As promised, we’re kicking off Others Week here on the “Lost” blog with an examination of the culture surrounding this mysterious group. Now, donning our Charlotte Staples Lewis-esque cultural anthropologist hats to analyze this group will only get us so far: up to this point, the majority of the social ecosystem is as blurry and confused as Lindsay Lohan on a typical Tuesday night. But soldier forth we will, trying to isolate and analyze a few aspects of what makes The Others the group they are.
When typically discussing a culture of a particular group, it’s helpful to look at their origins. Naturally, this being “Lost,” said origins are shrouded in mystery. Calling this group “The Others” doesn’t help our case, since it doesn’t really tell us who they are. It merely tells us what they are not. “The Others” implies difference from those that they encounter, but doesn’t really illuminate what exactly makes them act differently than those that find their way to the Island.
Trying to pinpoint the start of this culture is a bit of a fool’s errand, but hey, I’ve made enough foolish assertions on this blog to numb even the most optimistic of readers. If I had to start a timeline for them, I’d go with one of the four following points:
1) With the start of homo sapiens. In other words, as long as men have had thumbs, used weapons, and thrown bones in the air that turned into spaceships, there have been a group of individuals that found their way to the shores of the Island to further what Jacob calls “progress.”
2) 2500 B.C. Given that historians pinpoint the first use of hieroglyphics around 3000 B.C., let’s just give those Egyptians a few hundred years to row their way up the Nile and into the path of an Island that moves through time and space. Under this assumption, one could carbon-date the four-toed statue and determine an accurate assessment of when the group known as The Others actually began to protect the Island.
3) 1845. Under this configuration, the Black Rock marks the point at which The Others first formed on the Island. Sure, other civilizations might have taken the right turn at Albuquerque and ended up attacking by smoke monsters, but the idea of a native group bonded together in protecting the Island didn’t come about until Jacob made sure that ship found its way to the Island.
Given the artifacts found on the Island, these are the safest guesses. I suppose you could argue that Faraday and Co. time-warped into a nascent form of the group in 1954, but Alpert’s agelessness is much less interesting without at least a century or more of backstory. To me, you could construct a compelling, plausible faux history of The Others starting from any one of the three points listed above. Given the nature of Jacob and The Man in Black, you can stretch things back as far as you like and still hold water.
What I find curious, as do many of you given your comments yesterday, is trying to square The Others’ nominally defensible goal (protect the Island) with their immoral, horrific, violent acts over the years. It’s one thing to want to protect a sacred ground for spiritual or eco-centric reasons. It’s quite another to kill U.S. soldiers, kidnap children, and use toxic gases to wipe out an entire cadre of scientists and free thinkers.
Part of the problem stems from Jacob’s style of leadership. As one who is hands-off for the most part, he leaves a lot of things to chance. At best, he provides lists, a type of Ten Commandments that can be easily misinterpreted if not outright ignored. Jacob may not believe that every person is good, but he does little in the way of directly manipulating people to do a moral or immoral action. He allows people personal agency in order that they might fulfill a series of life events that can be defined after the fact as something like “destiny.” Sometimes achieving that destiny required a little push, but Jacob’s infrequent interventions aren’t cheats: they are the bare minimum inserted at crucial moments.
But since these actions are so slight, they can often go awry. In leaving people to their own devices, Jacob often leaves them exposed to their worst intentions. Keeping with the Biblical theme above, one could view the occupation of The Barracks as The Others’ erection of the Tower of Babel, something likewise constructed to glorify man, not God/The Island. Whereas people used to be recruited to the cause organically, now Ben employs a modified Room 23 to speed up the process a smidge. Locke himself mocks Ben’s refrigerator in “The Man from Tallahassee,” viewing the existence of the Barracks as nothing less than an abomination.
And perhaps Jacob views it as such also, but doesn’t take the form of a burning bush or a great flood in order to make his displeasure clear. Perhaps he forfeits the ability of his followers to have children. Or gives their leader cancer. Or refuses to clearly identify The Island’s heir to an ageless man who is increasingly frustrated with trying to guess his leader’s intentions. But most of all, he “punishes” them with silence. I put “punishes” in quotes because while it might feel that way to those that act in his name, to him it’s a necessary part of the progress he seeks.
Maybe, just maybe, Jacob’s methods are to not inspire worship in himself, but rather reliance on themselves as individuals. Looking at things that way, Jacob’s seeming self-sacrifice makes a ton of sense, not only for his own goals but his goals for The Others as well. Shackled by his existence, he needed to remove himself from the equation so they might stand on their own two feet for the first time in…well, whatever time period you chose earlier, fair reader.
Sure, the whole thing reeks of “The Others are doin’ it for themselves,” on a basic level, but this is a show in which “Two sides: one light, one dark,” essentially sums up everything you need to know about the show. It’s hard for a guy that writes about the show four times a week to admit, but sometimes the simpler answers are the more correct ones. If this tactic is good enough for Obi-Wan Kenobi, it’s good enough for Jacob, I say.
Coming tomorrow, we’ll take a closer look at whether or not The Others are truly the “good guys” in “Lost.” But for now, do you think they have been faithfully executing Jacob’s plan? At what point might they have “lost” their way? Leave your thoughts below!
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