Lost, politically

Lost is one of the best shows on television right now. The writing is exquisite, and just about every character is interesting. Even without the occasional cliffhanger, it is torture to have to wait between shows to find out what happens next.

It occurred to me that there are a few things of note, to do with the demographics and general politics of the show. If you haven’t seen any of it don’t worry — nothing I say here will ruin any surprises. Also, some of what I say here changes through the series. I don’t mention what to avoid spoilers. To see the spoilers (please only do this if you’re up to date!) see this post.

The show has deviated from regular TV fare in several ways, and makes the same old mistakes in several others. I have attempted to present as much coverage here as I could think of. If you see a flaw in my reasoning, or if you disagree, or if you see something I have omitted, please do comment at the bottom and let me know.

Premise and Characters

A plane flying from Sydney to Los Angeles crashes on a tropical island. There are about 40 survivors, who have to struggle to survive and find some way to get home. As of this writing episode 12 of season 2 has been aired, with the next one airing tomorrow (Wednesday) night.

The main characters are: Boone, Charlie, Claire, Hurley, Jack, Jin, Kate, Locke, Michael, Sawyer, Sayid, Shannon, Sun and Walt.


There are four female and ten male characters. This is a little disappointing, but the handling of them is better than in other shows. When Jack continually tries to control what Kate does, and tries to act like a Big Strong Protector for her, she doesn’t just put up with it. When he goes ahead and coddles her anyway it is shown that what he did was assholish. And while the strong female lead (Kate) occasionally gets weak and weepy, so do the strong male leads. And not in a pathetic man-crying way — it is clear that the men who get emotional are feeling weak and vulnerable.

That said, the other three women are not especially strong characters. Sun is very submissive to Jin (which is an artifact of growing up in Korea; I suspect their interaction is close to authentic), Claire is dependent on everyone else for everything, and Shannon is just a useless rich kid. One might say Shannon is useless because she’s a spoiled rich kid, but her brother Boone is a rich kid too and he shows initiative and gets things done.

Meanwhile, the male leads are almost all tough guys. Boone, Jack, Jin, Locke, Michael, Sawyer and Sayid are all muscly go-get-em types. Charlie sometimes acts tough but usually gives the impression of being a wimpy musician type. Hurley is not aggressive or anything; I think that he is the only male lead (apart from Walt) I have not seen in some sort of fight. Finally, Walt is a kid. While feisty and defiant, he is not a “tough guy”.

Update 200602010303: This show meets the Mo measure, by the way: conversations between named female leads are frequent and are rarely about relationships.


There are two black, one hispanic, one iraqi, two korean and eight white characters. An okay spread, especially for primetime television. Funny enough, only one of the main characters is australian. While interracial issues are handled fairly well, if seldom, there are a few stereotypes that seem to be played up.

Michael, father of Walt, is black. His character is hotheaded, sometimes acting rashly and without seeking the co-operation of the others. He is often shown wide-eyed, flaring his nostrils, reminding me of every shitty stereotype I have ever seen. Also, he is toward the darker end of the skin colour spectrum. While this may not have been a conscious decision on the part of the casting people, it is something that has been done in past productions to hammer home the point that “this character is black”.

Similarly, I think Sayid (the iraqi character) is darker than most Iraqis (the actor is of indian descent). This may be an attempt to other him more, but the actor is so talented I am more willing to believe this is a coincidence. Sayid does not fit into racial stereotypes very much, once his background is controlled for. What I mean is that he used to serve in Iraq’s Republican Guard, which could play into the american perception of Iraqis as enemy combatants and terrorists. However, this background is necessary to the development of his character, and I don’t feel its inclusion is racially motivated.

Jin and Sun are a korean couple, and there is too much “the asian person is wise” stereotyping for my liking. We find out Jin is from a fishing village, so it makes sense that he is good at catching fish and other sea creatures. However, Sun has an unexplained aptitude with herbal medecine. There has never been any reason put forward for why she knows which plants do what, leaving us to draw the conclusion that she just knows ancient chinese secrets.

Finally, Hurley has less attention paid to his ethnicity than any of the other five visible minorities. While he is ethnically hispanic, it practically never comes up. In a flashback, he refers to his family members by spanish names (abuelo, for instance), and everyone of older generation than him has Spanish as their native language, but there are no hispanic stereotypes played on, that I can remember.


All the characters but Walt (who is nine years old) have had their sexual preferences explored to some degree, and none of them are gay. If any are bisexual, it hasn’t even been alluded to. Nothing much to say, I suppose, except that the writers had a chance here to do with a gay character’s sexuality what they did with Hurley’s size (see below): downplay its importance to the plot and counter the revulsion people feel about it. They could have created a gay character whose role is not to be the funny/lecherous/sex-obsessed/deviant queer but just another person.

Physical Appearance

The only main character who does not fit the ideal of beauty that television idolizes is Hurley. While not unattractive, he is fat and his hair is unstyled. Surprisingly, Hurley’s size is handled in a mature way whenever it comes up. A couple of times, someone has insinuated that Hurley has been hoarding food or otherwise engaging in underhanded activity because he is still fat after being on the island for weeks. Rather than siding with the accusers, the audience is led to sympathize with Hurley.

Hurley is pretty physically fit, as evidenced by the amount of running and jumping he does without collapsing, and although it is not said outright, it is implied that Hurley is naturally large. Of course, this is a difficult concept for many people. It’s possible that if Hurley were to say that he is naturally as big as he is, watchers would assume he was lying and side with the accusers. Still, it is good that Hurley is shown as an ordinary person, not a bumbling idiot or lazy hedonist like just about every other fat person on television.

All the female leads are thin and fair-skinned. None of them would look out of place on any other average drama or sitcom in the last fifteen years. Also, while six of the ten male leads are over 35 the female leads are all between 22 and 32. Unfortunately, no surprises here.

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