Lost in Lost

If you’ve never watched the ABC series Lost, there’s a good chance this post will mean nothing to you.

If you’d like to know more, though, click here, then watch the season 4 preview episode called “Lost: Past Present Future,” which should take about 40 minutes.

Or you can watch the entire series and then come back and read this later, by streaming the first three seasons and the last few episodes of season four from abc.com. If you take that route we’ll catch up in a week or so, depending on how many days you call in sick to work.

sit right back and you’ll hear a tale

We watched the first three seasons of Lost like the TV crack it is, over six or seven weeks last summer. Bored in Boston, we headed to Target for something to watch and came back with season one. It was downhill from there, three or four episodes a night — we watched season two while we were out West crabbing — until we finally were able to watch the last half of season three back at home, thanks to our Internet savvy teenager, via some pirate site in the Netherlands with Dutch subtitles.

Why were we hooked? Because, quite simply, this show brings together four decades of TV’s guilty pleasures: from Gilligan’s Island, so brainless my mother felt guilty for letting us watch it in syndication after school, through Fantasy Island, which was absolutely off limits in my mother’s house, to Survivor, the first real reality show that hooked me — for only two seasons, I promise! — although I knew, even then, that reality shows were going to be bad news for my writer friends.

(Even so, I fantasized about auditioning for Survivor season three. My single item I’d bring with me? A copy of Moby-Dick, which I’d read around the campfire to my teammates until they hated me and sold me out to the other tribe. Rest assured, my character would pick up the nick-name “The Professor.” See, there’s no doubt I always identified with The Professor. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

coconut radio, anyone?

Far from the brainless guilty-pleasure-dome of Gilligan’s Island, Lost hooked me first for purely intellectual reasons. As a literature professor, one who works in the 18th and 19th centuries, no less, how could I pass on a TV series with characters named after Locke, Rousseau, Hume, and Burke, let alone Walt, Sawyer, and an untamed shrew named Kate? Then there were the obvious parallels — and occasional references — to Lord of the Flies, from the central character named Jack to the tubby character, (Victor Hugo?) Hurley, obviously modeled on Piggy.

What could all these connections mean, I found myself thinking over and over again. Was the character named Rousseau, who had killed off a number of her original comrades on the Island, a reference to J.J. Rousseau’s supposed authorization of the French Revolution? Was Juliet’s husband, Edmund Burke, so named because he was emotionally abusive and antifeminist? Was “Sayid” — the repentant member of the Iraqi Republican Guard — supposed to be some sort of stand-in for postcolonial theory in general or Edward Said in particular? “Sawyer” was the bad boy, obviously, but little Walt? Was that supposed to be a reference to “There Was A Child Went Forth”? Please tell me the slimy chameleon Ben isn’t supposed to be a swipe at the master manipulator Ben Franklin! The various Wizard of Oz references were easy enough (Ben originally called himself “Henry Gale” and claimed he had landed on the Island in a hot-air balloon) but I admit: a lot of the time, when I thought there should be a connection between a name and a character, I was flummoxed. After all, John Locke, the character on Lost, prone to superstition and blind faith, seemed to have nothing in common with the great empiricist-materialist from the 17th century.

making a lockean first impression

In spite of the noble efforts of the compilers of the Lostpedia, maybe the search for meaning wasn’t supposed to lead anywhere beyond the search for meaning. After all, what the hell were polar bears doing in on a desert island? Surely, there could be no sin in it.

After a while, I became convinced that, good as the show was, its message wasn’t even that profound. The writers of Lost, I determined, had probably been English and Philosophy and Politics majors who didn’t read or retain all that much. They certainly had some sense, from their middle school days, that Lord of the Flies was a political allegory, and so they decided to throw in a bunch of characters named after political theorists. But from episode to episode, they didn’t seem to have a coherent political vision in mind, let alone a coherent plot (which, I think, is one reason it’s remained compelling). In the end, they likely owed much more to good old Gilligan’s Island than they did to eighteenth-century moral philosophy.

I’m obviously not the first fellow to have this thought. Trust me, if you’ve watched all three + seasons of Lost and grew up on Gilligan’s Island, the full 8 minutes of this clip are worth it:


With Gilligan’s Island in view, everything and everyone on Lost suddenly becomes so much clearer: Hurley is Gilligan (or is he the Millionaire?), bumbling but likely to save the day; Jack’s the Skipper, well-meaning but ultimately incompetent to lead; actually, those whiny kids from the first season, Shannon and Boone (Daniel Boone?!?), would be the millionaire and his wife; Sun is the movie star; Sayid and Locke take turns playing The Professor, always on the verge of staging a coup; Kate is a post-feminist Mary Ann. Is the “Gilligan” in “Gilligan’s Isle” supposed to invoke Carol Gilligan, the great gender essentialist of the late twentieth century?

Maybe the reason women on the Island can’t give birth without dying is a reference to old TV regulations that prevented pregnancy on TV series. Remember the scandal of Little Ricky, anyone? Ever wonder how the crew and passengers of the SS Minnow stayed on their island for so long without anyone getting knocked up?

But even more interesting than playing match-up between Gilligan’s Island and Lost is the game of playing match-up between either of those series and you and your friends. Clearly both shows — like Lord of the Flies — aim to make their islands into wee little political and social microcosms, with each character representing a type as narrowly defined as a Myers-Briggs personality indicatee. So which characters are you? I’ve already given away that I’m The Professor. And as for Lost, I’d be Sayid. Or is that Said?

heh heh heh

I even have that black tanktop from Urban Outfitters to prove it.

23 responses to “Lost in Lost

  1. Dave says:

    I’ve watched one whole episode of Lost, but I enjoyed this post. Especially the portraits of Locke and Said.

  2. ruben mancillas says:

    Bryan, I admire and encourage people’s TV addictions but we were able to kick Lost with relative ease. I don’t even know exactly where we left off, never a good sign, but it was around the time the others took the kid off of the raft.

    The way smart people read things into shows that aren’t really that smart is a lot of fun. I think J. J. is one trick pony, part of the reason we were able to so easily wash our hands of Lost is that we had felt burned by using so much of our queue on Alias, and MI3 just confirmed this but I’d much rather watch your version of the series, political theorists and all.

    The Professor-isn’t he a kid with mad skills on the And 1 All-Stars?

    Favorite Gilligan’s Island cultural reference is in Dazed and Confused when the kids are listing all of the episodes on the board and the one girl is taken to task for her unenlightened gender politics by her friend.

    Farrell and Trixie-many thanks for my t-shirt-Jeremy surprised me with it yesterday.

  3. thanks for the gauntlet, ruben.

    but you quit too soon! one of the best parts of the series is what they find when they eventually make it to the others: a suburb, complete with desperate housewives, right there in the middle of the jungle!

    if one thing has put me off over time, it’s the supernatural aspect of the island. i don’t care much for the smoke monster, the polar bears, or jacob. i’m a little nervous that we’re heading into “What the @$#!@ do we know” territory with the new characters, one of whom is a “physicist” who doesn’t want to be “pigeon-holed.” I hope we don’t wind up with a sort of multiple reality timewarp thing going on here. I prefer to think they can submarine on and off the island at will. Or that they could before Locke blew up the submarine.

    Okay, I’ll admit — I do like the polar bears better now that I’ve considered the possibility that they’re a Tristram Shandy reference.

  4. so even if you people don’t watch Lost, you should have some sense of which character on Gilligan’s Island you would be. Anyone?

  5. ruben mancillas says:

    Um, for a lot of obvious reasons, isn’t this pretty much a Professor group?

    I can see the fun in someone claiming Mary Ann or Ginger but could anyone be honest enough to truly be a Howell, Skipper, or Gilligan?

    Bizarre pop culture stuff-have you heard the rumor that Alan Hale Jr. is the the father of Etta James?

    On first meeting one of my Dad’s skiing buddies who used to work in Hollywood he croaked that he had “banged” Tina Louise.

    Re: Lost-yeah, my fear was that it was heading in the direction of a Bobby Ewing dream. Sounds like it still might end up that way but glad you’re having this much fun with it.

  6. At least one TGW reader and sometime commenter (though absent lo these many months) has a monogrammed bathrobe with the initials TH III.

  7. Demosthenes says:

    I am with you Bryan! Lost is one of my all time favourite tv shows. I had noticed the references to The Lord of the Flies (they even spent lots of time hunting boars), but i hadn’t noticed how Hurley was a “piggy” Very interesting. So why do you think the rescuers want Ben?

  8. i think the rescuers are related to dharma somehow. at least i hope so.

  9. Stephanie Wells says:

    I’ve never watched Lost so can’t comment on that, but re. Gilligan’s Island, my favorite part was always talking about how the characters represent the seven deadly sins. You can do the math. (I used to have a handout I wrote about this as an example to teach thesis statements, but had to stop using it once my students got young enough to have never seen Gilligan’s Island.)

  10. Dave says:

    Your students have never seen Gilligan’s Island? The closing of the American mind, indeed!

  11. Jeremy says:

    When I first started watching Lost, it was about 11pm–I decided to watch one episode on DVD before going to bed. The next thing I knew, the sun was coming up, and I had watched 8 straight episodes. I love your identification here of all the possible allusions in the show, many of which I hadn’t noticed (of course)–but, yeah, I get the sense that most of them are nonsense. My interest in the show started to wane when, midway through season 2 (I think), I began to suspect that the writers had no idea what direction the show was going in… I did get sucked back in, though, with Season 3. Still, I think that when everything is wrapped up and all (or most) of our questions have been answered, the show is going to be a monumental let-down.

    By the way, what’s up with that statue with the 4 toes? (Was that ever addressed?)

  12. c’mon, jeremy. which characters are you?

    speaking of jeremy’s characters, we saw _in bruge_ over the wkend (woohoo! four thumbs up!) and colin farrell had so many moments where he could have been imitating jeremy.

  13. Jeremy says:

    Ummmm, so I’m wondering what characteristics colin farrell might’ve been imitating. Does he drink, sleep, and eat too much? Does he stay up all night watching Lost?

  14. it had to do with a hyperbolic comic sulky expression when he didn’t get his way.

  15. Did you see the most recent ep, Bryan? Charlotte’s full name was Charlotte Staples Lewis…

    And as a Gilligan’s Island character, my choice is obvious:


    Wrongway Feldman. Contrary? Maybe.

    But then again, Stu Sutcliffe was my favorite Beatle, so, hey…

  16. bw says:

    Good grief. I forgot about Wrongway Feldman.

    I saw the episode, but I missed the CS Lewis bit. I also missed that Locke’s dad is named Anthony Cooper. Oy. When will it stop?!

    My favorite bit on the Gilligan/Lost clip I linked to is when Gilligan’s radio puts out *the* numbers, allowing him to win the sweepstakes. That clip is damn clever.

  17. Cynthia says:

    Great post everybody, now I want to watch lost, I guess I will add it to my netflix que and start from the begining, but I don’t know if I could watch eight in a row and stay up until dawn. wow Good job Jeremy.

  18. Cynthia says:

    did anybody watch lipstick jungle

  19. LT says:


    i hated lost for awhile, i think because i came in during season 3 and there was this big black amorphous demon thing– and, you know, the real john locke just wouldn’t have written that into his script. anyway, the show is way more lord of the flies than Gilligan to me. i’ve been watching the recent episodes and am hooked– they’re about to get off the island!! …or are they…?

    i don’t identify with any Gilligan character (except maybe Gilligan?), but i did always want the professor and mary ann to get down and dirty. all that sexual tension!

  20. LT says:

    aiee. i messed up on the italics thing again.

  21. GilliGAN! [hat swings].

    damn. i can’t even do a very good skipper imitation. i’m so the professor.

  22. LP says:

    I watched the first two seasons of Lost with bemusement (polar bears! mysterious underground bunkers! those horn trills just before the commercial breaks!), but got completely turned off when the characters were imprisoned by the “others.” Watching Sawyer and Kate languish in cages, and Jack locked in some room, was like watching some some strange Guantanamo reenactment. Not my idea of pleasurable viewing.

  23. I forgot to say this in my original post, but this season has me thinking about the Gilligan’s Island reunion show — Return the Gilligan’s Island — which, if I remember right, ends the with the castaways being stuck on the same island they started from.

    Anyone else on this season so far? I’m finding the flashforwards to be a welcome relief from the flashbacks.