Critical Approaches to Culture + Communications

A Weblog by Ron Burnett (Founded in 1994 and now celebrating 23 Years!!)

This site began as one of the first academic sites in Canada when the World Wide Web was in its early phase of development. I have maintained it through many iterations since 1994.

24 and Lost in a Dystopic World (2)

24 and Lost are intimately related with plots that link together around shared concerns for the death of the conventional family and the erosion of community, friendship and honesty in a world constantly bound to metaphors of treachery. In my last post I connected a variety of current television shows together around these and other common themes of despair, loss and the frailty of memory in a world that seems to have lost its bearings.

One of the Blog comments I received referred to Michel Foucault and his notion that prisons, surveillance and incarceration reflect the core of what modern life is about. It is therefore significant that 24 always focuses on a variety of incarcerations from kidnapping to actual prisons (Jack Bauer in custody in China) and that Lost has had one its main characters, Jack Shephard locked into a cell-like room for most of this season.

Foucault of course was referring as much to a mental state of imprisonment as to its reality — to the challenges that people have breaking with the norms and expectations of their communities and to the ways in which they accept the constraints imposed on their everyday lives.

In a dystopia, imprisonment is psychological as well as real. Even though Jack Bauer eventually captures or kills his enemies, 24 revolves around various forms of treachery, guilt and inhibition. This season his father gets involved and in the last show on February 5th actually killed Jack's brother. Of course, the fact that the family is involved in anyway is itself shocking, but it turns out that Jack's father has been dealing in nuclear bombs and is as evil as the terrorists Jack is chasing. Jack, who is already one of the most existential characters in TV history, now finds himself boxed in by everyone. Metaphorically, his jail cell seems to be the black SUVs that he and other agents use to move around Los Angeles. (It matters a great deal that Jack's father also played the role of a father in the last few seasons of Six Feet Under — I for one believe that all these roles connect, but that is fodder for another discussion.)

Jack Shephard (what is it with all these Jacks? Shephard is also the name of a lead character and Doctor on Gray's Anatomy) is in a cell on an island lost somewhere in the Pacific — a double prison. And his two friends (Kate and Sawyer) spent much of Fall of 2006 locked into cells that were outside in the jungle. They were treated as if they were animals in a zoo.

This is entertainment? This is escapist Hollywood? I don't think so.

To be continued.....