I’m A Little Lost: Is “Lost” Science Fiction or Fantasy?
September 18, 2015 § 2 Comments
The human psyche likes to put things into cleared defined boxes. In a complex world, setting up dichotomies or simple categories is a way in which to process all of life’s different intricacies by grouping them based on similar traits. We often find ourselves subconsciously making or accepting checklists to which we compare things. As the saying goes, “if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is probably a duck.”
The problem is that there are always exceptions or challenges to whatever rule governs that category. If the restrictions are too broad, one risks the chance that something will be included when it really doesn’t belong. On the other hand, if the restrictions are too narrow, one risks the chance that something may be excluded.
Where do science fiction and fantasy fit into this rant on the importance of definitions, clarity, and the human psyche? And more importantly for all you readers that just like binge-worthy television, how in the heck does this have any relevance to Lost?
Walking through any bookstore or scrolling through Netflix, it is apparent that books and television shows are organized into genres in an attempt to group them with other books or television shows that share similar characteristics. In effect, genres are a way in which to organize the complex creative world. For some genres, it may seem relatively easy to decide what to include or exclude. With its blood, violence, and haunting soundtrack, no one really challenges placing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the horror genre.
Netflix has a page for horror movies, romantic comedies, action films, documentaries . . . and “TV Sci-Fi & Fantasy.” What does that even mean? What does it mean to lump two seemingly different genres together? When I think of Fantasy I think of Cinderella, magic, monsters, unicorns . . . basically anything but science.
Being an insomniac, I have plenty of time to surf endlessly in the sea that is the Internet. Having watched Friends for what could possibly be the hundredth time, I needed a new fix. Glancing briefly at the shows suggested to me by Netflix, a show called Lost caught my eye. I hadn’t heard much about the show before so I dove right in without looking at the show’s genre.
The premise of the show is that a group of passengers survive a plane crash on an island in the Pacific. What begins as a relatively realistic plot quickly devolves into somewhat of a fantasy as the series introduces fantastical elements, such as an ominous black cloud that acts as a sort of predator on the island and the fact that the natives on the island do not age. Thus, the viewer is first challenged to reconcile reality with fantasy.
But it is just as the viewer begins to settle into this blend of reality and fantasy that the series begins to include elements that could aptly be considered part of “science fiction.” An example is the plot element that a research institution called the “Dharma Initiative” used the island for research, such as studying the island’s unique magnetic field.
While not overtly pushing the viewer to reconcile the differences between science fiction and fantasy, the series creates a subliminal tension between the two. At the time that I was watching the series, I largely felt like the two were in contention. Just as I began to buy into the scientific plot and apply logic, it seemed as if the series ripped the carpet from under me by throwing in a fantastical element that rendered logic useless. Just as I began to lose myself in the fantasy of the island, it seemed as if that fantasy was tainted by a scientific explanation.
It was only after I became utterly frustrated with that very tension that I was able to let go of my preconceived definitions of fantasy and science fiction. What had seemed at first like a contest between the two became a tango: science fiction and fantasy intertwined in this give and take relationship that enhanced each other rather than competing.
Justice Potter Stewart famously said that he could not explicitly define what constituted obscene material, but he knew it when he saw it. Well, I cannot explicitly define what differentiates science fiction from fantasy and I also, apparently, do not know it when I see it.