[Soundtrack to this post: ‘Lucky’ | Radiohead]

Last night saw the first part of ‘Lost’ on TV in the UK – a programme I think has already shown in the US.

I didn’t see it, but as I read a review of it, I couldn’t help feeling that there have been an awful lot of these sort of shows about recently:

Castaway, Survivor, Big Brother, The Island, I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here… All of these shows seem to have a common root of restriction, imprisonment… and the need to escape.

What it is about these shows that is so attractive?

Maybe they are tapping into an ‘escape fantasy’ – the desire to break out of our humdrum existences into something higher, bigger, better.

But I’m also wondering if these shows say something about a strange desire to be in these tragic, isolated, imprisoned circumstances. I mention in the book about the strange relief that comes over us when we are put into a situation that means we can totally abdicate responsibility. Escaping our responsibilities, rather than escaping back to them.

If a jet crashes on a deserted island, if I am ‘castaway’, if I am locked away in a house for 12 weeks then the mobile, the emails, family, work, relationships, church – all these can suddenly be forgotten. We can be released from the stress by this ‘ctrl/alt/del’ that is thrown us by the gods.

More than that, if we are in these situations then we are suddenly heroes: tragic figures at the mercy of Mount Olympus, to be pitied by all…

This may be a hard thought to swallow, but is there a small, jealous, ego-driven part of us that actually wants to suffer one of these things – then everyone can pity me and all the normal detritus of my stressed, insignificant life can be forgotten? We certainly feast on them when they do… that delicious nano-second of Schroedingian uncertainty just as the radio is seeking stations, the TV tube is warming up and we wonder “has something really actually happened today?”

This is part of the ‘fantasy life’ that we need to escape. Jesus faced it in the temptations in the desert… A choice to live out some ego fantasy, or actually chose to live in the hard, responsible, often boring reality that life is day to day.

The Emerging Church is not emerging survived from the burning wreck of a tragically downed church; it is altogether less dramatic 99% of the time, so it must make these hard choices to if it to grow into maturity: to chose to realize that not every day will be heroic. Not every day will be a huge battle against the rest. Not every day will be fun, exciting, important, new, better, right…


8 responses to “Lost?”

  1. Wow. Great thoughts. Reminds me a bit of the shock that came when I read the following thought (from Dallas Willard):
    “Stand up for your rights” is assumed to be a good sentiment. But what would happen if we gave up on that and instead starting standing up for our responsibilities?

  2. This has been going round my head for a while.
    I think it’s actually a bit more cynical than you suggest.
    Certainly “Lost” may appeal to the heroic (apologies for my xenophobia, but it is from the US after all!) I just wonder if it appeals more to the misathrope in the viewer.
    It’s very satisfying to see people get their come-uppance sometimes.
    People may be full of themselves and their self-belief, but what would happen if they were really put to the test?
    What would happen if something absolutely terrible were to happen to them – then how far would their arrogance get them? (For me, arrogance is the biggest problem today – way beyond consumerism and individualism).
    I just wonder if people find it very satisfying to see both celebrities and wannabes tortured to breaking point, when on a day-to-day level, you and I struggle to maintain our own responsibilities. They think they’re so clever? Lets see them cope now!
    This is certainly true of “I’m a Celebrity” and “Big Brother” – this is the first year that pretty much every person in the has been fairly universally un-likeable – and some of the characters on “Lost” were clearly written to be particularly obnoxious.
    It remains to be seen whether the good guys triumph on “Lost”, and this misanthropy may be a particularly British phenomenon, but I suspect that this is why the ratings here remain so high.

  3. Thanks for the thoughts. Look forward to reading the book. BTW, the title alone does it for me.

  4. Dana Ames

    My husband and 17yo daughter are big fans.
    I’m sure part of the appeal is escape from responsibility, and seeing people get their comeuppance. I haven’t watched it much, but I think there are other things driving its popularity as well.
    It’s a drama, not a “reality show” like Survivor, so the Story draws you in, as do all the backStories of the characters, which will be introduced as the series unfolds.
    Another aspect is a reflection of the real feelings of tension, stress, confusion, impermanence, isolation, oppression and imprisonment etc. many experience today- (I see this in some of the music I hear too- and with three teenagers I hear lots… it’s hyper-angst-y, where it’s not outright suicidally dark.)- there is, in fact, no escape. We are truly existentially lost.
    On the other hand, here are all these people using their intellectual and other powers, and they’re actually surviving- everyman as a kind of superhero, and an occasional redemptive action by someone thought unredeemable.
    Many TV shows have run years on less.

  5. I’d agree with all of this. The stories do draw us in, and we love to see the shallow and arrogant deal with the crap they are thrown.
    The story thing is particularly interesting to me. We are so desperate for them – buying into them with branded goods, trailing out to see countless rehashes of the same ones trucked out of Hollywood… Does that have something to say about our selfbelief in the narratives of our own lives? We keep being told that Postmodernism (a word I am proud to say is absent from the book ;p ) has brought (bought) with it the end of the meta-narrative, but all I see is people crying out for some sort of guiding story.

  6. Something I forgot to mention before – as any psychologist will tell you, people who are thrown together in extreme circumstances (such as accidents or disasters) tend to form stronger bonds very quickly, and strengthen relationships that may have existed previously.
    Maybe people are envious of that rather than the grand narrative. I don’t know if people do wish they had a grand narrative. People accept the relativity, but I think people wish for maybe a local narrative or an ability or means to create a story that makes sense of their own existence, whilst accepting that “what’s true for me isn’t necessarily true for someone else”.
    I once had a long and slightly bizarre conversation with someone who was jealous of my ability to piece together some sense of continuity from what she knew to be my Judeo-Christian narrative, but she wasn’t necessarily keen to adopt the same world-view as me, or even accept the same staging posts on the way.

  7. Well I don’t watch alot of TV – its role has been replaced with online gaming (not the gambling kind, the violent kind). But, I teach teenagers and so I see that a big value of these kinda shows is that not only do you personally escape for a bit, but you can talk knowledgably with yer mates about it and escape together – kinda.
    As for angst, personally I see that the teens here in Pompey don’t have that problem, it’s like they’ve moved beyond glamourising their boredom and simply get into mischeif… not many are suicidal, just reckless! And family is strong here too – helps when 1/10 the population has underaged pregnancies and a huge amount are suspiciously closely related (inbred?). This is a criticism, just an observation. “Imagination is sucked out of children through a cathode-grey nipple” is key for me… can’t any of us imagine better escape-scenarios than the TV?? I’m thinking, Mars… being turned into a maggot… c’mon TV, try and do a reality/lost show about being turned into a maggot and how to find contentment…
    That’ll give my pupils something to talk about next day at school!

  8. Great thoughts here!
    To me, this question by Kester is the most important one when reading and discussing this topic:
    “Does that have something to say about our selfbelief in the narratives of our own lives?”
    I think that the need for a meta-narrative is so deeply rooted in us, that even if postmodernism dismiss the thought and relativity seems to be ok as an ideological guideline, the symptoms are still there. These kinds of TV-shows just being one of them.
    Why do we marvel at literature? Philosophy? New age, eastern religions? All of them trying to give context to the built-in need for radical spirituality. They provide optional meta-narratives, in the abcence of the judeo-christian narrative.
    And I do think that people wish they had local narratives to cling to, and maybe they have. Probably of some sort.
    The question is though, to what extent can local narratives be the platform of identity that people need, if they are not rooted in grander, more underlying and subliminal ones?