Jordan defends Lost

Thursday, February 14th, 2008 Horrorthon Posts

Because I have a spectacular talent for wasting time, and because I love Lost, and because it’s been called to my attention that Whirlygirl is dealing with some recalcitrant people who have mounted an all-too-familiar attack on the show, I have to weigh in.

In previous posts about Cloverfield, various Horrorthoners have addressed the disquieting trend among moviegoers/television viewers to equate “This is ambiguous” with “This sucks.” It’s a fairly simple argument to rebut: fiction, like, um, well, sex, is dependent on sensations of tension and release; anticipatory emotions are part of the fun of the experience. A lot of the Cloverfield complaining seems to be from people who didn’t get the memo about sustained ambiguity (the kind you’ll find in, say, Dostoevsky or Kubrick or Da Vinci) as a fundamental armature of great art through the ages, and seem to think that remaining unanswered questions automatically render narratives “stupid.” This isn’t hard to argue against.

But Whirlygirl’s correspondent is one of those people making a slightly different argument, which can be summarized like this: “I have the distinct impression that there is no underlying scheme to the tension and release being employed. Therefore, I am being gulled or manipulated, and, therefore, the art in question is—you guessed it—’stupid.’ “

Now, in order to make this argument, you need to perform a rather blind leap of faith: you need to convince yourself that, since you can’t see the underlying scheme, nobody can see it; which means, most likely, it’s not there. In other words, there’s no viewer/reader on earth who could make heads or tails of this (even though they aren’t close to being done telling the story), which naturally means that the writers can’t make heads or tails of it.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, a bad argument. If I can’t follow something, I’m going to assume (in order) that either 1) I missed something (which would apply, really, to any LOST viewer who hasn’t seen every single episode); or 2) They’re withholding something they’ll reveal later (which, while certainly annoying, is a far cry from “stupid”) or 3) They’re withholding something they plan to NEVER reveal (also frustrating, but not exactly a novel approach to the narrative arts); all of this is far more feasible than 4) They don’t know what they’re doing; it’s “random,” which, it seems to me, is the least likely conclusion, especially if you haven’t been watching carefully.

I have been watching carefully, and I have been consistently rewarded by LOST’s games of “tension-and-release.” I’ve seen a fair amount of “keep-’em-guessing” television (including X-FILES and TWIN PEAKS) and it’s fair to say that LOST is the least manipulative, arbitrary or un-planned plot I’ve ever seen. Over three seasons I’ve been consistently amazed at how well the pieces fit together and how intelligently the puzzle reveals itself. If somebody wants to say, “this is too intricate and I don’t have the patience for it,” fair enough. If somebody wants to say “they play it too close to the vest; it’s an aesthetic choice that turns me off, due to my woefully short attention span or my inability to consistently watch the show despite iTunes, DVDs etc.” that’s fair too. But to conclude that “LOST is beyond stupid, because its choices are random and arbitrary” is not a reasonable conclusion. It’s ostrich-like: “I can’t see it, so it must not be there.” The fact that millions of people are evidently seeing something that’s invisible to you should be a tip-off! Whirlygirl’s correspondent is basically telling her, “You know all that stuff that you can see on LOST, that I can’t, because you’ve been paying attention? It’s not there! My fleeting glimpses of the show give me that impression, so I must be right and you must be wrong.” And that, if I may say so, really is stupid.

New episode tonight! More “random developments” to delight us all.