vs. them scenarios.
Sawyer’s negative assumptions about Sayid are so strong that he sarcastically says, “Great!” when Sayid offers to help with the transceiver — much like Shannon needing to put down Boone’s attempts at helping others. When Hurley then tries to transcend us vs. them by saying, “We’re all in this together. Let’s treat each other with a little respect,” Sawyer lashes out at Hurley, calling him “Lardo.” Sawyer’s is, indeed, an overreaction, just more of the same from him. But there is something very significant about Hurley’s own response, made all the more clear when he subsequently says to Sayid that Sawyer is a “chain-smoking jackass,” and then again when he reacts with silence to the revelation that Sayid was in the Republican Guard — the “other” side, “them” — during the Gulf War. Hurley may be “right” that they are all in it together and ought to treat each other with respect, but inside he thinks lowly of Sawyer — he disrespects Sawyer. To have truly treated Sawyer with respect would have required empathy and validation for Sawyer, even in the face of Sawyer’s overreactions and prejudices. That would have stood a chance of calming Sawyer down and getting him on board, seeing everyone as “us.” As it stands, Hurley did more harm than good — he knew an important truth, but was incapable of expressing in a way that could be embraced. That is, in a way, as bad as not knowing the truth in the first place, but on some level it’s even worse — to know it and be incapable of living it out. Indeed, to the “jackass” comment, Sayid says to Hurley, “Some people have problems.” Sayid may only likely have meant Sawyer, but this statement will hold true for everyone here, including Hurley who has already betrayed his own wish for respecting others, and certainly including Sayid himself.
Sun finds Kate on beach, stripped down to her underwear. In light of the buttoning up, she must be jealous of a woman who feels free enough to do this. Sun wants to be free of her cultural restrictions. But despite so much being left behind, off the island, those restrictions remain with her. They are in her head — and in one’s head is the only place something needs to be for it to be, or at least seem, real. The same is true for everyone and all they carry with them from their pasts. Until they each resolve their issues, even if they had only the clothes on their back, they would all remain threats to the island, they would all still embody the encroachment of dysfunctional civilization.
Kate wants to hike with Sayid to send the transceiver signal from high ground. Jack discourages her: “You saw what that thing did to the pilot.” Fear is present once again, fear of the unknowns on the island now making even Jack afraid to attempt to let civilization know that they are there. He advises her: “if you see or hear anything, run.” In the face of anything truly life-threatening, such as an island monster, this is, indeed, good advice. How often, though, do Jack and the rest run when their lives really aren’t threatened?
Jin slaps Sun’s hand for touching the food he’s preparing — dominance turning into violence, a tiny violence that few equate with the plane crash but that is in ways culturally connected. He heads off, she unbuttons — the will to live, to be free, is still inside her and takes any chance it can to be seen, even if the sight must be kept hidden from some, like Jin.
Hurley refuses Jin’s offer of food: “I’m starving, but I’m nowhere near that hungry.” The most obese of the survivors, likely the person with the biggest appetite, shows us that what is “food” is defined by culture, and that culture can teach us to do things that fail to support our own lives.
Shannon tells Boone: “That guy from the gate, he wouldn’t let us have our seats in first class. He saved our lives.” This echoes the ancient Taoist story about the farmer, whose neighbors kept saying that things that happened to him were “good luck” or “bad luck,” but they seemed to always turn out to be wrong. Prizing the comforts and trappings of first class turned out to be not so worthwhile — the “bad luck” Shannon surely saw it to be at first has turned out to be something else. Isn’t it possible that the “bad luck” of crashing on this island could also turn out to be something else for everyone?
Wailing to Boone about the fact that she’s “been through a trauma here,” Boone can only point out that they all have been through the same trauma, and “the only difference is you’ve taken time to give yourself a pedicure.” This is too much for even Shannon, who decides to step out of her comfort zone and go on the hike with Kate and Sayid. She may be doing it for less than fully noble reasons, to show up Boone in some way, but she is doing it. Like Kate stitching up Jack, here is another survivor moving out of her usual behavior patterns, starting the kind of journey the island may require of the survivors.
The hike begins, and we see the struggle they have scaling the mountain, the incredibly steep landscape. To hope to be seen by the outside world, they must literally do what they imagine of their situation — put themselves “above” the jungle, rejecting what is “beneath” them.
On the beach, Locke is fiddling with a backgammon set. In the face of all going on, Locke is able to play a game, to think strategically, to devote time to a skill he enjoys. Jack has also had an opportunity on the island for this, using his medical abilities to help others, but Locke is the first to do so outside the bounds of the crisis. He’s the first to simply live his life here. (What about Shannon’s sunbathing? Probably not — more of an escape from the situation rather than a taking advantage of it.) When Locke catches Walt’s interest, he offers to teach Walt the game. “Two players. Two sides. One is light. One is dark. Walt, do you want to know a secret?” We don’t find out just yet what the secret is, but we have seen dichotomous, us vs. them, win vs. lose thinking already. Is the secret that this kind of thinking is just game-playing, not real life and certainly not harmony? That might be a secret worth passing onto kids. Locke, the survivor most in harmony with the island, is now trying to spread that harmony — and serving as an alternative parenting figure, a role model for Walt as child and, though he’d not admit it yet, Michael as parent.
After tasting Jin’s food, Claire feels the baby kick for the first time since the crash. She’s so excited, she wants him to feel it, but he doesn’t want her to put his hand on her belly. He somehow seems to think it’s not appropriate, not acceptable. On top of the button incident, it’s another rejection of the natural — indeed, another rejection of the female body. The dominance he expresses doesn’t flow a sense of good in men but a sense of contempt for women. Underneath, he is probably afraid of the life-giving power of women, and more broadly he seems afraid of connection.
On the hike, there is a grunt, an animal. Kate: “Something’s coming.” Charlie: “It’s coming toward us, I think.” Sawyer shoots it — a polar bear. The mysteries keep compounding on this island, but so far, all the mysteries — the terror in the jungle near the beach, the monster who killed the pilot, now the polar bear — they all seems to be beasts, monsters. The hikers deny it: “That can’t be a polar bear.” But these things are here — and they’re “coming toward us.” They may evoke fear, but on this island, these things must be confronted.
Sayid believes that Sawyer is the criminal being transported by the marshal. The tables have now turned, and Sayid is making the assumptions. Sawyer says, “Fine, I’m the criminal. You’re the terrorist. We can all play a part. Who do you want to be?” Oddly, this statement subverts Sawyer’s own assumption of Sayid as terrorist, as if he knows these reactions are all based on false assumptions and fear. But old habits die hard. Sawyer will moments later say of Kate, “I know girls like you.” But Kate responds, “Not girls exactly like me” — she knows that these are just more false assumptions and generalizations on Sawyer’s part. As they get to know each other better, the characters will force each other to question their early assumptions, to confront what they are here to confront. They will do this for each other just as surely as the island does it for them and just as they will, in doing so, be reciprocating, doing it for the island.
In Kate’s flashback to the plane, we see the tail section rip off. We now know that the plane is broken into three main parts. The front section goes down in the jungle where the pilot was killed and the transceiver retrieved. The tail section seems gone, and we’ll later find it went into the ocean. The middle section is on the beach and holds the bulk of the main characters in the story. The pattern seems significant. The middle section survivors find themselves on the beach, that liminal place, between the ocean which drowns and the jungle with all its unknowns, monsters, etc., threatening death. These are the very two places where the other parts of the plane, the parts surrounding the middle, end up. As of now, there are no survivors from the front — most dead in the crash, the pilot killed by the island. Could it be that we’ll find something similar of the tail? All dead? Or many dead, and the rest having a far tougher time than those in the middle of the plane, and several killed on the island? Indeed, is it a coincidence that, by the end of Season 4, the only “tailie” who isn’t either dead or captured by the Others is Bernard, who was only in the tail to use the restroom, i.e., someone who “belonged” in the middle? There may be some meaning here about being in the middle, between extremes, between “us” and “them,” something about balance, harmony and some middle path that the survivors must learn to walk.
On high ground, Sayid gets a bar, a signal. He tries to transmit, but he can’t, because of the French distress signal. Shannon, who we already know to have low self-esteem, denies her ability to translate, but she is convinced to try. We learn that someone else is or at least was on the island and needs help. The others this person was with are all dead. “It killed them all.” Boone says, “That was good,” validating Shannon, supporting her attempt at translation — at using communication skills — as a contribution to the group. Shannon’s journey is progressing. But in the meantime, the group is left in greater fear, yet another mystery, another threat.
In the face of this, the last moment of the episode is Charlie asking the other hikers, “Guys, where are we?” This bookends with the first moment of the pilot as a whole, Jack’s opening eye. Both of these moments seem to ask, what is it that the survivors must wake up to, open their eyes to? Clearly, there is something significant about the nature of the island — “where are we” — that all will need to make conscious. And clearly, there are a lot of Lost fans in the world who are trying to figure out what’s going on. This is what I mentioned at the beginning, the thing in need of some real attention. Indeed, it’s so deserving that it gets its own post, the first but not likely the last that won’t direct cover a particular episode. Read on.
(If you haven’t read the introductory Lost, Found post, you might get some value from doing so, but maybe not, it’s up to you!)
Right out of the gate, in only the first half of the pilot episode, we are exposed to most of the main themes and ideas that will run through the series. As with the series itself, everything is only embryonic at this point, but the seeds are there.
As I do these episode-by-episode commentaries, as much as possible I’d like to stick with the one episode at hand. I’m also generally not planning on turning these into impeccably organized essays or brilliantly argued theses. Like the series, I’d rather take one step at a time and let the bigger picture emerge gradually as time goes on.
Since I’ve already seen the series through the end of Season 4, though, until I’m caught up, everything I say will have the benefit of hindsight. More sense can be made of things earlier on than could have been upon a first viewing — and none moreso than this first episode. And since I’m just setting out, I want to get off to a good start. A sort of orientation, like the videos at the Dharma Initiative stations, giving some idea of what’s ahead without telling the whole story.
This, then, is sure to be longer and more organized than most or probably any other episode commentaries. What seems to need to be talked about here at the outset, a few key overarching themes, should make clear just how profound and potentially important the series is, or at least how profound and potentially important it could be — and so why I think it worth trying to understand the show on these levels. Let’s break things down into the fundamental problem, its causes, then the solutions that can see us through it.
It is too early into the story to see any vicious cycles playing out, but soon enough we will start to see them. Plenty of them. Nearly every character is caught in one or more ruts they’d like to get out of. Likewise with unintended consequences — too early to see them, but nearly every storyline will be rife with them. Knowing that this is what lies ahead — and knowing a bit about the nature of these things — we can see the seeds right here from the start, in the very inciting event of the series: a plane crashing on a seemingly deserted South Pacific island. The airplane is a symbol of civilization, and Lost will prove in fundamental ways to be a story about the clash between civilization and all that is beyond civilization.
To understand this and what it has to do with vicious cycles and unintended consequences, we really need to understand what civilization is. It’s not humanity as a whole. It’s not culture as a whole. And it’s certainly not just the finer things or our highest achievements. Civilization is a social structure, one marked by hierarchy and driven by expansion. It has spread nearly all the world round, so defining our lives that we aren’t even aware that anything lies beyond it, that there even could be alternatives to it — and this despite it being inherently dysfunctional and unsustainable.
Make no mistake, it’s not that civilization is bad or worthless. Civilization brings many great things, things many of us value and enjoy. But it also brings nearly all of the things we think of as social ills — it brings nearly every vicious cycle and unintended consequence we’ve ever heard of. When we see these problems, we think, ah, let’s fight it somehow, then we’ll be okay. But few see that it’s a package deal — in civilization, the things we don’t want are by-products of the pursuit of the things we think we do want. Strive more for “the finer things,” and there will inevitably be unintended negative consequences somewhere. Try to hold those negative things back without addressing their cause, and we’re likely only to create a vicious cycle.
Vicious cycles and unintended consequences can and do exist outside civilization, but there they are usually corrected for soon enough. In civilization, there is much that conspires against our seeing the connections that would allow for the necessary corrections. The result: civilization is filled to the brim with vicious cycles and unintended consequences, and they just keep escalating. The same can be said for the characters in the show about each of their own lives — and, not surprisingly, each of their own personal ruts can be traced to more widespread patterns in civilization itself.
It will take the entire series to fully understand and elaborate on all these connections, but for now, in the beginning, the plane crash itself serves as the starting for our journey toward that understanding.
The airplane is a technological marvel, the vehicle that allows flight — it represents both literally and metaphorically the heights that our civilization can reach, the peak of civilization’s ability to go global. And yet, despite air being the fastest and safest form of travel, the airplane isn’t perfect. It takes much fuel to run — and in our present world, where non-renewable fuel prices rise and rise, we are keenly aware of the problems associated with this. It puts pollutants in the air — again, something we are more aware of than ever in this globally warmed world. On top of this, air travel is not fail safe — things can go wrong. And when they go wrong, they can go spectacularly wrong.
And things certainly do go spectacularly wrong for Oceanic 815. The passengers imagine they have hit turbulence. Later, we will learn that it was electromagnetism that brought the plane down. Either way, the plane is no match for the forces of the world beyond civilization. It becomes a death machine. People die in the air. People die in the ocean. People die on the beach. The detached jet engine lying on the sand sucks people in. The hovering wing crashes, causing explosions that kill more. On this island that represents the world beyond civilization, on this beach, a liminal place at the edge of the oceanic source of all life, technology and lives are wrecked and devastated when civilization encroaches.
The violence of civilization and its unwelcome status on the island become more clear when Jack, Kate and Charlie go into the jungle in search of the cockpit with the hope of retrieving the transceiver. Here, the “monster” comes for the first time, and the pilot becomes the first casualty not of the crash but of the island itself. Why? He is the pilot. He is the person who most represents the plane, and the plane most represents civilization in this invasion of the island. He is the emblem of the overall threat to the island posed by these newcomers who are themselves caught in countless vicious cycles. He sits in the front of the vehicle, the most phallic part that penetrates through space, pushing forward, attempting to fulfill civilization’s notion of manifest destiny. As head of the flight crew, he also represents hierarchy, inherent to civilization itself. All of this must be countered by the island, and so the “monster” turns the tables, dispensing with the pilot, dispelling this primary symbol of civilization that has arrived with the plane. The world beyond civilization shows civilization who’s boss.
Some say this show is a metaphor for a post-9/11 world, a world in which we grapple with new possibilities of violence and enmity. This may be a truth, but it’s not the whole truth. It’s as short-sighted to say this is what the show is about as it was for some to say that the Star Wars prequel trilogy was a critique of George W. Bush. Yes, Anakin echoes Bush’s “with us or against us” soundbite — but this phrase goes back at least as far as Jesus. Yes, the story is very much about a democracy giving special powers to its leader and then having a difficult time getting those powers back and restoring freedoms. But George Lucas had Hitler in mind. The point isn’t that saying so badmouths Bush. The point is that this story goes back at least as far as Julius Caesar.
Lost starts with incredible violence because civilization is inherently incredibly violent. Violence, death, tragedy, terror, vicious cycles, unintended consequences — all are part and parcel of civilization itself. They have been since the start. The plane crash symbolizes all of this. And just like the plane, the bigger (and faster) they are, the harder they fall.
Georges Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.” Civilization knows plenty about its history, and yet somehow it keeps making the same mistakes. And the same can be said about the characters. It is not sufficient to remember the past — one has to go beyond remembering to understanding the causes of those cycles, committing to do something different, something that doesn’t create unintended consequences that come back to hurt us. But when the violence, the vicious and the unintended are inherent to civilization and so strong a part of the characters’ daily lives and ongoing thoughts, committing to change means committing to the unknown, and that’s a pretty scary prospect. That, then, leads us to the next main theme.
The survivors are in a deeply traumatic situation. The plane breaks apart mid-air. It crashes. They are on a strange island. Nobody will come for them, and they will have to deal with countless unknowns, some far more strange and terrifying than anything they could imagine upon hitting that beach. In response to this violence and trauma, fear is a natural response. But fear is difficult to face.
Despite everything going on, though, Jack doesn’t seem afraid. He tells Kate about his first solo procedure in residency, where he accidentally ripped his young patient’s dural sack. He says, “The terror was just so… crazy, so real… and I knew I had to deal with it. So I just made a choice. I’d let the fear in. Let it take over. Let it do its thing. But only for five seconds, that’s all I was gonna give it. So I started to count. One, two, three, four, five. And it was gone. I went back to work, sewed her up and she was fine.”
In that moment, he knew he had to deal with his patient, do his job and try to save her life. It was not something he could or wanted to avoid. But the same is true of his fear — it was too big in that moment for him to repress it, to ignore it, to act in spite of it. In the face of necessity, he knew he had to face his fear. So he let it in, and he experienced it fully — he “let it take over.” In doing so, in honoring and embracing the fear, it disappeared and he was able to do what he had to do. Kate is concerned that she’d have run for the door, but Jack says he doesn’t think she would, saying, “You’re not running now.” In this moment, Kate, too, does what is needed.
Later, in the encounter with the “monster,” Kate is overwhelmed with fear of her own, worrying that the monster is coming for her. But she does what Jack did, counting to five. She lets the fear in. Afterward, she is still somewhat shaken and on guard, but she is soon able to function well. When Charlie shows up and says Jack is gone, the rain stops, and Kate is calm. The sky is now clear, and so is her mind. She is certain they must go back for Jack, and she is calm and resolved about taking this on.
When Jack faced his fear, he saved a life. When Kate faced hers, she was able to reconnect with Jack. Positive benefits came from facing these fears.
But how often — and how effectively — will the characters face their fears? When there are strange and deafening noises from the jungle, trees crashing down, everyone on the beach is terrified. They have no idea what’s in there, and it seems incredibly threatening. In this moment, none truly face their fear of what it might be.
Some fears are overwhelming, indeed. But in the end, we only face the fears that are both too powerful in the moment for us to repress and that we perceive as standing in our way of something deemed necessary. Jack and Kate did so in this episode — but there will be many times in the future that they and others will deny the need to face those fears, just as those on the beach don’t truly face their fear of the “monster” in the jungle in that moment.
This is what denial is — it is denial of the need to face something that, in fact, would be beneficial to face. It is denial that there is even something there to face at all. It is allowing a fear already long ago repressed to have its say in the present, and it is taking that fear’s word at face value and letting it become our own voice, so definitively that we may not even realize that there is any fear there when we speak with that voice. As long as we feel that we get valuable things out of whatever happens when our fears hold sway, even if those many problems come along for the ride with those valuable things, we will not see that the fears are there, and we will not see how much better off we’d be if we faced them instead.
We are clear by now just how central this notion is to the show, how characters keep failing to solve their problems effectively, how they often make things worse, and how they often fail to take advantage of opportunities for redemption. These people will keep making the same mistakes — just as civilization does — because there is great fear inside that causes them to deny the alternative.
Is Jack really not in fear on the beach, dealing with the injured from the crash? Or is it just a controlling part of him taking over, repressing some real fears? Is Kate really free of fear in the jungle after the attack on the pilot? Either way, the jungle is there, the woods of the great fairytales, filled with darkness and unknowns. Everyone must go into the woods, as Jack, Kate and Charlie did to find the transceiver. In there, they must face their fears, their own dark places inside, as Kate did after the attack on the pilot. They may not fully dispel their fears in any one incident, but each time a bit of it is faced, it will be that much easier to face the next bit, and then they will be on the path away from dysfunction and the vicious cycle — the path to finding themselves.
But when civilization provides a real threat to the island, sometimes fear must take the reins. Sometimes certain things must be denied and kept unknown to certain parties. The island is ignored, denied by civilization, thought of by the survivors as a worthless place, a place to leave. They do not see its potential. But as long as they don’t, the island has a difficult time with them. The island itself might just assume they leave, yet this doesn’t seem possible without endangering the island itself.
When Jack, Kate and Charlie find the pilot, he says that nobody knows they are there, that “they’re looking for us in the wrong place.” The island is simply not the place civilization thinks to look for solutions. The island itself is denied. But until people are ready to embrace the island, the island must keep convincing civilization to continue to deny it, to ignore it. Here is one more reason the pilot must die — he has knowledge of the transceiver, of how to contact the outside. The island does not want to be known.
There is, then, a mutual fear. The island — and, we’ll later learn, some people who better understand it — rightly fear the crash survivors. And the survivors certainly fear the island. But all of this is only because the survivors fear themselves, or, more to the point, deny that they even have fears of their own that must be faced for their own good. Only for those who threaten the island, who want to deny it, is the island a scary place. And only those who haven’t faced their own fear can threaten the island, thinking it a place not worth being, wishing it didn’t exist, wishing they weren’t there, wishing for rescue. The island needs the survivors to overcome their fears for its own sake, not altruistically for the sake of the survivors themselves. When the survivors do so, when they find themselves, perhaps then they may find peace with the island. And when enough of them find it, perhaps they will be able to have it off the island, and perhaps the island itself may no longer be in danger.
But how can this kind of progress be made?
Fear is natural. It is only when fear is denied that it becomes excessive, out of touch with reality, and therefore dysfunctional. The way to keep fear manageable is to allow for its experience, to honor it as it happens, to help each other in facing it. And the path to that is through care.
In the wake of the crash, we see people giving much care to each other. The first person we see is Jack, the doctor, whose very job it is to care for people. Later, we will see Hurley care for the pregnant Claire. Kate, who says she has only ever used a sewing machine before, will stitch up Jack, the one who usually only helps others and accepts no help for himself. Michael will speaking caringly to his son Walt. Though she will refuse it in this moment, Boone will attempt to provide care for Shannon. Though it will be misguidedly infused with attempts at control, Jin will express care for Sun. We know where these failed attempts at care will lead — people have their demons to face. But the caring impulse itself is key to getting each other through their hard times, past their fears.
It not only helps people past their fears, it builds connection. The survivors are a mass of individuals, only a few already having meaningful connections, and even those connections are often tainted — as with Boone and Shannon, Sun and Jin, Michael and Walt. Even the plane itself breaks apart — the tail separates, then later so does the front with the cockpit. Fragmentation and isolation are the order of the day in civilization. It is only when people can overcome their fears, stretching to care for each other, that they will be able to find wholeness as a group — and within themselves.
How, then, to build the courage to stretch and overcome? By becoming conscious of what’s going on inside of ourselves. This is so key that it informs the very first image we see in entire series — Jack’s closed eye, suddenly opening. The series seems likely to prove to be fundamentally about waking up, about opening one’s eyes, no longer denying, starting to see what is actually there in front of us.
At first, it will be scary. We’re likely to fumble. Indeed, in the show’s very first flashback, Jack is drinking, and is even given additional alcohol by a flight attendant — followed directly by Charlie’s running past them down the aisle, and we know where he’s going. We will soon see many flashbacks for many characters, always learning about their baggage, the things that cause them to keep fumbling, the things they must overcome, some of which even go the extreme of addiction, itself maintained by the most extreme forms of denial. And Jack, whose own open eye opens the show, soon tells us that he blacked out upon the first 200-foot drop of the plane, while Kate then reveals that she saw the whole thing. Will Jack falter more than Kate, by turns opening and closing his eyes to the truth? Is Kate more willing to face things? How often will various characters numb themselves, through substance abuse or otherwise? How often will they take out their own frustrations on others? Such is the drama and difficulty of the journey. However many steps and false starts are involved, though, we cannot face our fears without being willing to see them for what they are, otherwise we will just remain asleep, eyes closed, unaware, numb and out of touch with life.
Consciousness, though, is not an end in itself. When we become conscious of something important that had been hidden, we can help others learn as well. Communication becomes paramount. Some things can be communicated without language, as Hurley seems to simply by being there for Claire. Some, though, require more. Shannon clearly needs more than a candy bar from Boone. Does Shannon need to learn how to better accept care when its given, or does Boone need to learn how to better give Shannon what she actually needs? Both have some learning to do about how to communicate better so that they can give and receive care in ways that make a difference for each other.
Jin and Sun provide more clarity about the importance of communication. In this episode, they seem to be the only ones who don’t speak English. The inability to communicate with the rest make them alienated. They will shun the rest from their shelter when the rain begins — there is no room for them to become part of a meaningful group when they are looking out for themselves so much, but there is no way for them to get beyond themselves if they cannot communicate with anyone else. The same will hold true even between them. What problems might they be having in their marriage, and how much do these troubles relate to their failure to speak the same language, literally and symbolically?
Yet there is Jack, on the beach, going up to perfect strangers to talk to them, to get them helping each other. It seems so obvious it goes without saying. But it can’t go without saying. This is precisely the sort of thing that must be made conscious.
If we can become conscious of how we subvert ourselves, sweeping those things away through care, connection and communication, within ourselves and with others, then we can finally reach a state of harmony. It would be the kind of harmony, though, that reveals the island to be not the unknowable, messy place we think it to be. Not chaotic in the general sense, but chaotic and complex in the scientific sense. Organic and emergent. Orderly in the profound way that a cell or an organism or a ecosystem is orderly, infused with incredible and dynamic order throughout, as opposed to the more superficial order that civilization tries to impose on things like a grid of city streets or the rows of crops in an industrialized farm. We would become aware, once again, that we are part of the world, that we always have been part of the world, and we would go and flow with things rather than against them, participating in that profound order, co-creating it.
Past the chaos of the wreckage on the beach, the lifeless sand, we’d find ourselves embraced by the very different kind of chaos of the living jungle, a true participant in the life of the island. Like Charlie after the wing falls and a piece of the plane drops next to him in flames, keeping his cool, not even flinching. He notices it, knows he is safe, and he moves on. Perhaps he is in shock? Maybe so, but his reaction is one of awareness, of adaptation. He doesn’t make a bigger deal of it than it is, because there is no point in doing so, and he moves on once he knows it is dealt with. The musician appropriately expresses harmony in this moment.
Yet Charlie has his own journey to take. He can stand the dropping wreckage, but when the sky opens up with a powerful rain, he is concerned about whether this “end of the world” weather is normal. Jin, likewise, is intent on keeping sheltered from the storm. But John Locke remains at peace. He doesn’t race for cover the way so many of do in a knee-jerk reaction to rain. He looks right up into the sky, facing the rain, opening his arms to take it in. He’s the one who smiled at Kate with an orange wedge in his mouth when she took the shoes off a corpse so that she could trek into the jungle. She embraces life by taking those shoes, a life as vibrant as the bright orange shining in John’s mouth despite the death all around, despite the death that had just moments ago worn those shoes. Through these two small actions, and no dialogue at all in this entire first episode, Locke, whose own journey will be one of communion with the island and so pivotal to the overall story, shows us very clearly that harmony may not always be what we think of as pretty, but it always serves life, and it is always to be celebrated and embraced.
Lost presents us with crisis. Indeed, there will be crisis after crisis. Some will be easier to deal with, and some will be extraordinarily difficult. The key to understanding the show, though — and the key to understanding our own lives and how to create positive change for ourselves — lies in recognizing the oft-mentioned fact that the Chinese characters for the word “crisis” can mean both danger and opportunity.
How will the characters handle crisis, trauma, fear, problems? There may be danger in certain paths, but if they are willing to face that danger, they will find greater opportunity than they could otherwise. They will follow a path toward redemption, resolution, freedom from the fears of the past, peace of mind and harmony. They will get there by realizing that their comfortable homes may have been comfortable, but they were not really home. They will get there by getting lost. But they will not find themselves as a reaction to getting lost, they will find themselves through getting lost. Through that they will find their true homes.
Now we’re in the territory of people like Joseph Campbell, who show us the common ground across countless stories from countless cultures. The characters in Lost are each on their own hero’s journey. Some will succeed, some will fail. Some will help others, some will subvert others. On some level, this is what every story is about. Few, though, are as direct as Lost seems to be about this being what’s going on. In making this so clear, few may have the potential that Lost does to transcend itself and actually inspire its audience to similar journeys of their own. Then again, similar things could be said about other stories that have gained countless fans but have truly inspired only a few, with most being content with the vicarious experience of an audience member. Can art do better than that, inspiring mass change? Can Lost do that? This may be the most important mystery as yet unsolved for the show.
There will be other themes that come up as the series progresses, some absolutely crucial, paramount to grasping the story. Like the show and like these themes already introduced, these things will become clearer later on and just can’t make sense at this point. Like the characters with their fears, we’re not ready to face everything yet. But these broad strokes I’ve outlined here point us in the right direction on our journey to find meaning in the story. In the end, by understanding what happens through the characters getting (becoming) lost, we will find ourselves getting (understanding) Lost.
“Getting Lost” could have been the title of this series of writings, but then the title wouldn’t really have told us anything. Hopefully “Lost, Found” does.
I’d resisted watching Lost for a very long time. Television had become less important in my life, and other things demanded my time. Taking on another hour-long series just didn’t seem wise. I’d hear about it. And what I’d hear was intriguing. But I’d never seen J.J. Abrams’ other lauded television work — like Felicity, and another show that I’d bypassed despite its appealing to me: Alias. And he wasn’t much on my radar for his film work.
But then, post-Lost, I started warming up to him. Mission: Impossible III was creative, exciting, and understandable — moreso on all three counts than either of its predecessors. Then, a few months ago, I saw the movie Cloverfield, produced by Abrams and written by a key Lost writer, Drew Goddard. I’d heard this was a love-it or hate-it affair, and I found myself immediately loving its innovative way of telling a story.
Then, recently, Entertainment Weekly named Lost one of the top ten classic television shows of the last 25 years. The Summer had just begun, the few shows I did watch regularly were on hiatus, and Season 5 of Lost wasn’t due to start until January. With DVDs of Seasons 1-3 available from the library and all four seasons streaming online for free, I found myself compelled to take it on and catch up in time for the new season. My wife and I decided to take it on.
This morning, we caught up, less than two months after starting.
The show is astonishing. There has never been a series like it on television. The drama, the conflicts, the three-dimensionality of the characters, the labyrinthine mythology, and the incredible ways they tell a story. The flashbacks and later the flashforwards, nearly always revealing something thematically relevant to the ongoing main storyline, made this show truly come alive, adding tremendous depth and richness.
As I watched the stories progress, I found myself noticing things that interested me greatly. Things that resonated thematically with me. This was only natural, because I tend to look for meaning in stories, and particular meaning at that. I’d tread this territory before, writing essay and papers on what I felt to be new looks at the meaning of different films and television shows, like Star Wars, The Incredibles, Monsters, Inc., The West Wing, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Seinfeld, Titanic. In a number of these, I felt like I really had something. But with several others, I felt like I was putting something there that really wasn’t.
But Lost was proving unique, showing me some things I really can’t remember seeing in a movie or television series, much less one so popular. And also uniquely, for the first time I’m really seeing these things in an ongoing way, and with a piece of work that is still in progress. The jury is out, but plenty of people find the show worth talking about now, on the way, rather than waiting until it’s over to reflect in hindsight. And there is so much to say, or at least so much to pose.
Seems like it’s worth trying.
And, addicted as I now seem to be to the show, with a good five months left until the next season starts, my wife and I find ourselves interested enough to watch the whole thing yet again, to mine its depths in preparation for moving forward.
Well, my gosh, what better opportunity to really look carefully again to see what’s there, or what I think is there? So here begins an ongoing look at the show. Over the next few months, I’ll go progressively from beginning up until the end of Season 4, and once Season 5 starts, I’ll follow the rest of the show along as it goes. And we’ll see what’s we can be found in Lost.
I may often refrain from much of the usual stuff people discuss about Lost. So much has been covered already, I don’t see much point in trying to reinvent the wheel, especially since I’d probably be worse at it than others have been. I’m going to focus on the meaning of the show from the standpoint of, well, the things I hold dear — the Potluck perspective. Of course, this perspective I’m taking dovetails with many others, so I’m bound to tread a good amount of territory covered by others. If it serves my purposes, I’ll go into commonly seen themes and mysteries and theories and details and reviews of acting and story and such and whatever else others go into elsewhere. But hopefully any retreading I do will only be in the details — hopefully the big picture I’m trying to paint will be unique. Whatever I come up with and whether it proves right or wrong in the end, hopefully this look into the show will provide a worthwhile contribution to “Lost scholarship.” And hopefully it will provide something valuable to those interested in making positive change in the world — hopefully it will shed light on how Lost can help us find ourselves. And hopefully, at least, it will be an interesting read for some, and an interesting and fun write for me.
Look for upcoming pieces, episode by episode, with somewhat freeform observations, the mosaic filling in ever more as I go. Seasons 1-4 will be covered with the benefit of hindsight. Beyond that, I’ll feel my way through whatever level of darkness or illumination we all share. Follow along at Lost, Found, a tag archive but essentially a blog within this site just for this project. Enjoy.
Off I go to watch the first episode again.
African Social Evolution
Ghana International Airways provided a complimentary October 2006 copy of the New African Magazine, the front page of which proclaimed boldly â€˜Africaâ€™s Glorious Heritage.â€™ My pre-African introduction to Africa was to be a 27-page, multi-authored expose on one of the most prevalent myths about the continent: that before Europeans arrived there it was a massive, sprawling backwater devoid of civilized people.
As American writer Adam Hochschild wrote in his 1999 bestseller, â€˜King Leopoldâ€™s Ghost,â€™ this myth is rooted in the racist perceptions of the colonialists themselves, who failed to see the complex societies abounding around them through their pre-conceived romantic notions of savagery. Hochschild writes:
To see Africa instead as a continent of coherent societies, each with its own culture and history, took a leap of empathy, a leap that few, if any, of the early European or American visitors to the Congo were able to make. To do so would have meant seeing Leopoldâ€™s [King of Belgium] regime not as progress, not as civilization, but as a theft of land and freedom.
From this perspective, it is plain why Africans want to make it clear that Africa already had numerous complex societies in place by the time Europeans found their way there in the 15th century, particularly the northern part of sub-Saharan Africa, places we now know as Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania. The New African magazine was making this point abundantly clear as a follow-up to Black History Month, and they were doing so to restore a most precious resource in Africa: pride.
African pride has been much maligned by the experience of colonialism and the unprecedented scale of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The Nigerian writer Chinweizu described this phenomenon in his seminal work â€˜Decolonising the African Mind.â€™ Colonizing the mind describes a centuries-long form of psychological warfare aimed to separate the colonized from their cultures and convincing them of their own culturesâ€™ inferiority to that of the colonizer.
This practice is commonly used by colonizers and often leaves the colonized to love their oppressor. In 1964 Ghanaian novelist Ayi Kwei Armah observed this love of the white oppressor in his classic novel â€˜The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Bornâ€™ as follows: â€œThat is all anyone here struggles for: to be closer to the white man. All the shouting against the white men was not hate. It was love. Twisted, but love all the same.â€
Unfortunately, this mindset remains present among many of the Ghanaians I met during my time working there as a journalist, many of whom were desperate to leave their home and travel to the West for riches and glory. To live among the colonizers.
In order to decolonise the mind, African scholars, activists and writers are determined to re-write history, this time as told by the colonized, to create African pride in African history, while at the same time elucidating the great injustice that was done.
Scholars draw on archaeological, anthropological, historically recorded, and orally traditional evidence to distance Africa from the â€˜primitiveâ€™ ways of living. One journalist writing for the New African, when writing of Yoruba artworks (found in modern Nigeria) wrote that â€œuncivilised people cannot produce artwork of this high quality and sophisticationâ€ as one means of proof that the continent was indeed rife with civilizations by the time the Europeans arrived.
This fact of history is beyond reasonable academic debate. The evidence is overwhelming, and the Yoruba empire itself, complete with a large capital city, goes back to the 11th century. In many cases African civilizations pre-date European ones, and their knowledge of the lunar cycle was well developed before it occurred to any European to think about it. Many scientific and artistic firsts can be traced to Africa.
These truths are important, and I wholeheartedly support the effort to erase racist mythologies, but I lament that the source of African pride, or anyoneâ€™s pride, should be linked to civilization. Civilization, defined by large, centralized, hierarchical societies usually surviving from the toil of the few, is the most oppressive, unjust, cancerous system of human organization in all of history. Those â€˜pre-civilâ€™ societies that Africans (and most other people too) are distancing themselves from never committed genocide, never extinguished so many species, never destroyed their own environments to the extent that â€˜civilâ€™ised people do.
It is ironic that African scholarsâ€™ efforts to create African pride are so linked to the very system of living that created colonialism. In a sense this latest effort brings Africans one step closer to the oppressors that have become so beloved by so many who are oppressed.
Read on: Civilized Oppression