I spent my Christmas binging Lost.

I thought I had lost my capacity to binge. I’m lucky when I can give my full attention to a single episode of television, let alone three or four in one sitting. I can’t keep it together that long for anything except my day job, and it’s a minor miracle that I can handle its endless and traumatic emotional labor.

Yet, somehow, I’m a month and a half into the first sustained period in which I’ve felt functional as a writer in six months and the first sustained period ever that I’ve felt comfortable talking honestly about trans stuff and depression stuff (and how addiction stuff intersects with the trans stuff and the depression stuff), and I’ve decided to spend Christmas and Christmas Eve binge-watching the first season of Lost. I can’t tell if the mere fact that I’m capable of watching this much television in such a short time-frame means that I’m getting better or regressing. My decision to return to Lost only muddles the matter further.

I’m near the end of the season (and in the time it took me to write and edit this essay, I finished the season and dove straight into the second). I just finished a Kate episode. It’s the one where you find out how her childhood friend died. “Born to Run.” I suppose I can’t complain when someone doesn’t immediately go for a Bruce deep cut.

I remember how much people used to hate Kate when the Lost fandom was a big internet thing.

I read the reviews for each new episode once I got to college. My freshman year was season four aka the writers’ strike aka the beginning of shorter seasons aka the start of the series’ complicated journey to something resembling closure. Every week, I’d go to Entertainment Weekly, Time, AV Club, and a bunch of other places that I’m sure I’m forgetting. I’d read the articles, and then I’d spend hours reading the comments. The reviews themselves rarely expressed explicit anti-Kate sentiment, but the comment sections were a cesspool of misogynistic abuse directed towards Kate and, by proxy, Evangeline Lilly.

For a magical mystery island worth of reasons, returning to Lost hasn’t been easy.

For most of my teen years and my early twenties, Lost defined my internal conception of the community experience of television as well as art more broadly… and all of the complicated messiness that entails.  The treasure trove of writing that surrounded Lost was an important step in me going out of my way to find reviews for the art I loved. It foreshadowed that someday I would turn a variation of that sort of writing into a career. That mainstream pop crit, however, also underlined the sort of voices and the sort of approaches (cishet dudes) that were allowed when you covered Lost and how those voices and approaches reinforced much of the series’ internalized misogyny and white supremacy. That would foreshadow my frustrations with the limits of that sort of writing when that sort of writing became the way I paid my bills. Lost became a weekly exposure to how much men on the internet hated women… years before I would start being targeted on the internet by men who hate women because I’m an AMAB NB person that occasionally writes about toxic masculinity and white supremacy.

My experiences with the social ramifications of Lost weren’t restricted to the internet. Lost was also a series around which real-life friendships sprung. I specifically referenced the finale in the speech I gave at my sister’s wedding. There were several people at that wedding with whom I had habitually watched episodes of Lost as they aired. My sister. My dad. One of my cousins. I rarely watched new episodes of Lost by myself. Watching Lost with other people felt like a requirement.

That social network I had for Lost has pretty much dissipated. We’re spread out across the Virginias, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and even as far west as Colorado. I see my dad on a regular basis, but we don’t really watch the same shows anymore. TV and movies were our thing growing up, but our tastes for newer stuff have become almost mutually exclusive.

My little sister was in for Christmas. She lives with her husband in Virginia Beach. Seeing her was nice; it was the first time I’d seen her since her wedding. However, prolonged exposure to either of my parents in the way that’s required when she’s around gives me a well of anxiety (trans stuff). Even when she was here to visit, there were times when I just had to ghost. Also, honestly, we watch fairly different shows these days. When we were both in college, we used to hang out and watch TV together all of the time. Lost ended before that, but it was one of the first shows that we really bonded over.

Almost everybody else that I used to watch Lost with… I haven’t seen them in person in years and I may talk to them on social media only slightly more often but not really. I don’t do long distance friendships well.

Lost‘s capacity to foster the ad hoc communities that arose in its cultural wake was a logical outreach of the sort of show Lost was. It’s a horrifyingly problematic, liberal-ish ode to and nightmare of the power politics of community. Throw in its enormous cast, and their initially vague, archetypal character drama, and it’s the type of series that’s begging obsessive fans to imprint their own baggage on its heroes and heroines.

As I’ve returned to Lost, the biggest revelation has been how scared I am of nearly all of the men on that show.

I’m not a misandrist, but I have trouble feeling comfortable around any men these days. Not some men. Not most men. All cishet men. Obviously, there are men I like. There are men I trust and love, but my PTSD has been running at “Don can barely function” levels for a while, and I suppose it goes without saying that men are at the heart of my PTSD.

My feelings towards the majority of the men in the first season of Lost are, I hope, more rational and less-trauma induced observations. Or, if they are trauma-induced, the observations are at least rational responses to the trauma. The men on that series aren’t good men adrift in a jungle of mysteries and daddy issues. They’re almost all caricatures of narcissistic, predatory masculinity.

When I was younger, my favorite character on Lost was Locke. I eventually accepted that he was the series’ villain, essentially from the start, but I was too enraptured by Terry O’Quinn’s brilliant performance and re-traumatized by all of the abuse and misfortune that dotted Locke’s past to pick up on the fact that the character is a classic abuser, a narcissistic zealot that manipulates everyone around him with complete and total faith in the righteousness of his cause and his worthiness to be the vessel for that cause. I’ve known a Locke or two in my day. You wind up like Boone and Charlie. You want to please them because you think they have something to teach you, but you’re pawns and pets in their bitter power fantasies instead. Men like Locke use you until they’ve used you up, and they don’t bat an eye to their glut.

Harold Perrineau is one of my favorite character actors. His Mercutio is a revelation and the only watchable part of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. Augustus Hill is the heart of Oz, and the series’ Greek Chorus framing device would not have been as effective with anyone else. Michael is one of the most irrationally angry and paranoid men I’ve ever seen on television. He loves his son, but there are episodes where I find myself believing that the only thing that keeps Michael from hitting Walt is the fact that there are other people on the island. Michael’s immediate response to any stressful, emotional challenge is to erupt in nuclear anger. One of the reasons that I realized I didn’t want to be a man anymore is that I knew I didn’t want to be that angry all the time at all of the wrong people and in all of the wrong ways. So many men can’t process loss because their very existence is privileged against serious examinations of it, and Michael is a shining example of how dangerous those men can be.

He hasn’t even killed Libby and Ana Lucia yet.

Josh Holloway is the sort of eye candy and talented actor that big-budget, genre TV casting directors should kill for. Sawyer is just as abusive as Locke. What he lacks in Locke’s subtlety, he makes up for in menacing violence. Kate wants to fuck Sawyer cause he’s hot and also cause he’s the only man on the island with any thing resembling respect for her agency and capabilities, but if Kate so much as threatens Sawyer’s pride, he makes it clear that he can and would do her physical harm. He’s a horribly cruel man that deploys pet insults both to wound and also because he doesn’t know how to show sincere affection to another person. He has all of the emotional development of a seven year old.

Charlie was my second favorite character when I was younger. That’s all sorts of ironic. I might hate Charlie more than I hate Locke if only because I find him to be so utterly pathetic and dull. Charlie’s a heroin addict, and the source of his addiction boils down “he was in a famous rock band and felt guilty about all of the sex he was having and also cause his brother was a junkie too.” And who gives a flying fuck. Charlie lies to and takes advantage of every person who meets. He reads Claire’s dairy when she’s abducted by the Others. He foists himself into her life at all times and in painfully aggressive ways. He thinks he’s so innocent and nice but really he’s just selfish and weak and angsty. He’s what if every Nice Guy you’ve ever known also had a huge drug problem.

Jack is what if Sam Harris and McDreamy had a baby that was raised by an emotionally abusive drunk. Jack has no emotional processing power. If he can’t empirically analyze something, he can’t comprehend it. He has to be the hero because he can’t accept that he has limits. It’s one of the truths his father managed to sneak in among Christian’s parade of self-pitying rationalizations. Jack would rather crucify himself than accept the help of others or understand that he has to share responsibility and burdens. He is so bourgeois and sheltered that he could never possibly understand the brutality someone like Kate would have had to escape, and he can’t trust her and hurts her because of that lack of empathy. Jack is the hollow child of “reason” and stunted masculinity.

In its own way, Lost knows all of these things about its characters. It’s clumsy. It treats its women like second-class citizens (and its women of color even worse). But it knows how broken and destructive its men are. That examination is the raison d’etre of the series. We suffer and it either breaks us or we rise to its challenge or it breaks us even though we think we’ve risen but we haven’t. We don’t know why. Nothing makes sense, and we’re thrown into a ravenous world that will rip us apart the minute we stumble. And that turns a lot of men into awful, petty shits.

However, particularly in the first season, Lost could rarely sufficiently commit to that extremely alienating premise, and it has far too much empathy with men who cause so much harm because of that limitation (and its own masculinist perspective). Sawyer and Locke and Charlie and Michael (and Sayid and Boone) are shitty men that I wouldn’t want anything to do with in real life. They’re also all too similar to men I can’t escape in real life. Men I know through jobs and school and homes. I resent being asked to care about their bullshit. These are the men who have hurt me.

They’re also the men who hurt Kate, who hurt Sun, who hurt Claire and Shannon. Kate and Sun and Claire and Shannon who are forced to melt into the background of the men’s philosophical and political drama unless its their flashback episode or their presence suits the needs of the men. Four episodes into the first season and Kate is the only woman on the show that’s had more than one flashback episode. Kate the survivor. Kate whose childhood friend dies not because she killed him as the series seems to constantly insist but because he wouldn’t let her get away from the cops and had to be the dumb hero. No wonder Jack is such a bummer for her. He’s all of the dumb, sheltered pride of her childhood best friend whose death she feels she has to carry. Sun whose battered marriage takes seasons to develop. Claire who exists to be pregnant and placed in danger. Shannon who exists to make all of the misogyny on the show seem justified. I would be stoked for Ana Lucia’s imminent arrival on the show if it weren’t for the fact that I remembered that she’s a cop. Fuck cops.

Besides the fact that my job puts me in direct, daily contact with the most desperate victims of capitalism, few things trigger my anxiety and depression worse than men. I don’t feel comfortable as a transfeminine nb person around them. I don’t feel comfortable as a queer person around them. I don’t feel comfortable as a person around them. So many of them prove themselves to be violent and angry and abusive. Most of the few that remain are sad and mute when it matters. The good ones are treasures that I can barely connect with anymore because I’m too scared shitless of the others.

I put off watching Lost for years and years, and I have to wonder if a part of me knew how little I wanted to do with these men anymore.

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