The characters of Lost are thrust into life changing disaster, a plane crash where a large group of people survive but are stuck on an unknown island and have to fight for survival. While this is the apparent reality that the show gives us the real story comes from how several people from wildly different walks of life can come together and deal with their current circumstances. The two white average looking characters, Jack and Kate, could be touted as the main leads yet there are several other characters from around the world that make up the full cast. It makes sense as survivors of a plane crash that was traveling to LAX that there would be a diverse multitude of people groups each of which have their own struggles and social stigmas.
When the show premiered on ABC in September of 2004 it received a large following. As the series progressed Lost averaged around the 9s in weekly Nielsen rankings and had typical viewership of 17 million not accounting for time shifted recordings. On Wednesdays at 8/7c it targeted mostly the 20-30-year-old age range and was often paired up against FOX’s popular American Idol. Lost attracted the drama seekers of that time of night and had a story and cast that was diverse enough to appeal to most audience members. However, the mystery and sci-fi elements of Lost also hurt its appeal as many viewers were turned off by it’s more fantasy inspired story beats. Lost’s first season was the most popular of it’s entire airtime.
Disaster was a common theme for media in a post 9/11 reality and Lost is an absolute offspring of that culture. One of the large set pieces of Lost is a group of characters forming a community after a tragedy and while the initial episodes of the season show that there are hurdles to get over when building this community, it also showed the power of coming together and living together in somewhat harmony. The show also gives a good message about judging a person by what they look like compared to who they really are. One of the first interactions between characters is Sawyer, a tough white hick, throwing blame to Sayid, an Iraqi soldier who was part of the Republican Guard. Sawyer makes a comment about Sayid crashing the plane a strong reference to the fear of Muslims after the 9/11 attacks. However, Sayid is one of the most honorable characters in the main cast and as his story unfolds he is no longer held to the same stigma of his initial appearance. Hurley is another character who bypasses typical stereotype. Originally pegged a comical large man we see him give a lot of reasonable advice to others and even yells at other characters he exists as a strong yet caring person despite his physical appearance. Through this it challenged cultural fears of people who were different.
Sun and Jin are two of the most surprising main characters in the cast. The Korean couple in the beginning are assumed to be stereotypical background characters yet Sun receives an episode devoted to her early on the season in episode six House of the Rising Sun. Originally these two characters only speak to each other in subtitled Korean and throughout the flashback we are treated to only Korean dialogue until we learn Sun can speak English. We also see the love between this couple and how it blossomed and was threatened to be eliminated. It would be easy to paint Jin who seems like a strict foreign type and even beats up one of the characters in this episode as a villain. Yet in the flashbacks we see that overall this is a man devoted to his wife who has been though hard times. After Jin beats up Michael during the episode Michael takes the time to talk about how where he is from Korean people don’t like black people further demonstrating the social problem of racism. Later in the first season Jin and Michael become friends during the building of the raft and Michael even begins teaching Jin some English. This breaks the mold of what was previously stated about the relationship between these two races.
The episode’s title is a reference to the song of the same name and even though the song doesn’t play during this episode it acts as symbolism for the two main characters. The song describes a place that he is tied to, the House of the Rising Sun, and from this episode we learn not only about Sun’s ties to her husband Jin and how she cannot leave him but also their “imprisionment” on this island that they cannot leave. This reference also demonstrates the target audience of the show 20-30 or older year olds who maybe familiar with the song. However with so many cultural references sprinkled in the show there are ones for everyone to attach themselves to.
This episode also demonstrates well the differences in reality of on island events versus off island events. I’ve talked previously about how the director uses vivid colors for off island scenes and duller colors for on island. The way characters look also changes. Every scene on the island the characters are wearing tattered, dirty clothing while off island the clothes are clean and nice. There is a flashback to a party in this episode where Sun wears a more revealing beautiful pink dress and Jin has on a tuxedo while on the island Sun wears a dirty boring brown shirt and Jin’s polo is half untucked. The hairstyles change as well along with characters more likely to be wearing jewelry or earrings in flashbacks. Often times characters eat and drink food or lounge about on sofas during a flashback and on the island characters usually stand or walk or crouch and it’s rare to see them eat food besides the occasional piece of fruit. The music for the flashbacks in this episode is more Asian flavored to encompass the audience in that culture. The show does all of this to demonstrate the vast difference between a character’s past and present and also demonstrates the reality of their life on the island.
Lost‘s connections to the 9/11 attacks are clear and help us understand the cultural ideas of racism and coming together as a community that was the main focus of the show. While some characters are originally seen as a villain the show makes it clear with the character centric episodes that there is more going on behind the scenes in these peoples lives that dictates who they are now and not the color of their skin. Characters like Sayid, Sun, Micheal and Jin are perfect examples of the show taking a stand against racist ideas and instructing us to not judge someone from their outward appearance.