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On TV

February 3, 2010
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With the final season of Lost set to start tonight, I can’t help but think about the Pacific and television.  This blog is intended to discuss how the Pacific blends with America, and what cries “America” more than prime-time television?

Now if you follow Lost, you know that the exact location of the island is unknown.  However, we do know that it is located somewhere in the Pacific.  When the plane crashed the first time, it was en route to Los Angeles from Australia.  When the plane crashed the second time, we knew they were on a flight from Los Angeles to Guam.  We are quite certain that the island is in the Pacific, but that really isn’t the point I want to make.

Chances are y'all weren't the first here.

Chances are y'all weren't the first there.

From Gilligan’s Island and the S.S. Minnow crashing on an uncharted, uninhabited island to Lost and Oceanic flight 815 crashing to an island with no native people, Americans have been fascinated with these exotic “spits of sand” (please excuse my use of that term)  being broadcast to their living rooms.  We are just as mesmerized by the images of palms swaying in the warm Pacific winds and the sun igniting the sand and ocean as the survivors are when they first discover their new home.  Directors, almost by default of the natural beauty of the Pacific, do an amazing job of telling the story of a beautiful land, but one story that always seems to be missing is the story of the natives. A story essential to the not only to the history of these islands, but also essential to the storylines of the survivors.

These missing story lines really should not come as any surprise.  Don’t we, as Americans, take our
Pacific possessions for granted?  We assume because that because American territories such as Guam and American Samoa speak English and play football that they share the same history as you and me.  Or we assume because these islands are thought of as remote or undiscovered by Westerners that they are uncharted.  The reality is Pacific Islanders are master navigators who have been practicing this craft for thousands of years.  The chances of the island not being discovered are slim.  Or even if we do recognize that there are natives (ie. Hawai’i) don’t we still think of the land as a vacation destination.  We don’t generally think of Hawai’i as a state with a house and senate.  We think of Hawai’i as a place to surf, soak up the sun, and escape from our every day life.

I understand that these shows are fictional and that they aren’t making an explicit statement about imperialism or race, but it is still worth to think critically about how our attitudes and awareness of the Pacific shape the way our stories in and of the Pacific are told.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Damon permalink
    February 2, 2010 10:43 pm

    Good stuff Justin. Nice to know those years at school tuned your mind, eyes, and thoughts.

    Now you got the ball rolling, I thought I might add two things. One, is to add that although the story is fictive, it is a real, material thing. For six years now the filming of Lost has cleared hundreds of homeless people–mostly Pacific Islanders–to make way for the fantasies of the viewing public. It has damaged the Hawaiian landscape, and is yet another kind of occupation of the ‘aina. No Hawaiian actors, none of the good work goes to our people. (And yet I watch).

    Second, that the history of the island–especially the empty or savage island–as a paradise, an imagined setting for fantastic or fictive European/white stories is an old, even ancient, European thing. The original Utopia (Thomas More, 1516) was an island, and one can see the resonance of Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe”, Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, and on through countless iterations right up to Lost and, of course, the Survivor series. There is nothing new under the sun …

  2. February 2, 2010 11:14 pm

    Lost. I enjoy watching the show, but you bring up some very good points. Lately, mostly in frustration, I found myself upset at some of the American public. I guess I just start thinking about how many Americans are concerned about what nations are doing to harm other nations. And then there are the people so lost in a T.V. show about people being lost on a tropical island. I often wonder what they would say if they knew what was going on, here on Guam, a beautiful Island, inhabited by U.S. citizens. They’re so worried about what nation X is doing to nation Y and I’d like to ask them if they have any clue what their nation is doing to us. But of course they don’t. We aren’t as entertaining as a hidden hatch and there aren’t any polar bears on this island.

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