Fear of the Island: Why I Have Yet to Watch Lost

Lost s1 poster

Lost s1 poster

The numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42 shouldn’t have any special significance to me, especially in that particular order. Yet I distinctly remember one day in high school, when packs of my friends rapidly discussed these numbers, trying to divine their significance. They seemed very agitated–one pack even erupted in a shouting match outside the band hall–and I eventually overheard names like Locke, Hurley, and Jack. When I eventually put it together that Lost was currently in the process of wrapping up its final season that month, and that there was no one in our school named Locke or Hurley, I was a bit surprised: How could a show about an island inspire such nerdy passion?

I didn’t watch much television when I was younger. The programs I did watch most consistently were Stargate SG-1, Battlestar Galactica, and House. There was the occasional Simpsons rerun that would blow my mind and my almost never-ending frustration with Star Trek: Enterprise, but TV wasn’t really something that was a part of my cultural diet, at least not in the way movies were. I’m not surprised Lost passed me by; my biggest interactions with the show still are reading that ABC was beginning talks with the show’s writers about ending the series in two seasons on the ticker during Attack of the Show and doing enough research on what a “smoke monster” was to understand a joke on Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Abridged Series.

Since I basically wrote-off Lost, I’ve come to love and appreciate the glories of TV. Hannibal is a fantastic show, all purple, gothic, and gruesome. 30 Rock and The Office developed my taste for comedy. Mad Men and Breaking Bad: phenomenal. Justified is my favorite show of the past few years. Granted, these are only the contemporary shows that have helped develop my taste for TV, but they do occupy an incredibly rich period of television history. As such, I feel frustrated, also shameful, that I still haven’t watched Lost. It’s as if my credibility as a consumer of the modern and chic is false simply because I don’t know why it was so crushing when Jack said, “We have to go back.”

But what has kept me from catching up? The entire series is available for streaming on Netflix and as a college student without a full-time job, I have plenty of time to dedicate to watching a whole series in a couple of weeks. Yet I find myself instead rewatching The X-Files or falling down a rabbit-hole of YouTube videos or just playing Threes on my phone. My first instinct is to blame sheer procrastination, but that’s false: I usually make a habit of trying to follow as many of the AV Club’s classic reviews as I can, watching or rewatching the episodes being covered that week, and they have been covering the show since June. It’s not for lack of interest either. Between my shame at having a hole in my TV knowledge and my admiration for shows with intrigue and sci-fi trappings, Lost should be right up my alley.

Lost pilot Jack

“No, seriously, I’ll get to it this weekend”

The big, obvious answer would seem to be found in that shouting match outside the band hall in high school: I was put off by the show’s fervent fandom and endless air of “hype.” And it makes sense that the kind of arguing about a string of numbers and the logic of a flash-sideways would create an atmosphere in which blindly consuming the show that was the cause of these arguments would be a, off-putting prospect. Why would I want to bother myself with watching something that engenders the kind of banal, surface level arguments about a show’s logic and seemingly cannibalizes itself with those elements until any kind of reasonable subtext no longer exists?

But to accept that the show’s fans were the reason for not diving into the world of the island would be a copout. Both True Detective season one and Breaking Bad generated all kinds of annoying talk and coverage akin to the kind that surrounds Lost. All the discussion of Yellow Kings and how much of a badass Walter White is did become exhausting towards the end of each of the respective show’s stories, but that didn’t stop me from joyously devouring the fatalistic and dark world each show presented. Both shows presented valid and interesting critiques of masculinity and explorations of the extremes man is willing to go to in order to complete a task perceived as noble; both are gorgeously filmed, creating vivid imagery and were willing to experiment with what could be done with an image. All of these aspects I would have sadly not witnessed and been a part of had I allowed myself to be turned off by the chatter.

The real reason I have not chosen to actively sit down and watch Lost is not the fans and their perpetuation of the show’s hype but fear. I am afraid of Lost. It’s rather cowardly and a bit ridiculous to be scared of a TV show, but it’s the only rational explanation. I’m afraid that, for some reason, I won’t be able to understand the show and its temporal logic; I’m afraid that I won’t enjoy the show as much as I am “supposed” to; I’m afraid that Lost simply isn’t for me and that I will always have this alarming vacancy in my understanding of the modern history of television.

And it’s not as if I am not already aware of the major mechanics of the show. I know about the smoke monster, I know about the DHARMA Initiative and Ben Linus, and I know about Hurley winning the lottery with the numbers that turn out to be Jacob’s List. I know the show is widely regarded as fantastic, even if it doesn’t wholly stick the landing. Logically I should be able to approach the show as calmly as any other piece of media, but logic has no direct power over the pervasive illogical nature of fear.  And so I am still scared of this juggernaut of a show for no particular reason other than worrying that something about the show is above me.

Ultimately, I think this is something we all go through in some fashion when learning about and wanting to view some massive popular or important television series or film. By the time one comes to realize that a certain seminal work is something they should watch, they could face anything from mild discomfort to stomach-churning anxiety about the undertaking they have established for themselves by watching, say, The Twilight Zone or Lawrence of Arabia. We’re worried that because a work is so impressive, it will reveal something about our limitations as consumers or critics or thinkers. So it is that I still haven’t watched Lost ten years after it premiered on ABC. I’ll watch it eventually I’m sure, because I’m fascinated about how the show will bring together all these vast and intriguing elements that I’m already familiar with. Sometime in the future I won’t be too afraid of Lost to watch it, and on that day I’ll beat myself up for being such a big baby about the whole ordeal. But today, I still am.




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