I’ve been thinking about lists over the past twenty-four hours. And not just grocery lists, either, although Lord knows we need some butter in these parts. No, I’m more concerned with the list-happy members of Lost. Seems you can’t go a few episode of this show without a new list popping up, now can you?
Last week, I unveiled my "Sins of the Fathers Theory" of Lost, in which I stated that one could look at the events of the show as the result of the baby boomer generation heaping their shortcomings upon their unwitting offspring. I thought this was an interesting way to view the show, given that our historical moment is rife with baby boomers about to collect Social Security in a world that falls well short of the idealistic goals of their youth.
But there’s another historical trend at work, and one that I believe ties in with the pervasive list-making in the show. At the risk of turning this blog overtly political, we’re in a world in which we as ordinary citizens are not always entirely sure who, on a macro level, is in charge. That is to say: we know there are governments, and bodies that nominally regulate daily events, but do we truly know or believe that to be the ultimate reality?
I think of some of my favorite genre shows of recent years: Lost. Heroes. Firefly. Shows in which the protagonists find themselves constantly searching for those people pulling the strings around them. And what do they tend to find? Not governments, but corporations. Private entities that truly wield the purse strings and enact the secret power plays that place our protagonists in the situations in which we are viewers find them.
(Spoilers on Heroes and Firefly in the next paragraph.)
The Widmore Corporation. The Company. The Blue Sun Corporation. All acting outside governmental rule (albeit often with their assistance on some level), all with agendas that act nominally in the best interests of humanity but who hide an often sinister agenda. Widmore seeks to save the world from the Valenzetti Equation, but opts for mass genocide as a viable option by which to achieve this goal. (Widmore’s involvement is speculative at this point, but likely.) The Company seeks global harmony via viruses and plots to destroy New York City. And Blue Sun sought to restore order to a calamitous galaxy through the introduction of gases into terraformed planets in order to make its inhabitants more docile.
I’d argue these shows all point to a latent concern in today’s society that corporations, not governments, truly run the show. The protagonists’ fight against these forces isn’t any pro-government mantra on behalf of the shows, so much as a way to celebrate individual freedoms and the ability to make one’s way in the world in one’s own way. As long as these forces remain a mystery to the protagonists, they remain a mystery to us as well, and as such tap into our our modern fears that we are not as in control of our lives as we’d like to think.
As such, one can look at the list-making in Lost as multiple forces conscripting the players of the show into a war in which the stakes are truly clear to only a few, largely unseen players. It’s up to the ground soldiers (if you will) to question their orders, and their incessant questioning both drives the narrative and raises the stakes. Having spent an entire season fighting the Others (and ultimately "winning"), Jack and the Lostaways soon learn that their victory might have in fact been a fatal loss. The ripples effect from that victory echoes throughout Season 4 and should echo long into Season 6.
What do you make of the list-making on the show? Is it representative of a cultural moment or simply an interesting device for the show to use? And why do certain people end up on certain lists?
Drop your comments below, or email me your thoughts/questions on the matter. I’ll publish the best comments and questions in tomorrow’s edition of "Letters from The Flame".
Ryan also posts every 108 minutes over at Boob Tube Dude.