TelevIsm: Spoiler Alert! Lost is Heteronormative!
Lost ended on Sunday, as you most likely know since you are reading a pop culture blog. I liked it for the most part, but one of the final shots, below, crystallized one of my major issues with Lost: heteronormativity and the privileging of partnering and monogamy.
In the final shot of the purgatory/sideways universe, characters from throughout the series sit in pews while Christian Shephard walks them into heaven (or whatever, I’m really not sure yet but that’s my working assumption for this post).
Lost is a show about love, as was made very clear in this final image. And that love was defined, symbolized, and depicted in a very specific way. Lost’s vision of love is from a very straight, very traditional, very Christian point of view. And that’s problematic, because just as it is making a grand statement about science and what is important in life, it’s framing those choices in a way that pushes marginalized lovers off the edge of its cliff.
Nearly all of the characters are partnered. 90% of them. And all of their partners are of the opposite sex. Kate and Jack, Sawyer and Juliet (side note: YAY), Rose and Bernard, Sun and Jin, Desmond and Penny, Sayid and Shannon (side note: see ya, Nadia!), Hurley and Libby, Charlie and Claire. 100% of all characters who get into Heaven are straight, (or if you’re not into the heavenly interpretation, are validated as worthy of “moving on”).
(Since we’re going into the numbers, let’s look at the composition of the characters in that particular scene from a statistical perspective on the axis of race: 75% of these characters are white. I understand that it’s a little difficult to judge considering that they could not get many busy actors of color for multiple episodes, but still. )
This image, the concluding image, reflects an ongoing trend of Lost’s preference for straight, partnered, monogamous people, and their erasure of non-heterosexual, non-monogamous people.
Let’s take a broader view of the overall pattern of the show. In an epic series with a massive and ever-fluctuating cast, there has been a grand total of one character who is not straight: Tom Friendly, a powerful Other.
In one scene (screencapped above), in the course of convincing Michael to come back to the Island, they go up to his hotel room. Tom Friendly kisses his lover on the cheek while Michael looks on in disgust, and Tom says that he likes to “indulge” when he gets off the island.
So, to unpack the scene: gay relationships, in this show, happen only occasionally–unlike the committed partnerships of Desmond and Penny, Jin and Sun, Jack and Kate, Sawyer and Juliet, etc., they are implied to be non-essential and frivolous. Furthermore, there is a specific reaction of disgust to this expression. Love between two men is an indulgence on Lost, not the reason you find enlightenment.
There are very few depictions of non-monogamous sexuality on Lost. There's basically just Juliet and Goodwin, the Other psychiatrist’s husband, and while their relationship is not exactly negative, it’s certainly not a great representation of non-monogamy. There’s some casual sex, most of it with Sawyer, and that’s necessarily judged, but it’s certainly not valued in the way EVERLASTING LOVE is.
That’s it for Lost as far as any kind of sexuality that is not heterosexual and monoamorous. Of course, there is not a single trans character of any kind, which is indicative of the show's cissupremacy and not any better than the erasure I discuss in detail here. Partnering is made an expectation of pretty much every character. (On a positive note, this in some ways creates some subversive depictions of love: Locke has a romantic relationship while using a wheelchair [though his partner's not validated by the waiting room], and so does Hurley, a fat disabled man of color.)
But for the most part, the show necessitates a partner for full humanity. It creates, in that last scene, the condition that people must have partners to gain enlightenment and heaven: the more normative their pairing, the more likely they are to gain admission Lost is a show that is very heavily about romance, and love, and that romance and love is almost entirely of the kind that is consistently privileged by the media.
No, other shows are not doing much better, even when they do depict same-sex love. Yes, I’ve seen every episode and didn’t, frankly, expect them to go for some grand statement about different, equally valid kinds of love in the concluding scene that I spend much of this post discussing. It may just be one more item in the humongous list of shows that create a specific and exclusive point of view, but it is a very enthusiastic contribution to that list.
It’s not the worst, most heterosexist vision of love out there. But Lost erased non-normative sexuality from its epic narrative, and it’s helping to create norms. When a show focuses so heavily on love, its exclusionary vision of the subject deserves critique.
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