Tuesday, November 30, 2010

LOST IX: "Treading on Thin Ice"

EX-0009: LOST as Literature
Namaste. As you may well know, I am currently enrolled in a course titled "LOST as Literature." In class, we take a look at the storytelling of ABC's LOST and break down the plot-line and narrative techniques. Each week, students are responsible for watching 2 specific episodes from the series on their own time and writing a 1-2 page essay from a prompt related to the viewing. In our 2.5 hour class, which meets each Monday night, we discuss a theme or technique as it applies to our episodes, watch 1 additional episode, and discuss larger meanings and choices.

Introduction to Essay Collection
For your reading pleasure, I have selected, at this time, a single essay from my portfolio to share with you. If it is well received, I would be happy to continue sharing my work. In the future, time-permitting, I would consider narrating the essays (embedded Quicktime player), or, should I truly have the opportunity, cut together a video (embedded Youtube player) with useful visual illustrations. But for now, the transcripts.

This post's essay comes from the ninth week of class, for which we were asked to write about a "mystery" that was eventually "solved" (or not); we were to asses its significance. The class is pass/fail, and each essay is graded on a scale of "√-, √, or √+." For our purposes, I will transcribe these marks into grades "A, B, C". The following essay received an A.

Treading on Thin Ice: The Undue Significance of the Fluffy White Monsters
They’re present from the very beginning. They storm the jungle, attack the unwary, and aren’t very good at fitting through small cracks. That’s right, I’m talking about polar bears: the single most essential element to LOST. Or not. 
It seemed, when first introduced in “Pilot, Part 2,” that Sawyer’s cowboy bear-hunting was going to be the first of many close encounters with the creatures. And, in the beginning, there was some hope for this arctic subplot. In the first season, we’ve got Walt running from the beasts, hiding in trees while the bear rams it. But, just as Walt virtually vanished in importance to the storyline, so did the bears. The problem was, no one told the audience. 
From the moment viewers were first introduced to the polar bears as one of the first and most bizarre things (at the time) on the island, they fell in love. People began wondering where they came from and what role they would play. Why were bears appearing in Locke’s dreams (“Further Instructions”) or Hurley’s comic books (“Special”)? Was there a snowy part of the mystical island from which the bears wandered? Did killing a bear signify danger, either from its friends or the people who put a collar on it? 
Eventually, the mystery was resolved. As many had suspected, the bears were, it would appear, brought to the island by the Dharma initiative for testing purposes. The collars, cages, and fish-biscuits give enough information to explain that. But it wasn’t enough for the fans. The fact that so much emphasis was placed, or perceived to have been placed, on the ursus maritimus meant that the simple guinea-bear explanation was not satisfying enough. This was one mystery that LOST waited a bit too long to address.
The bears, therefore, continued to remain in the mind of the most loyal and even most casual viewers of the show. In class, we frequently comment that LOST isn’t just about “survivors of a plane crash, on a crazy island with polar bears.” Funny, isn’t it, that we pick out polar bears as a memorable motif, when, in actuality, the bears only appear in a handful of the series’ 6 seasons. We’re not the only ones: in How it Should Have Ended’s mockup LOST finale, the very final scene features the Coca-Cola polar bear, agreeing that he had expected something “different” from LOST’s progression.
Eventually, somebody got the message. Sure enough, LOST’s bonus-feature epilogue takes the time to put polar bears in the spotlight. In one of the most revealing, or, for some of us, most disappointing moments of the episode, the second of two questions Benjamin Linus has agreed to answer is asked: “So explain this. Polar bear biscuits. How is there a polar bear on a tropical island?” (“The New Man in Charge”). Was this the most necessary question to be answered for the LOST audience? Were we unable, seasons earlier, to infer the exact answer, as explained in the orientation video: that the bears were test subjects of the Dharma initiative?
Perhaps their inclusion throughout the series was simply a clever way of treating dedicated viewers to an old treat, a sort of fish-biscuit for fans. In that respect, the bears were welcomed with warm smiles at every appearance. Nonetheless, the attention the beasts demanded was unsettling. Having played virtually no role in the plot or symbolic value of the series, it seems unfair that the legacy of LOST is so tightly tied to them. The fault, I think, lies in the failure to quickly and properly resolve what, at first, seemed to be one of the most intriguing mysteries of the show. Putting the suspense into hibernation for so long wasn’t the greatest call.
Brian, 15 November 2010
Your comments, either on the class, the writing, or LOST itself, are welcome below. In particular, a discussion on polar bears would be enjoyable, and I would be happy to debate or explore their significance.

 Might I add that this fan art is adorable.


  1. Nice.
    Question... You said this essay received an A. That would correspond to then check-.
    I think you deserve better.
    Then again, I am your dad :-)
    Happy Hanukkah!

  2. Well, that was silly of me. An A is the highest score, silly. I wasn't clear:

    "√-, √, or √+." Becomes "C, B, A".



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