Tube Tied: Is Lost... Lost When It Comes to Women?
Here's my transparent attempt to segue into an untimely essay about Lost (which won't premiere until January but my guestblogging stint ends next week): the promos for Flashforward were so ubiquitous - I first remember seeing one after the Lost finale in May - that I found myself watching it Thursday night with a sense of obligation rather than pleasure. It was, in fact, so terrible that I turned it off after fifteen minutes of wordy expository dialogue that leapfrogged over any compelling sense of dramatic tension the show might have possessed. Which is funny, because this is the show that's supposed to replace Lost for us, when Lost airs its final episode this spring. And yet, Flashforward is thus almost the mirror opposite of Lost. Lost's watchwords are mystify, obfuscate, contradict. Flashforward's are explain, tell, lecture. And so, other than observing to yourself how much Joseph Fiennes is, as he ages, resembling Ralph ever more, particularly in profile... well, there's very little to get interested or invested in in Flashforward. (Oh, and spotting the Oceanic Airlines billboard.)
In fact the only thing that Flashforward and Lost really have in common is that they both belong to this new generation of mainstream fantasy/science fiction - the kind that has better production values than Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica combined - that has finally made its way into network television in primetime slots. These shows have come up with the mainstreaming of ComicCon and the sudden retroactive chic of comic book culture, which, it seems to me, started emerging around the time Michael Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay came out. It's not that we haven't had sci-fi and fantasy in primetime before; it's just that these shows aspire to a sort of network television legitimacy we haven't seen before. They don't just want to be invited to the Emmys; they expect to receive one. And actually, we, the audience, tend to expect that too, on their behalf. And being an obsessive reader of, say, Lostpedia, just doesn't have that stigma attached to Trekkieism, does it? The mainstreaming of fantasy may be good for formerly underdog geek culture, and certainly it seems some people have felt their inner nerd liberated by the trend. But it is still very much the kind of thing that plays out with men, among men, by men and about men. I'm not trying to be dismissive here; I can see that writers of this genre are struggling to find a place for women within it. But they haven't made much headway.
Let's explore this with Lost's example: the dramatic tension of the show was initially strung up between Jack Shepard the pragmatist, and John Locke the mystical idealist. In both cases the leadership qualities of these men are more or less taken for given. They are the movers and shakers of the band of survivors, with their booming voices and simple credos: "live together, die alone." The main female characters of the first couple of seasons, Kate, Shannon, Sun and Claire - all exist more or less as foils to the men. Kate is given a gritty personality and past, sure - but it seems more like an attempt to prove to women that the writers know that Women Are Tough than it is to build a woman who seems to define herself in some way other than as a potential lover torn between two really totally hot men. Shannon is the woman who likes shoes. Claire is the angelic pregnant woman who needs Charlie - silly, screwed up, Charlie - to protect her and her child. Even Sun's somewhat more complicated example - as the woman who learned English in defiance of her scary husband - is set in the context of an affair, for why would any woman want to be independent if not the chance to attach herself to a man?
The show's uncomfortableness with female power was brought into stark relief when the writers brought in a female leader from the other side of the island, Ana Lucia, played by Michelle Rodriguez. Rodriguez has a very aggressive presence, and as I recall, at the time, word on the internet was that everyone hated her. And it seemed, to, that the writers were bewildered with her. Arguably she was to provide a counterpoint with Kate, but contrasted with the lithe, unthreatening-looking Evangeline Lilly, Rodriguez seemed a bulldozer, and they seemed utterly unable to see the humanity within. And so Ana Lucia was rapidly given a softer backstory - a cop, yes, but a cop angry because she had lost a child (women have no pain that cannot ultimately be retraced to their uteri, one supposes. When that didn't work, she was killed.
There are, of course, other factors at play here, including that for a considerable portion of the series the writers appeared to be scrambling for consistency and direction. I'm afraid I'm not one of those viewers who feels able to trust Lost's writers; I think it's obvious they were struggling for quite awhile. But it's telling as the final season approached, the world of Lost became more and more male-centric. Sure, the cast got bigger. Ben, Jacob, Richard Alpert, Charles Widmore, Sawyer, Daniel Faraday, and Desmond joined Jack and John as the movers and shakers of the Lost universe. Yet it's telling that the writers regained control of the steering wheel by more or less letting the guys run the show. It's telling that we still live in a world where the easy way out is to write the heroes as men, because somebody needs to be watching those kids, even the Kates who were supposed to be proof that this was a Different Kind of Guy-Fantasy.
Lost is written, I should say, by both women and men these days; I am not trying to say this is an obvious case of guy tunnel vision. But it's the kind of thing we should all be asking about more often. It's the kind of thing that makes you wonder what it would take to have a show like this that used women as more than window-dressing. If little girls wanted to be the Jack Shepards instead of the Kates.
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