I’m watching the TV show Lost for the first time, thanks to Netflix.

I’ve rarely owned a TV, and although I’ve sometimes “inherited” old ones, I usually get rid of them, because I find it such a huge time and energy drain. But my wife Sarah and I like to do things together, so we search for things to watch together, frequently on Netflix.

Be A Participant, Not Just An Observer

I have to say that I find Lost much like a television itself—a long con played on the viewers. (In fact, one episode of Lost was even called The Long Con.)

I say this from the perspective that participating in life is much more fulfilling than passive viewing.

Live Comedy IS Better

This is one of the interesting differences, for example, between live stand-up comedy vs. watching it on TV. (Or between theater and televised drama.) When you’re there live, you are part of creating the experience. Your reactions combine with the reactions of others to create the experience. Taking that even further, performing stand up is even more fulfilling. For that reason I’ve not only performed stand-up, I’ve also taught it, to help and encourage others to have the experience.

Two popular acronyms explain participant vs. observer

In real life, you LOL—laugh out loud. But when being passively entertained, as often as not, you simply LQTM—”Laugh(ing) quietly to myself” (popularized by Demetri Martin).

The internet is generally even more passive than television. Much of TV tries to make you feel as if you are participating in life. It attempts to simulate it. The internet, although you have more options for what to do than with television, has more truly passive options.  Most websites can be 100% passively consumed, with not even a simulation of participation.

But when really participating in life, situations tend to grab and hold you. Pretending to not be there is difficult (for most of us). But the way people often use social networking is often much closer to passive interaction than real life participation because it’s easy to ignore it, or just poke at it.

A few clarifications:

  1. I believe if you make a sincere effort through the medium of social networking, it can be very participatory and valuable in similar ways to real life participation. But many people indulge all too frequently in a much more passive form of socializing online, leading to too much LQTM and not enough LOL 🙂
  2. I also find that involving yourself in a long read, such as a novel, can be a very participatory experience as well. It can be like being in a significant dream that you never forget.
  3. And finally, movies and television have advantages over live staged drama, in that they are virtually limitless in what they can show and do. I think great drama can be a hugely positive force, whether live or on-screen. But it should be an event of some significance, not just an addiction to a passive viewpoint.
  4. One of the arguments I had with myself long ago was what if all the greatest dramas of all time were available with a click: Would it be better to watch them, or to live life? Of course, now with services such as Netflix this is no longer such a theoretical argument. And yes, you can do a bit of both. But I still believe that 99% of the time, living life is more valuable than simulations of it.

The Modern World Demands New Kinds Of Dramas

To have drama, you of course need conflict. But of course in the development of drama thoughout human history, what you did NOT need was some way to keep re-creating conflict. Because there wasn’t television or widespread education, printing and distribution/marketing (to serialize a character over many books), you didn’t need to find ways to take a concept and stretch it out indefinitely in order to create more shows, more seasons (or more books).

So because of these changes, there has been the development of a new kind of goal for writing and conceptualizing about drama: how to make it never end, and always be fresh, fascinating and “must see TV.”

The writers and producers of Lost have made the contribution of creating endless drama by perpetuating a long, endlessly shifting con on the viewers, with an ensemble cast, variety in location choices and tons of backstory to allow for the creation of many subplots as a source of additional conflict. The apparent supernatural is used to allow for more levels.

As in a typical con, a hidden “truth” that is actually a lie is held in abeyance, and only revealed once a convincing but false situation has convinced the mark that they have some inside information that they can trade on. In the world of Lost, as each con unfolds, it is then at least partially exposed, and used to set up the next con.

Real cons do this to a degree as well. The backstory that landed con man James/Sawyer in jail was such a con, where there was a false reality (trying to con the woman) encapsulated in another false reality (we’re together to con others) encapsulated in the truth (my goal is to con you). But on the TV show, each false reality is simply encapsulated in another false reality ad infinitum.

False Conflicts Lead To Shallow Experiences

Comparing Lost to say, Breaking Bad, another show that was widely critically praised (that Sarah and I have also watched) there is the creation of new situations, but not the con on the viewers.

Breaking Bad created situations that were real (within the reality of the show) that the characters cared about. Resolution of conflict was dragged out (as it often must be), but there was the possibility of resolution of real situations, though often leading simply to new states of dramatic tension. The characters grew through the real resolution of real conflict. This happens a bit on Lost too, but the show is more about bringing you to the next level of the con than about resolving reality.

On Lost much of the conflict is false. It’s part of the con that is the method of endlessly perpetuation the show. And I’ve begun to find it more and more annoying, since once you know you’re being conned, that you’re being manipulated, it loses interest.

Yes, the method allows for conflicts that have a LOT of tension, and hence a lot of dramatic value. It’s not uninteresting! But…it’s still a con.

This explains further why I never wanted to own a TV. It’s not that it isn’t entertaining, it’s that it’s a substitute for a more fulfilling life. And once you know this, the passive entertainment of television begins to feel like a con man that doesn’t have your best interests at heart.

Analyzing Lost…So Far

I never followed any information about Lost when it originally aired, and haven’t looked up anything about it online (yet).

We’ve just seen Season 3, episode 5—The Cost of Living. The surgeon Jack heard that Benjamin has cancer, and the woman just began to manipulate him into believing that he can kill Benjamin. (Since I’m writing this with zero reference to anything others have already said or written about it, I probably will appear trite to those who have endlessly analyzed the show already.)

Now, if I’m Jack in that situation, when the TV is showing her saying something different than what she’s saying verbally, I would feel extremely at risk, and jump up and say something like “I don’t believe any of this. You’re all just conning me somehow.” He has to protect himself from both potentially being used by one faction against another, and from being caught in a con. But he can’t be too specific, because if he exactly figures out the con, they could just dispose of him as useless. So he has to find a generic opt-out to resist being manipulated, and hopefully encourage them to come up with a manipulation that is safer for him that he can go along with. At least from his perspective at this point.

And this is my perspective in general. I don’t want to put myself or let others put me in a situation where I am being passively manipulated.