Greenman's Occasional Organ

Ecosocialist. Syndicalist. Critical Techno-Progressive.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Lost, The Prisoner and the Zeitgeist

So, the day that Lost fans across the world (and particularly in the USA and Canada where it airs tonight on terrestrial TV) have been waiting for is here - the opening episode of series three of the cult castaway drama. In those parts of the world with TV and IT where the third series of the show is not scheduled to be on terrestrial or easily accessible satellite/cable TV for many months yet, there will be a flurry of interest in bit-torrent and the like.

For those who are not aware of the series, it has been described as "Twin Peaks on the beach". It revolves around passengers of a crashed passsenger plane flying between Australia and the USA that has crashed in the vicinity of a mysterious island. The island has strange out-of place beasts, abandoned bunkers and exotic technology created by a secretive cabal of businessmen and scientists, and weird and confrontational inhabitants known as "the others". In series one and two we have been treated to flashback back-stories of the crash survivors as they struggle to survive on the island and find out more about the bunkers and the elusive others. Along the way we have allusions to various philosophers, philosophical and religious concepts, pop cultural references, numerology, mysticism and the paranormal.

Responses to the show have varied greatly - popular response has been to lap it up, but boards and discussion sites are full of sceptics and critics of the phenomenon.
I find it interesting that many of the responses to Lost are very similar to those reported to Patrick McGoohan's original 1960's cult TV series The Prisoner. (i.e. incomprehension, mockery of bits that were thought too obvious and banal, anger at not getting "answers", criticism of "boring repetition", criticism of lack of character development - The Prisoner constantly changed most characters except for McGoohan himself to give a constant disorientation feeling, along with giving the characters numbers, not names)

Elements of Lost are directly cribbed from The Prisoner - i.e numerological elements, the "inescapable island prison", the lack of explanation, mysticism, paranoia, forays into pop philosophy, psychology (contrast the unmasking of "number one" in McGoohan's series with the mind games of "Henry Gale" and the changing perspective of Locke), politics and religion without "fully committing" or revealing an authorial position, (In The Prisoner that authorial perspective tended to appear to fluctuate between extreme individualism and esoteric "traditionalism", whilst in Lost the perspective hints at religious apologetics, whilst teasing with a more esoteric/conspiracist worldview)
There are hints at a broader global conspiracy (The Hanso Foundation/Dharma Initiative in Lost, suggestion of interchangeability or co-operation of East and West intelligence services, or an over arching purpose for both in The Prisoner) Hanso/Dharma may be inspired by the conspiracist views circulating about organisations like those linked to world federalist and Baileyite/Theosophical organisations (that appear to have a whole range of fronts and networks working towards some shady global "plan".) Both series give the odd nod to the pioneers in the field of meta-fiction and attempt to graft themselves onto the tradition of Surrealism, Dada, Oulipo, Joyce, O'Brien, Pynchon, Rennes-le-Chateau/Sion/Sirius mythologists etc (Irrelevant note - the author of the Wizard of Oz Books - whence Henry Gale and balloons etc in Lost - was a theosophist)

Where Lost is able to differ from The Prisoner is in current technological and cultural possibilities - intertextuality, multi-media through viral marketing, the Lost Experience game played out across various linked websites on the net, plus 40 more years of popular cultural and political/philosophical reference points. It has been noted that the programme owes some debt to comic art, particularly that of Alan Moore, one of the most successful comic art writers of recent years. The "knowingness" of the creators extends to them giving the impression of "making it up as they go along", similar to McGoohan's notorious reluctance to "explain" anything about the planning, ideas or meaning behind The Prisoner. With the internet game making it difficult to know what is a fan site, what is an advert, what is a "secret clue", and what is based on reality, this all creates a different feeling where the players/viewers may even feel they have a part in "creating" the Lost reality.

Ah, the joys of late capitalism......

It seems to me that Lost taps into the Zeitgeist as did earlier shows like Twin Peaks and the X-Files. It grabs onto the feeling of disorientation and "lostness" people feel in a globalised world, where in the words of the Communist Manifesto "All that is solid melts into air", where organised religion has relaxed its' grip to be replaced by the religion of shopping, where we sometimes notice with barely supressed paranoia dimly understood forces acting on our behalfs or against our interests in the shadows, where technology creates a global village and nothing and nobody is quite what they seem, where the multiple apocalyptic threats of war, resource exhaustion, environmental catastrophe and civil strife haunt our nightmares.
From what looked like a fairly standard popular cultural product, Lost has developed into a symbol of the times, with all the flaws, contradictions and exhillaration that that implies.....
4 8 15 16 23 42 ;-)

Labels: , , ,


At 10:05 pm, Blogger Ezri said...

I am interested in the connection you make between Lost and the Prisoner. I would add a 'dotted line' to Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos as one of the prominent strands in the Lost saga, but would argue for a cultural and political richness in McGoohan's worldview that is only glimpsed at in the Disney/abc network's. However, Lost is more explicitly connected to a variety of literary antecedents, such as Thomas Love Peacock and Flann O'Brien.

At 8:07 pm, Blogger Tony Forkush said...

For me, the overarching theme that blasts through all the rest, is a self-referential mirror to all of us who sit in silent rooms in the dark, participating in the Oxytosis of our flacid and unlived lives. The characters themselves become extensions of the alienation of modern human existence, particularly Western spiritual mentation which has reached the end of the world. As we cathect with these "actors", we come to recognize the banality and safety of our comfortable and safely moribund obedience. Huxley's "The Island" comes to mind.
We ALL hope for a plane to crash, to have a myth which can sustain us daily and provide us with an experience of life. We have become limbless baloon people who wish to join in and create something which connects us back to the body. This body has been devalued and hated within the Western mode.
LOST is our modern collective soul gone missing.

At 8:13 pm, Blogger Tony Forkush said...

Oxytocin, not Oxytosis. My apoligies.

At 7:12 am, Blogger Nikos Papasugar said...

I couldn't agree more!!!I found your blog searching for a connection between lost and zeitgeist!Before seeing Zeitgeist I had come to this concussion:
the island symbolizes the meaning and purpose of life and it demands the presence and cooperation of science(Jack) with faith(Locke) so that the could stand against the two kinds of people that are trying to manipulate them..the goverment and people with power(Widmore) and the religions(Ben as he has a wrong perception of duty and abused a dominant position)
But after zeitgeist lead me to theosophy,paganism and agnosticism and regarding that ABC channel most likely is controlled by those societies i realized that the island maybe symbolizes earth and the way living without money so lost could be supporting this propaganda..that makes me sad i had great hopes that lost was something beautiful..what is your opinion about zeitgeist and the new age?

At 9:18 am, Blogger Nikos Papasugar said...

sorry i mean gnosticism there...i am agnostic though..

At 8:49 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Zeitgeist the movie you mean, Nikos?
I have not seen it but the summaries I have read make it sound like witting disinformation or unwitting misinformation....

At 12:38 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And Richard Alpert? In Zeitgeist is written Richard Albert but is a mistake, search "Richard Alpert" on youtube.


Post a Comment

<< Home