Not that I wish to disagree with a contributor to my Lost book (Reading Lost, IB Tauris, available in autumn, trying viral marketing again) but hasn’t it traditionally been the cult shows that have attracted shipper fanfic and now fanvids? How many millions of Mulder/Scully, Picard/Crusher, Xena/Gabrielle stories are stored in servers somewhere? So many cult shows have been as much about character as about the plot (if the two can be divorced) What makes Lost exceptional here is the producers’ discourse. Lost, as Stacey argues very convincingly in her article, was originally designed as a cult text, but broke out into the mainstream. When it did so the producers, now wary of the cult label that would hurt rather than help the show, began to downplay the mythology in favour of the character elements (seen as more literary and more respectable perhaps?) Yet as I argue in my contribution to the book, every element of the characters is intended to be tied into the overarching narrative enigmas (more successfully with some characters than with others). And as Jason Mittell and Jonathan Gray show in their article about spoilers, the majority of fans who participated in their survey were more interested in the hermeueutic than in the characters.
I agree with Julian’s comments that academics overinvest in the notion of ‘against the grain’. These videos are often just playful experiments, as this one was according to the creator’s comments, or often reaffirm the dynamic of the series. While this video may oversimplify the characters, it still conforms to the series triangular narrative and comes down on the side of Jate over Skate. It simply offers its own take on that relationship. Like Will, I’m a fan of Sawyer and don’t like seeing him portrayed in this light, but was struck by the number of fans who commented that they could see Sawyer being violent and then feeling back about it aftewards.
Like Will, I found this video troubling and raising some of the questions Julian highlights. Typically, active audience theories suggest that fan creativity works to complicate popular texts that are assumed to be more straightforward & simplistic - or at least mask their nuance in subtext that fans bring to the surface. But this video seems to oversimplify fairly nuanced characters and place them into stock roles of abuser, victim, and hero - what place do such works sit in the body of fan studies theory? Is this ‘resistant reading’?
Or maybe I’m just cranky after being forced to listen to Nickelback…
Stacey’s posting makes me think about why scholars have been so keen to invest over the years in “against the grain” readings in the first place. What exactly is this grain that fans, scholars and textual poachers are supposed to be going against, and why should notions of so-called “resistant readings” be so highly valued amongst commentators on “cult TV”? These questions become particularly tricky when we consider whether or not Lost’s international theme and global success complicates its status as a “cult/mainstream hybrid” (e.g. do British or Korean fans make and post these kinds of videos? – or is it just US fans?) . Either way, the existence of these kinds of videos must make ABC very happy indeed.
If Lost’s co-creators insist that the show’s “two main appeals” are character-driven stories and the mysteries of the island, then this video clearly demonstrates how sex and romance are tied into character dynamics. However, what also unites these two “main appeals” – and what further underpins this particular video as well - is sex and violence. The Lost island provides a mysterious romantic location within which themes of sex and violence may be dramatised. It’s all done very cleverly and very professionally…but it’s still (heterosexual) sex and violence all the same.
As an academic, I’m well used to videos where fans cleverly select from the official text to support their own reading.
But watching this, I found myself responding with mild outrage (even while I admired the execution) and mockery… as a Sawyer fan. I found myself far more resistant to this video than I would be to a Harry/Draco slash, for instance and the fan part of me was intensely annoyed that anyone watching this clip who wasn’t familiar with the official text would get entirely the “wrong” idea about Sawyer, Kate and Jack’s relationship from this (from my point of view) misrepresentation.
It’s also pretty unfair and inaccurate in its portrayal of Kate as the helpless victim/trophy — this is the fan speaking again, because as an academic I don’t believe in any absolute truth of interpretation of course.
Stacey and Kim raise the interesting point that here (and in my book chapter) I’m basing my study of “fans” do on what *I* do. Of course, I offer evidence that a lot of fans do the same as me in terms of watching in the context of internet communities and as-it-happens detection — and that many of them they do more, more extensively and more obsessively — but I don’t consider the implications of watching Lost on DVD, months after its broadcast.
On the other hand, that’s exactly how I watch The Wire.
Stacey asks “If the fans are doing all of this close analysis, where do we fit in? Should we be doing something else?”
In part, we study the fans that do the close analysis. To further promote the book, in my essay I explore how one of the show’s notable aspects is how it promotes “forensic fandom,” a mode of active research-based engagement rare to big hits of popular culture. If our scholarship were aimed at solving the show’s diegetic mysteries, I’d say we’re aiming in the wrong direction. Instead, we should (and I believe do) focus on how the show matters in contemporary culture, how people engage with it, and what it tells us about the state of media industries and creative possibilities.
(A good example of what Jason Mittell continues to articulate as the operational aesthetic!)
I think Kim and Ivan raise some interesting points which is that many viewers are watching Lost on different timelines. While Will is talking about certain viewers watching Lost right away on download and interacting in these analytical ways, many others are watching it on TV and on DVD. I myself watched season three well after its original air date as I, like Kim, lost Sky 1 from Virgin cable so had to wait until I was lent copies from a friend. As such, I had already heard about the flashforwards before watching the finale and was equally transfixed by the techniques used to create a double reading of the episode. It could go either way. But the pleasure in this case was in actually spotting those double bluff moments - ie .it is still inviting reviewing and analysis.
Oh, one more note:
Somehow, even while watching this episode, I fell into that uber-geek group that knew it was a flashforward rather than flashback. The RAZR clinched it, but I remember thinking, even in the opening shot: I know Jack’s pre-island timeline rather well, and given how tired he looks, and how long the beard is, and the fact that he’s on an Oceanic flight… there’s nowhere in his previous timeline that this makes logical sense.
But what I found most interesting while watching this episode, since I suspected that it was a flash-forward, was the deliberate feint the writers use to misdirect viewers: when Jack is in the hospital, he challenges another doctor to go upstairs and find his father, who — he guarantees — will be far more drunk than Jack himself.
Now, since even most casual viewers will recall that Jack’s father died before the series began, this must be a flashback. Right? At least, that’s what we’re supposed to conclude.
Well, maybe. In recent interviews, Fox told reporters he interpreted the line as a symptom of Jack’s drug-addled mental state — he doesn’t remember, in this moment, that his father is dead. Possible, and I’d bet that’s how he was advised to play the line by the showrunners.
But the last possibility, of course, is that his statement will be even more significant, and that Christian Shephard WILL turn out to be alive again. (After all, the show has given sufficient evidence to suggest that this is possible.)
What intrigues me about this moment, then — and about this entire episode, really — is the way that it plays with viewer expectations and assumptions on at least three different levels simultaneously. I think moments like this represent Lost at its best, and most successful.