“'We’re all talking about peace and love,' McCartney told a newspaper at the time, 'but really we’re not feeling peaceful at all.'”
– Excerpted from Mikal Gilmore’s ‘Why The Beatles Broke Up.’
Gilmore’s article in the new issue of Rolling Stone on the breakup of The Beatles is good stuff. I know it’s good because I have no real love for The Beatles, and yet it’s completely engrossing regardless. I have a lot of respect for the music that The Beatles made; I recognize their profound influence on music generally and on many of the bands I’ve listened to throughout my life – I’m just not particularly moved by them.
One of the reasons that I find them fascinating despite this lack of emotional resonance is touched on by Gilmore at the end of his article. The Beatles have attained a kind of mythic, symbolic importance in our culture – an importance that goes way beyond simple stardom.
The Beatles are in the process of becoming myths, essentially. And as they’re introduced to new generations through increasingly-abstracted mediums (see: Rock Band Beatles Edition) they’re becoming less and less ‘human,’ and more and more ‘iconic’; stripped to their essentials, traits exaggerated or downplayed, abilities exalted. Tomorrow’s children won’t know The Beatles as people – they’ll know them as simulacrum, as icon, as myth.
What does this have to do with Lost?
It’s my theory that Lost is, in part, operating as a means to comment on myth – how we create it and why we create it. This preoccupation runs through the show on several levels:
First, the show is festooned with references to myth, from ‘Apollo bars’ to Gilgamesh and Enkidu crossword details to statues of ancient Egyptian gods.
Second, the show has created a story arc in which John Locke essentially becomes myth, detailing how that’s achieved and how it affects both Locke and those who interact with him.
Third, the show’s mysteries operate to include the audience in the mythologizing, leaving open-ended questions revolving around characters like Jacob and Richard, around the Dharma Initiative, around 'the Smoke Monster,' around the Island itself, and in the process encouraging us, the viewers, to construct our own potential explanations for characters, places and events (The MiB is satan! The castaways are all in literal purgatory!).
It’s what we do, us humans. We mythologize, and often we worship what we’ve mythologized. As the late, great, David Foster Wallace once said: “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”
A perfect example of this mythologizing, one that ties directly into the McCartney quote at the top of this column, lies in the gulf between what the Dharma Initiative became in the minds of Lost’s viewers, versus the reality of the Dharma Initiative as presented in Season 5.
Thanks to several seasons worth of teasing hints, smatterings of information, and compelling iconography, the Dharma Initiative achieved something close to mythic status among Lost’s viewers. They were symbolic of concepts important to Lost, simultaneously sinister and peace-loving, seemingly-spiritual and yet scientific. Even when flashbacks began to include glimpses of the Initiative’s heyday on the Island the essential, iconic, feel of it remained. I’d argue that to some extent it even increased – as the hippie-esque vibe of those early glimpses created an idealized notion of a utopian, countercultural think-tank.
But then Season 5 rolled around, and we spent a significant amount of time within the Initiative during its active phase, and we discovered that the symbol of peace and utopia and scientific advancement was actually just a bunch of flawed people bumbling their way through average, un-extraordinary days. They drank too much, they were deeply, viciously suspicious and hierarchical. They may have been talking about peace and love, but really they weren’t feeling peaceful at all.
This turned some folks off. That’s understandable. After all, the myths we build are often more appealing than the realities they were built to reflect, represent, and ultimately, supersede. In my view, this is one of Lost’s many ‘points,’ and on rewatch, one of its real strengths. The creation of myth is a deep-seated human compulsion. It helps us make sense of the world. It helps us to define the reality that Flashes Before Your Eyes everyday. But both the beauty and danger of myth lies in its ability to help us ignore a fact in favor of what we’d prefer to believe, whether that’s the true reality of Locke’s prophesized status or the reality of the Dharma Initiative.
Catch up on Too Much Information!
Too Much Information 3: Loopholes and Prison-feet
Too Much Information 2: Who is the MiB?
Too Much Information: Stimulus/Response and Control Theory, or How I Learned To Start Behaving And Love Course Correction