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Lost Ethics

Harcourt August 21, 2009 User blog:Harcourt

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From the very start, Lost raised all sorts of ethics and morality questions, but for a time (a short time) I could not be sure they did so to address those as issues, or if they came about merely to create the action and drama, devices which would not be explored. \I’m very familiar with writers pouring in action filled events, from which ethical issues tend to precipitate, and then ignoring those issues. These event are often, in other shows, intended to move the story only, and you are expected to move along with the narrative and forget the huge moral lapses and issues raised, e.g. a character might be forgiven by those they wronged, and we the audience are to stop questioning the ethics of the perpetrator.

The first example I remember of this was the torturing of Sawyer. I was screaming at the whole thing. Due to the subject of torture being sadly, a current political topic, and the advocacy of such by such fiction as 24, I was potentially appalled if this was to be used merely as a plot device, and if the rightness or wrongness was to depend entirely on the guilt or innocence of the victim.

I might even have stopped watching, if I felt coopted to ignore these issues and favor protagonists that perpetrate them, but instead I was treated to quick proof that the writers of Lost know quite well what they are playing with here, and were willing not only to address the ethics, if subtly, slowly, and often between the lines, but to complicate them further. When Sayid regretted his actions and left the camp, my respect for his character grew, and my confidence that the authors knew the subject they raised was secured, and I could know they were not ignorant, and foster curiosity about what their fiction would say in the end.

This was, by the way, when I decided Jack was not The Good Guy, and the writers knew it. Jack was remorseless, even given Sawyer’s innocence and Sayid’s contrition. Then the writers went onto complicate the issue, for although Sayid was extremely remorseful, there was no simple Hollywood born-again moment simplifying his complex behavior. Not only did he tend to still fill “his role” of brutal interrogator, but even went on and worked for Ben in that capacity, ably manipulated and intentional and responsible at the same time.

As a result Sayid is one of the best characters on the show, he’s both strong and weak, unsure of what he must accept in himself and what his character really is, what kind of man he “is”.

Moving on, skipping many ethical dillemas in between, when we see Ben perpetrating the purge, while I already had confidence the writers address such issues, I still was not sure that again was not just a device to show how ruthless Ben could be. Unlike the torture of Sawyer, this issue was largely left alone after revealed. Further it was odd, as the act was brutal mass muder while at that time we were being exposed to the possibility that the others, these scary, surreal monsters of the first seasons, might be the good guys.

This ability of the Lost writers to prompt the audience to take sides, then to switch sides, ad nauseum, is, by the way, to me the most remarkable aspects of this show. It is not discussed here often; we are along for this ride… the excitement, we note the cliffhangers, the mysteries, the surprises, reveals, and science fiction elements, but these are really just the surface of a much deeper, and successful, attempt to play with our heads on an even deeper level than such enjoyable tricks can. I think the truly amazing aspect of Lost are not in these cliffhangers and surprises, as great and entertaining as they are, but in the ability to play with our loyalties and assumptions.

I have been very happy to see that the issue of The Purge has not, in fact, been left alone, and that rather, we were left alone to think about it while the writers slowly established this event was not just a device, for a single episode, to be remembered only as history in the Lost universe, stored in some episode summary. Instead The Purge is mentioned, time and again now, and I think he full story behind it is one of the major “Lost Mysteries”, and though with the rest of you I await explanation of Adam and Eve, WHH, and of course Libby’s back story (j/k), I believe a lot of the main threads of Lost will run through this brutal event in which both Ben’s and Ethan’s fathers were killed.

My question: do you think the Purge was justified, and two, do you think it likely anything could be revealed to change your mind?

Also, for any other amateur (or pro) ethicists out there, what are your favorite ethical dilemmas in Lost, and do you feel they have been or will be satisfactorily resolved?

Cheers, Harcourt

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