TelevIsm: Spoiler Alert! Lost is Heteronormative!

Rachel McCarthy-James
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Lost ended on Sunday, as you most likely know since you are reading a pop culture blog. I liked it for the most part, but one of the final shots, below, crystallized one of my major issues with Lost: heteronormativity and the privileging of partnering and monogamy.

In the final shot of the purgatory/sideways universe, characters from throughout the series sit in pews while Christian Shephard walks them into heaven (or whatever, I'm really not sure yet but that's my working assumption for this post).

Lost is a show about love, as was made very clear in this final image. And that love was defined, symbolized, and depicted in a very specific way. Lost's vision of love is from a very straight, very traditional, very Christian point of view. And that's problematic, because just as it is making a grand statement about science and what is important in life, it's framing those choices in a way that pushes marginalized lovers off the edge of its cliff.

Nearly all of the characters are partnered. 90% of them. And all of their partners are of the opposite sex. Kate and Jack, Sawyer and Juliet (side note: YAY), Rose and Bernard, Sun and Jin, Desmond and Penny, Sayid and Shannon (side note: see ya, Nadia!), Hurley and Libby, Charlie and Claire. 100% of all characters who get into Heaven are straight, (or if you're not into the heavenly interpretation, are validated as worthy of "moving on").

(Since we're going into the numbers, let's look at the composition of the characters in that particular scene from a statistical perspective on the axis of race: 75% of these characters are white. I understand that it's a little difficult to judge considering that they could not get many busy actors of color for multiple episodes, but still. )

This image, the concluding image, reflects an ongoing trend of Lost's preference for straight, partnered, monogamous people, and their erasure of non-heterosexual, non-monogamous people.

Let's take a broader view of the overall pattern of the show. In an epic series with a massive and ever-fluctuating cast, there has been a grand total of one character who is not straight: Tom Friendly, a powerful Other.

In one scene (screencapped above), in the course of convincing Michael to come back to the Island, they go up to his hotel room. Tom Friendly kisses his lover on the cheek while Michael looks on in disgust, and Tom says that he likes to "indulge" when he gets off the island.

So, to unpack the scene: gay relationships, in this show, happen only occasionally–unlike the committed partnerships of Desmond and Penny, Jin and Sun, Jack and Kate, Sawyer and Juliet, etc., they are implied to be non-essential and frivolous. Furthermore, there is a specific reaction of disgust to this expression. Love between two men is an indulgence on Lost, not the reason you find enlightenment.

There are very few depictions of non-monogamous sexuality on Lost. There's basically just Juliet and Goodwin, the Other psychiatrist's husband, and while their relationship is not exactly negative, it's certainly not a great representation of non-monogamy. There's some casual sex, most of it with Sawyer, and that's necessarily judged, but it's certainly not valued in the way EVERLASTING LOVE is.

That's it for Lost as far as any kind of sexuality that is not heterosexual and monoamorous. Of course, there is not a single trans character of any kind, which is indicative of the show's cissupremacy and not any better than the erasure I discuss in detail here. Partnering is made an expectation of pretty much every character. (On a positive note, this in some ways creates some subversive depictions of love: Locke has a romantic relationship while using a wheelchair [though his partner's not validated by the waiting room], and so does Hurley, a fat disabled man of color.)

But for the most part, the show necessitates a partner for full humanity. It creates, in that last scene, the condition that people must have partners to gain enlightenment and heaven: the more normative their pairing, the more likely they are to gain admission Lost is a show that is very heavily about romance, and love, and that romance and love is almost entirely of the kind that is consistently privileged by the media.

No, other shows are not doing much better, even when they do depict same-sex love. Yes, I've seen every episode and didn't, frankly, expect them to go for some grand statement about different, equally valid kinds of love in the concluding scene that I spend much of this post discussing. It may just be one more item in the humongous list of shows that create a specific and exclusive point of view, but it is a very enthusiastic contribution to that list.

It's not the worst, most heterosexist vision of love out there. But Lost erased non-normative sexuality from its epic narrative, and it's helping to create norms. When a show focuses so heavily on love, its exclusionary vision of the subject deserves critique.

Further reading:
tangerine trees and marmalade skies
this ain't livin

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17 Comments Have Been Posted

Just curious, could you

Just curious, could you explain why you consider Hurley to be disabled? Are you basing it on his stays in a mental hospital, or on his size?

It's definitely a gray area,

It's definitely a gray area, because he does often say things along the lines of "I'm not crazy!" But yes, based on his hospital stays and other comments he has made about having mental issues. I think that interpretations of him as a non-PWD are valid too, but as a PWD on the axis of mental disability myself, that's how I read him.

(His size is certainly not a disability - he's actually continually shown to be physically active and refers to himself as spry several times.)

Disabled, obese men and the beautiful women who love them

There's also the part about Hurley's and Locke's partners. Both very attractive and over-the-top patient with those two. You will never find that the opposite way, with the women being disabled, morbidly obese or mentally ill and the handsome men being totally in love with them. It just doesn't happen on tv. In real life, I haven't seen it much either.

I'm a little troubled by

I'm a little troubled by this comment. Plenty of folks find Hurley and Locke attractive, because they are attractive, because every body is attractive, because attraction is subjective. The erasure of fat women and women with disaibilties who are framed as attractive is really problematic, but that doesn't mean that fat men and men with disabilities shouldn't be shown.

I didn't say that "fat men

I didn't say that "fat men and men with disabilities" shouldn't be shown. I personally don't like to use the word "fat." But that wasn't my point.

My point is that when there are couples where one is much more traditionally attractive than the other, or one is much more something than the other, 9 times out of 10 the woman is way, way more traditionally attractive than the man.

If there were a female version of Hurley, do you think Boone would have fallen in love with her? Or anyone would have? No way.

No, you used "morbidly

No, you used "morbidly obsese", which I find much more offensive as a fat woman. There is nothing morbid about Hurley's fatness - he is, as he mentioned several times, "spry".

We can't really know anything about whether or not someone would have fallen in love with a fat woman. We know that Carmen, his mother, was not thin and was shown as sexual and lovable.

It sucks that fat and disabled women were mostly erased, but it's a <i>good thing</i> that they go against the typical portrayal of very fat and disabled men as asexual and unloveable - because despite The King Of Queens, fat men are usually desexualized as are men with disabilities. And when they are sexual or romantic, it's silly and not to be taken seriously.

Yes, there is something very

Yes, there is something very morbid about Hurley's physique. Even if he is spry, the health risks of being that overweight are well-known. That spryness, in a person his size, is not very common.

Food addiction and drug addiction have a lot of commonalities, such as lesser quality of life, shorter life span, etc...and Hurley's food addiction was considered nothing serious while Charlie's drug addiction was a major cause of trouble on the island.

Strange how you come to Hurley's defense and then talk about his mother, who didn't seem to be that overweight (not even close to Hurley.)

Nope! Not cool! Not okay!

Nope! Not cool! Not okay! Do not make assumptions about people's health based on their weight! Let me repeat that: Do not make assumptions about people's health based on their weight! It's incredibly offensive and distinctly anti-feminist!

This is astoundingly offensive and completely inappropriate to a feminist website. I suggest you do some serious 101 reading on Health At Every Size. Here are some resources:

Any further comments from you will be deleted, because not only are they astoundingly offensive, they are completely off-topic and derailing! I am only not deleting this comment because I want to demonstrate what sizism looks like, because it's the form of oppression most often directed at Hurley.

This was so disappointing.

This was so disappointing. I love some of the couples on Lost, but this season and the finale made the heterosexual pairing-up so blatant and agressive it just pissed me off.

I think Boone is the only one who didn't end up with a romance. They completely erased his complicated relationship with Shannon so he could play match-maker. Any subversiveness in his feelings for his step-sister was undermined by the ending.

Yes to this. I was really

Yes to this. I was really troubled by Shannon, since they had made Sayid's everlasting love for Nadia a major plot point throughout the series and the season.

Yeah, I can rationalize why

Yeah, I can rationalize why it would be Shannon but it was weird.


One other instance of same-sex love in Lost that I forgot about! In "The Numbers" in the first season, Hurley is complaining about the "curse" of his lottery winnings, and he mentioned that his sister-in-law ran away with a waitress. This is not helpful to the problems I discuss above - same-sex love here is a part of a curse.

I had completely forgotten

I had completely forgotten about that. UGH! Same-sex love played for laughs, part of a curse, and cheating on the sanctity of hetero monogamy. TRIFECTA IN ONE SENTECE.

There were also those two women in the Looking Glass, who I was hoping were going to be hinted to be lovers. Then they were killed by men.

I think that was more due to

I think that was more due to the fact that his brother's wife left him. Which can be pretty tough on a family. And he thought it was HIS fault, not that her being a lesbian is a curse. Hurley thought HE was cursed.

out of context?

i remember the scene these shots were taken from. are you sure michael's face and tom's comment weren't referring to his living off-island in conspicuous opulence? didn't tom offer him champagne, fancy food from room service, and a crazy gorgeous, pent-house view? also, tom's relationship did not seem to me to be a one-night stand or any type of brief off-island form of entertainment, but an ongoing thing, if a long-distance one.

as for the face, if someone had just stopped you from committing suicide in order to drag you to their hotel and tell you that you have some destiny that involves you sabotaging a ship to make up for you murdering two people (which you did in order to retrieve your son who this very person stole from you) do you think you would make a point of smiling warmly or even of maintaining a neutral face, when seeing that person be affectionate with their lover (of any sex), or would you stand there in shock, feeling disgusted with the people who are still trying to pull your strings?

yeah, i don't think you're right on this one. i think you have taken these shots out of context, and while i agree that lost didn't have a single main character that was gay, and focused much of the plot on pairing people up heterosexually, and also made a point of denying female characters autonomy (season 1, jack changes the rules of the game and takes the dynamite that kate won the privilege of carrying by drawing straws because she's a delicate female who needs to be protected, whatever she and logic think) and focusing the women's entire story-lines on relationships and babies (gosh, nobody likes ana lucia, ok, we'll write it in that she's just bitchy and bitter because she lost her baby! not because she's a natural leader acting as such, and then kill her off!), (run-on) despite all that, tom friendly was a likable character. he was portrayed as complex and generous and clever and overall a good person, and his sexuality was not a matter of disgust brushed under the rug or used to defame him, it was a consistent part of his likable if ambiguous character.

Thank you

Like I said, OP didn't watch the show and only got the information about it on Wikipedia.

Michael was disgusted with Tom because not only did Tom take his son away from him, but he was a freaking OTHER! These same people who kidnapped Claire, tried to murder Charlie, killed other people, and basically terrorized them for no reason whatsoever. Obviously Michael was disgusted because he wanted nothing to do with these people. Why would he want to help them?

"also made a point of denying female characters autonomy (season 1, jack changes the rules of the game and takes the dynamite that kate won the privilege of carrying by drawing straws because she's a delicate female who needs to be protected, whatever she and logic think)"

Jack did it because he liked her. And remember, Jack has a savior complex. He always wanted to do everything on his own and save everyone on his own. It had nothing to do with the notion that she's a "delicate female" and can't do anything herself.

And I hardly think that carrying a pack full of unstable dynamite is a privilege.

Ana Lucia got killed off because Michelle Rodriguez got a DUI. Same with Cynthia Watros. Simple as that. And the men's storylines also included relationships and babies.

"You lie!"

At the very least, one might be inclined to doubt that RMJ is fibbing about watching <i>Lost</i> because she's been writing extensively about it for a long time. You can disagree with an interpretation without assuming any opinions other than yours are uninformed, you know. In fact, why don't you take a few minutes to read the rest of the <i>Lost</i> posts on this blog? For one thing, the DUI excuse has been thoroughly deconstructed and debated elsewhere.

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