“Lost” is “Baywatch” for the new millennium.
And just as Baywatch embodied the values of the 80s, so Lost incorporates our current set of values – all our secret hopes and fears. It must do – that’s why its successful.
So what does the success of Lost tell us about ourselves? Fans talk about the suspenseful story lines and the sexy actors (see the unofficial LOST site).
The great modern fear – death by aircraft, is too obvious to be mentioned. More subtly, the idea of being somewhere primitive but idyllic and making the most of it, is of course, close to the ethical travel life we espouse on this site, and which the success of Lost suggests must be a great hidden theme in our technologically driven advertising- saturated lives. “Lost on paradise isle and never wanting to be rescued” shouts the London Daily Express in one article about the series.
In a nutshell, here’s the plot: The survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 crash on a lush, mysterious island. Each person possesses a shocking secret, but they’ve got nothing on the island itself, which harbors a monstrous “security system,” a series of underground bunkers and a group of violent survivalists hidden in the shadows. The survivalists kill most of the survivors from the tail section of the plane. The front section survivors set about establishing a society on the island.
The fear of survivalists wrecking something that could be beautiful is the other side of the off-grid coin. On the one hand yearning for the simple life, on the other hand — fear of the step into freedom. “Lost” is mining our subconscious desire to go off the grid and our fears of what this unknown life would be like – the fear that a return to a semi-natural state would be a return to savagery is a reasonable one.
But Lost is also a harbinger of another aspect of modern life, what the LA Times calls “the ever-thinning boundary between reality and illusion.” The news that a future episode will involve the finding of a manuscript by one of the deceased passengers which will then be published in the real world by Hyperion is “a fiction that bleeds into fact.” If that’s the case, though, how long is it until reality becomes a fantasy and we believe we are characters in the drama ourselves?
This is how a show like “Lost” wants to operate — framing its viewers as a community and itself as the centerpiece of a shared point of view. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; in fact, it illustrates the nature of fanhood, the way our affinities help us find purchase, a sense of identity in the world.
In fact, the marketing of the novel suggests something far more insidious — that we, the audience, exist not only to be manipulated but to participate in our manipulation by seeing it as cool. This is the kind of thing that literature has traditionally stood against.