Tonight is the season finale of LOST. Two full hours of the crazy, time-twisting show that has mesmerized a cult-like following over the past five years. And I am excited. As opposed to the diehard fans who have faithfully journeyed with the characters since the Pilot, I first watched Lost last spring—and it was for an assignment.
For two solid years I had friends who doggedly tried to pull me into their Lost Club. They would gather together on whatever night the show aired, watch it together, and then discuss it afterwards. I found the entire affair absurd. It’s a television show, and a ridiculous one at that. How can you sustain a plot that deals with survivors on a remote island? I swore I would never—repeat never—watch Lost. Nevermind the seemingly dead-end island plot, but Lost was (and continues to be) a fad. I choose not to partake in fads. Call it an idiosyncrasy of mine, or a personal code of pop culture ethics. Once a show, song, film, book, fashion—you fill in the blank—reaches widespread popularity within mainstream culture, I have a bizarre resistance to it. To this day I have not watched a single episode of Survivor due to the frightening zeal the show sparked within viewers. (Now I would be curious to go back to those early days of Survivor and attempt to piece together what ignited that mania. It was one of the first reality television shows to become a 21st century global explosion, and we can all see how that genre has expanded.) That same curiosity was what prompted me to examine Lost and Heroes last spring for my Communication Theory course.
The assignment was simple enough: write a theoretical criticism essay on a subject where media and culture converge. I was intrigued with the idea of investigating the theories behind a popular television show, and a quick perusal of the websites of ABC and NBC cemented this desire. As I wrote in my essay: “Producers, writers, and critics alike are mystified with the strength of obsessive fervor the shows’ fans display. Lost and Heroes have become so popular that the characters and plot have spread from the television screen into other media, such as online magazines, online fan forums, graphic novels, and books.” Two years ago, Rolling Stone noted several fan forum Internet sites that were developed for the sole purpose of discussing various shows. In the case of Lost, there is a forum called Lostpedia, which has seven international versions and 10,000 volunteers who edit thousands of entries (Kushner, 2007, p. 34).
Unbelievable. And the thing is: people participate. In droves. Why? I wanted to gather everyone together and calmly tell them Lost was just a television show; it was not real and to find some other outlet to devote their fervid energies. And yet, something about the phenomenon pulled me in. I was fascinated with this obsession and so I decided to research further. I felt like a detective, equipped with my communication theorists (Barthes, McLuhan, Griffin, Stuart) and film/theater background, and sat down one seemingly innocuous Thursday evening to watch the first three episodes of Lost (and Heroes) to unravel my own mystery of why and how these shows had captivated a global audience.
I won’t bore you with my findings and theories (save for a small comment at the close). Suffice to say: I was hooked. Hardcore. Heroes can be thrown to the canines (sorry, Heroes fans), but Lost was spectacular. The Pilot itself is a goldmine of cinematographic genius, symbolism, and intriguing juxtaposition of frames. Not to mention a gripping, mysterious plot that all but had me holding my breath while scribbling furiously on my notepad. I vividly remember the ending of the second episode—where the screen abruptly cuts to the black background with ‘LOST’ in white lettering (the screen that fans have come to dread for it means yet another week must pass before the saga continues)—and I paused the DVD and just said, “What?” As in: what the hell just happened? what does this mean? and…how am I liking this show? Yeah, I was hooked. It took me a good two weeks before I could admit that to people—after all my vows of never watching, never following, never taking part in the Lost-craze, I now could not wait to finish the season and get caught up for the beginning of season 5. Shame, shame, shame.
Okay, yes, the show has its numerous faults, and I am a large critic even as I enjoy the unfolding plot. But the nature of its appeal continues to engage my curiosity. Popular culture and media, and how they interrelate. Those who know me will know of my desire to pursue this field in graduate study. In his analysis of media, McLuhan developed the tetrad for various mediums, calling attention to the effect a given technology has upon the environment. Shows such as Lost encourage the village community from the tribal age McLuhan describes. The ‘clubs’ that view and discuss episodes highlight the unique quality of sharing the visual experience of televised drama. Viewers can feed off one another’s reactions. In essence, the group is experiencing the same show together at the same time. They are in community with one another, united around a common interest, and they are no longer separated by distance (which the telegraph and telephone made possible). Those viewers who are separated by distance are not unreachable, as the online forums prove. The popularity of serialized drama and spread of television into other media have simultaneously extended the global village and reintroduced the notion of the tribal village. It will be exceedingly interesting to observe how the two villages interact, and how the electronic and digital ages affect one another over the next few years.
But for now, I’m readying myself for tonight. Two-hour finale. It’s gonna be wild.
check it out:
Kushner, D. (2007). Fanboy Forum. Rolling Stone, 1021.