Fig. 1 Official promotional material from ABC
After LOST celebrated its 10-year anniversary in September 2014, it would seem that, judging from the many ways the show has already been approached, there is nothing more to be found in LOST (Sims). But if we want to take the skyscrapers in LOST’s promotional material above seriously, it is necessary to re-approach the groundbreaking series through the perspective of Urban Studies, a multidiscipline that focuses on the increasing significance of the modern city and its cultural effects (Paddison 3). Despite the city’s absence for the castaways of LOST, the city and its structures are nevertheless always present. Juxtaposing the island and the city, however, I want to argue that the two become interchangeable concepts inasmuch as the wild and the urban merge into what I want to call wilderness urbanity.
The series has often been called a modern-day Robinsonade about a group of plane crash survivors (see Defoe). Stranded on an uninhabited tropical island, the survivors have to cope with the traumatic event of the crash and have to deal with a sudden new life cut off from society as well. In order to pursue their common goal – survival and rescue – the castaways decide to form a community. Providing for food and defending their camp against potential threats coming from the menacing jungle and the island’s other inhabitants, they organize themselves in a Lord of the Flies-like manner to master the situation (see Golding). The rules to which they comply as a group and the rules which they apply to the island in order to demystify it arise from their knowledge of civilization. Immediately after the plane crash the survivors realize that city life is lost to them; and just as immediately, the city becomes present in their minds, acting as the most important reference point for their efforts to rebuild civilization on the micro-scale of the island. As an echo of this immediate absence presence of the city, the castaways discover physical manifestations of urban culture in several abandoned bunkers (note 1). They even find a small residential estate, called the barracks, which was erected by those who came to the island before them (note 2).
|Fig. 2 Map drawn by the character of Danielle Rousseau (S01/E09)|
Applying these theories to LOST, the remote island paradoxically serves as a perfect metaphor for the bounded urban space and its underworld. First, it is highly regulated because of research facilities deliberately scattered across the island. Among these, the Pearl station, for example, served the purpose of monitoring the other stations, or to be more precise, the people’s behavior was monitored as a psychological experiment. Second, by mapping the labyrinth-like wilderness of the jungle and taking possession of the land, the unknown space is redesigned as a bounded space. The island is successively occupied, segmented, and thus controlled through cartographic procedures. Third, by building research facilities and at the same time mapping the island, power is distributed unevenly among the inhabitants and the plane crash survivors.
|Fig. 3 Aerial shot of Manhattan|
To conclude, LOST struck me with its insinuation that the simple presence of a few abandoned urbanites can turn an island into an urban space. Building upon their cultural knowledge, the stranded urban travelers reshape the supposedly vacant land and turn it into an exemplary urban space. Trumping the usual expectations, the city and the island are not conceptual opposites; instead they are thriving upon their mutual interconnectedness. The island in LOST, we might say, is the alter-ego of the city, an abiding shadow or imitation of American urbanity and its most stellar model, Manhattan.
Fig. 1. LOST Logo. Digital image. Geeks of Doom. Dussault, Jason. 3 Oct. 2014. Web. 27 Feb. 2015.