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Lost and the Redefining of Online Fandoms

on Mon, 03/22/2010 - 00:00

Lost Ate My Life
The ABC drama Lost left an indelible mark on the television medium. With a sophisticated storyline, philosophical and spiritual undertones, and an inherent ability to incorporate a multitude of narrative techniques, the series raised the concept of quality television to a whole new level. The creators of Lost, however, also redefined what it means to be a television fan by not only catering to the fandom that quickly sprouted around the show but also engaging with it in ways that no other series had in the past.

Two prominent members of that fandom, Jon Lachonis and Amy Johnston, offer an insider’s look at Lost fans in their book, Lost Ate My Life (ECW Press, 2008). While detailing numerous anecdotes about the show’s creation and unique storytelling devices, Lachonis and Johnston also paint a behind-the-scenes picture of the various ways Lost interacted with its fanbase and the reactions—both positive and negative—that the fanbase likewise offered back.

While genre shows have always attracted vocal fanbases, it was the rise of the Internet that truly allowed such fandoms to nurture and grow in a groundbreaking fashion. The X-Files, which debuted on network television at the same time that the World Wide Web became popular, was the first to tap into the power of the Internet when web-savvy fans helped transform the show from cult hit to mainstream success. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, meanwhile, utilized “official” message boards frequented by stars and writers of the series and eventually garnered a fanbase that still remains an online force years after the show itself ended.

The co-creators of Lost, J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof, were able to take what came before and exponentially raise the stakes with their own series as well. The two also benefited from being fans of sci-fi in general and shows like Star Trek, The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer in particular, making it easier for them to establish a relationship with similar types of fans.

Taking a cue from Buffy, Abrams sponsored the creation of the Fuselage—a posting board similar to the Bronze Beta utilized by the Joss Whedon creation—for Lost. Fans who gathered there, especially in the early days, were often treated to visits by not only Abrams and Lindelof, but such actors as Terry O’Quinn (John Locke) and Dominic Monaghan (Charlie Pace). The Fuselage also spawned yearly fan-gatherings in Los Angeles in the same way that Buffy fans organized Posting Board Parties revolving around the Bronze.

Lost went further than merely giving fans a means to socialize and interact with creators and cast alike. J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof and co-showrunner Carlton Cuse, for instance, also provided a multitude of discussion points to keep the growing fandom active and engaged. Episodes of the show were peppered with what are known as “Easter Eggs,” an assortment of hidden potential clues related to the ongoing mysteries of Lost.

The first example occurred in the pilot episode when Shannon Rutherford translates a recorded message from French into English. Her rendition was incomplete, however, as she left out a reference to the “Black Rock,” the ancient slave ship seen at the end of the first season. While not taking away from the viewing enjoyment of average fans who did not understand the full translation, more astute followers privy to the reference were able to enjoy the eventual revelation on a different, and equally satisfying, level.

One specific form of Easter Eggs on Lost are books, from the various novels that James “Sawyer” Ford is seen reading on the beach to the numerous tomes lining the shelves of the Swan Hatch. Some are easy to spot while others need a quick eye to identify, but all of the books shown on Lost piqued the curiosity of the show’s fans nonetheless. In fact, many fansites even formed Summer Book Clubs to facilitate further debate regarding how they related to the larger Lost narrative. Philosophical references throughout the seasons also triggered more than their fair-share of online discussions between fans.

While Easter Eggs and Summer Book Clubs are just two examples of why Lost fans established such a prolific presence on the Internet, the larger reason is that Lost itself was a vast and complex mystery. J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse crafted a narrative that not only spurred debate but enticed fans to postulate their own theories in regards to the island, the characters and just about everything else associated with the show.

The World Wide Web quickly became dotted with well-researched dissertations about Lost in addition to a vast array of conjecture revolving around everything from aliens to government conspiracies. Because there were so many layers to Lost, fans of the show were never at a loss to find something interesting to read online and more often than not found themselves posting their own thoughts and viewpoints on message boards as well.

“The complexity and proliferation of mysteries in Lost have attracted a special breed of fan equipped with above-average intelligence and a burning desire to debate,” Jon Lachonis and Amy Johnston write in Lost Ate My Life. “The fans’ need for information from and in-depth discussion with people of equal or higher intelligence resulted in an outpouring of blogs and forums dedicated to picking apart the plot of Lost as it unfolds. The entertainment value of the show is the same as other prime-time dramas—but the sophistication and unpredictability of the episodes have made it rise above typical television fare, and it offers an ethos that goes far beyond anything else on television.”

Over the course of its six seasons on ABC, Lost not only raised the bar on the definition of “quality television” but what it means to be a television fan as well. Given that the show built such a large and diverse fanbase through the years, as well as the fact that the many elements of Lost can potentially be debated for decades to come, one can safely assume that this fandom won’t be going away anytime soon even if the show itself has ended—ensuring that at least one element from the Lost Legacy will never truly die.

Anthony Letizia

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