‘Lost’ (S3): Doc’s enlightening new theory
Jacob the Not-So-Friendly Ghost! Richard Alpert the Forever Young Robin Hood of ”The Hostiles!” And Ben, poor, damaged, father-killing Ben! Last Wednesday’s episode of Lost certainly marked a major expansion of the show’s imagination, opening up possibilities and opportunities for more story than we thought. I know a few of you find this frustrating, as if the show is just making up new stuff to keep it going. But it’s my sense that most of you believe that ”The Man Behind The Curtain” continued the late-season creative surge of Lost, and was further proof that the producers do have a plan and a big-picture story to tell. Like poker players, the challenge for them has been knowing when and how to play the aces they have in hand. (The announcement of an end date for the show — May, 2010 — will certainly help them in that regard.)
Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll do our level best to make sense of ”The Man Behind The Curtain.” Let’s start that project today with my theory of the Dharma Initiative, a theory that was originally going to be part of this week’s regularly scheduled Doc Jensen column, but due to its length, we decided to wait until today to spring on you. The theory is informed by my recent investigation into one of Lost’s most curious devices: naming characters after philosophers. Indeed, ever since the introduction of Mikhail Bakunin (aka Patchy, the death-cheating one-eyed Russian Other) into the mythos, there’s been renewed interest in Lost’s famous and semi-famous eggheads. They include: John Locke (blank slate; social contract), David Hume (cause and effect; skepticism), Rousseau (general will), Anthony Cooper (harmony of character), Edmund Burke (conservatism), and the Russian oddball of the bunch, Bakunin (anarchy).
Now, let me tell you what all of us have been missing.
To date, we’ve been taking these philosophers and exploring the relevancy of each to the character who bear their names. That’s fine and appropriate. But if you take a step back and see the forest through the trees, larger trends suddenly become visible and provocative possibilities emerge.
STEP 1: Let there be Enlightenment!
Here’s the Big Idea — the curious unifying link — that we’ve failed to recognize in our narrow application of these philosophers: with the exception of Bakunin, the philosophers of Lost all lived during the Age of Enlightenment, a movement that flowed out of the Age of Reason in the 17th Century. (See: René Descartes, ”I think, therefore I am.”) The Enlightenment belief was that the human mind alone could fathom the mysteries of the world and tame its unruly nature with logic and ideas. It was the Enlightenment that provided the ideological spark for a series of scientific, political, and economic revolutions that would reshape the world and bring forth the utopian-obsessed Modern age. The founding fathers of the United States, for example, were rooted in the ideas of what commentators refer to as ”The Enlightenment Project.” But perhaps more pertinent to Lost is this: The Enlightenment neutered God. To be clear, many Enlightenment thinkers actually believed in the Big Guy. Nonetheless, their exultation of reason and empiricism precipitated the gradual expunging of religion, mysticism, and magic from any foundational understanding of existence. Thanks to the Enlightenment, God was rendered hazy and driven underground — you know, kinda like a certain crankypants smoke monster that dwells in the bowels of the Island. Coincidence?
NEXT PAGE: So then, why isn’t Lost very Enlightened?