Friday, March 12, 2010

Lost and Adaptive Evolutionary Information (A Final Paper)

First, a bit of preface. Last Spring, I took a course on evolutionary theories and beliefs and representations of them in cinema. We had the option of either doing a short film or a paper as the final project. My classmate and friend, Wyatt, and I had been talking about Lost over the course of the semester and we decided, "Hey, why not write a paper on how Lost uses adaptive evolutionary tactics?" ... Actually, it was more of Wyatt's idea and I quite liked the idea of it, so I hopped on board. We worked on it for a week or two or so ... and the final product came out to roughly twelve and a half pages. ... On Lost.  I shit you not. ... I'm such a nerd. :) And I think that we aced the paper, too.
Now, without further ado ...

Lost and Adaptive Evolutionary Information

Lost is a series created by J.J. Abrams that puts the survivors of a plane crash on a mysterious island.  This island serves as a mechanism that brings out adaptive information from the characters interactions.  Through the observation of characters’ relationships and their episodic flashbacks, it can be determined that Lost displays the effects of evolutionary psychology with respect to family conflict, survival, and advanced mating strategies.  This analysis will show that family conflicts have profound effect on the actions and lifestyles of an individual; groups of humans contain adaptive information for survival; and women contain adaptive information that allows them to pick proper mates.
            On Lost, family and family issues are a major driving force of the show.  While most of the family issues don’t occur on the island, they are revealed through the use of flashbacks.  However, these parental issues provide specific adaptive information, like not to become estranged with your family and mess up relationships.
Jack Shephard and his father, Christian, have a rocky and estranged relationship after Jack assaults his father at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting because that Jack thinks that his wife was seeing Christian. This drives his father back to drinking, after being sober for 50 days. Jack then relieves his father during a surgery on a pregnant woman. Jack discovers that Christian was operating under the influence and reports him as a chronic alcoholic, causing Christian to lose his license.  Christian exiles himself to Australia where he dies of a heart attack.  Jack flies to Australia to bring Christian’s corpse back to Los Angeles on Oceanic Airlines flight 815, which crashes on the island.
            Claire Littleton is Christian Shephard’s illegitimate Australian daughter.  She is raised by her mother, Carole.  Christian spent time with Carole and baby Claire, supporting them with money, until Carole’s sister barred him from visiting.  As a result of not knowing her father, Claire receives not enough parental investment.  After Carole is left in a coma as a result of a car accident that Claire was responsible for, Christian comes to visit, pays the bills, and suggests to Claire that she pull the plug on her mom.  A few years later, Claire becomes pregnant with her boyfriend, who leaves her.  She goes to a psychic who tells her that she must raise the baby alone. She then decides to give the baby up for adoption.  The psychic tells her that a couple in Los Angeles will adopt the baby and he gives her a ticket on Oceanic Airlines flight 815.
Charlie Pace, a member of a one-hit wonder band, ends up on the island because he went to visit his brother and former band mate, Liam, in Australia to try to reform the band, named DriveSHAFT.  After the crash, Charlie is able to kick his heroin addiction and bonds with Claire, who is nearing her due date.  He assists in the birth of her baby, Aaron.  He becomes a father figure for Aaron, helping Claire raise him.  When Danielle Rousseau, a survivor of a boat crash during the 1980s, kidnaps Aaron, Charlie and Sayid, another survivor, follow her to reclaim Aaron.  During their time on the island, Charlie becomes a surrogate father for Aaron, protecting him and Claire.  However, a rift grows between Claire and Charlie when she discovers that he has been keeping a stash of heroin he found on the island from the Beechcraft that crashed on the island a number of years before Oceanic Airlines flight 815 crashed.  Charlie redeems himself by unjamming the radio signal in an underwater Dharma Initiative station and sacrificing himself when the station floods.
            In the late 1990s, Kate Austen is mistreated by who she thinks is her stepfather, Wayne. She blows up his house, killing him.  It turns out that Wayne was her real father.  His abusive tendencies didn’t bode well for her parental investment.  Kate’s mom essentially disowns her.  Kate is chased, almost relentlessly, by a US marshal, causing her to live on the run.  She ends up staying with a farmer in Australia, who turns her in to the authorities.  Also, before coming to the Island, the lives of a farmer and a marshal take precedence over Kate’s life, as she helps them in dire times instead of getting away or helping herself first, showing that she doesn’t want others to get hurt.
After Claire disappears, Kate takes Aaron off of the island on the helicopter.  Once the six survivors of the plane crash, including Aaron, reach the mainland, Kate claims Aaron to be her son and raises him over the course of three years, with the help of Jack, making the three of them a pseudo-family.  Jack ends up leaving Kate and Aaron when he starts seeing his dead father and taking medication.  She makes the decision to return to the island, but leaves Aaron in the care of his biological grandmother, Claire’s mother, who came out of her coma sometime between the plane crash and the rescue of the six survivors.
Anthony Cooper is an elderly con man. Cooper cons the parents of a young James Ford, also known as Sawyer, who kill themselves, orphaning James.  As a result of receiving little parental investment, James becomes independent.  He makes a vow to avenge his parents’ deaths by killing Cooper, who was known as Tom Sawyer during the con.  James adopts the nickname of Sawyer and begins to con people to make a living, becoming like the man who killed his parents.  He falls in love with one of the women who he cons and has a daughter with her.  After he gets out of jail for a failed con, he travels to Australia to find and kill a man who he has been told is the original Sawyer.  Before leaving, he opens an anonymous bank account for Clementine, his daughter.  The man that Sawyer kills isn’t the original Sawyer, though.  After a series of events in Australia, Sawyer is banned from the country and leaves on Oceanic Airlines flight 815.  On the island, Sawyer takes part in a few short-term relationships, but not enough to create familial bonds.  By an odd stroke of chance, Cooper appears on the island and Sawyer kills him.
            Cooper is also John Locke’s father.  Life without a father was tough for Locke, having received little parental investment.  He was always bullied in school and he ended up taking menial jobs, like working in a supermarket.  Locke finds Cooper after asking his mother about his father.  Cooper bonds with Locke by going on a series of hunting excursions. He convinces Locke that his remaining kidney is failing and he needs a donated kidney from Locke, who is a match. He ends up conning Locke out of a kidney. When Locke goes to talk Cooper out of conning a woman Cooper’s planning on marrying, Cooper pushes Locke out of an 8th story window, paralyzing Locke.
Mr. Paik is an influential Korean businessman who hires enforcers to do his dirty work. One of those hired hands is his son-in-law, Jin-Soo Kwon, who is married to his daughter, Sun-Hwa Paik.  Over time, Jin and Sun’s marriage begins to strain because of Jin’s job and because Sun is being blackmailed by Jin’s mother, who he believes is dead.  Sun contemplates leaving him.  On a business trip to Sydney and Los Angeles, Sun is prepared to abandon Jin at the Sydney airport, but decides against it.  They both board Oceanic Airlines flight 815.  On the island, Sun gets pregnant. Off the island, she gives birth to a daughter, Ji Yeon. She believes that Jin died in the freighter explosion, but he’s still alive on the Island. She becomes bitter about his death, buys a majority of the shares of her father’s company, and offers her assistance to Charles Widmore to get back to the island.
            Michael Dawson and his wife, Susan Lloyd, divorce and she gets custody of Walt, their son, after a drawn out custody battle. Michael doesn’t see Walt for another 8 years, when he’s 10. Michael is given custody of Walt after his wife’s second husband doesn’t want custody.  Walt receives parental investment from both of his parents, but more from his step-father, however his step-father is too freaked out by Walt, turning him over to Michael.  On the Island, Walt is captured by the Others, a group of hostiles who have been living on the island for decades, and Michael rescues him and gets off the Island by making a deal with the Others. Michael proceeds to redeem himself when he sacrifices himself to let the helicopter with the six survivors of the plane crash take off by slowing a bomb detonation on a freighter sent to take out Benjamin Linus.
            Miles Straume is raised by his mother. When he asks about his father, his mother tells him to not ask and to not search for him.  He grows up to be focused on making money by exploiting his talent to speak to the dead.  This is because he didn’t receive a beneficial amount of parental investment.  Eventually, Miles is recruited to find the island and through a series of events, finds himself, along with other survivors of Oceanic Airlines flight 815, on the island during the Dharma Initiative’s prime, the mid 1970s. There, he meets his father, Pierre Chang, one of the head Dharma scientists. After avoiding interaction with Chang, Hurley reveals to Chang that Miles is his son. Miles tells his father that he Chang must send baby Miles and his mother off the island to avoid being killed in an accident that threatens the lives of everyone on the island.
            David Reyes, the father of Hugo, also known as Hurley, walks out on Hurley and his mother when Hurley was young.  As a result of receiving not enough parental investment, Hurley gained massive amounts of weight.  David returns after Hurley wins the lottery to mooch off of him. He also wanted to renew his relationship with Hurley’s mother and Hurley.  After Hurley gets off of the island, David redeems himself when he takes Sayid to Ben and Jack because Jack is trying to get the six survivors back to the island.
            Roger Linus, a recruit to the Dharma Initiative, blames Ben, his son, for his wife’s death. Roger drinks heavily, relapsing into alcoholism, and beats an adolescent Ben.  As a result of this, Ben receives very poor parental investment.  Roger gets his comeuppance fifteen years later when Ben gasses him and the main contingent of the Dharma Initiative, taking over the Dharma barracks with the Others.
            When Ben is in his 20s, he is working with the Others and being their inside man at the Dharma Initiative, a research group studying the island.  He is ordered by Charles Widmore to kill Danielle Rousseau, the lone survivor of a scientific expedition, along with her infant daughter, named Alex.  Ben spares Rousseau’s life and adopts Alex as his own, against the wishes of Widmore.  Ben raises Alex as his own daughter, as she doesn’t know who her real mother is.  She ends up being shot in the head by the leader of a team of mercenary who were sent to the island to capture Ben, after Ben refuses to surrender.
In the 1950s, Charles Widmore is on the island and is a member of a group that will come to be known as the Others.  In the late 1970s on the island, he has relations with another member of the Others, named Eloise Hawking.  She becomes pregnant with a son named Daniel.  Around that time, Eloise leaves the island and presumably gives birth to Daniel off of the island.  She doesn’t tell him anything about his father and raises him to work towards his destiny, developing his scientific mind.  As he isn’t raised by his father, Daniel receives less parental investment.  Daniel is given the last name of Faraday, most likely because Eloise adapts a different last name to prevent Charles from finding her.  After graduating from college, Daniel is given a grant from Charles, his estranged father, to find a way to send a person’s consciousness through time.  These experiments damage his mind, giving him memory troubles.  In 2004, Charles finds Daniel and sends him to the island, healing his mind.  Through a series of odd events on the island, Daniel and the other remaining survivors skip through time, until they are stuck on the island in 1974.  Daniel leaves the island, still with the Dharma Initiative, and returns in 1977 to prevent an accident that he believes will destroy the island.  He goes to the camp of the Others and demands that the leader, an ageless man named Richard Alpert, show him to where his mother and a buried hydrogen bomb are.  A younger and pregnant Eloise shoots Daniel, killing him. She discovers that he is her future son.
During his time as a member of the Others, Widmore goes off of the island many times, having an affair with an “outsider”, fathering a daughter named Penelope.  When Widmore is exiled from the island, he uses his vast wealth to form the Widmore Corporation and raises his daughter Penelope, who comes to be known as Penny by Desmond David Hume, her boyfriend and eventual husband.  Since Widmore can spend more time with Penny, she reaps the benefits of more parental investment.  Charles doesn’t care for Desmond and Penny’s relationship, so he prevents Desmond from communicating with Penny, making Penny think that Desmond doesn’t care for her.  To redeem himself, Desmond enters a boat race across the country being sponsored by Charles.  Desmond ends up marooned on the island.  After spending three years in the Swan Hatch on the island and after living with the survivors, Desmond escapes the island on the helicopter with Jack, Kate, Aaron, Sun, and Hurley.  They are rescued by Penny, who has been looking for Desmond.  Desmond goes on to marry Penny and they have a son named Charlie.
Lost contains lots of adaptive information about survival.  The setting of the island provides the characters with many opportunities to display different survival skills.  The island also contains elements of survival that the survivors do not expect.  These elements force them to follow typical patterns that humans have developed evolutionarily.
From a survival and horror perspective, there are four elements to the island that force group cooperation and act as devices to scare the larger part of the group from straying away from the camp.  The four fearful elements are a mysterious monster that is made of smoke, wild boars, a polar bear, and a group of island inhabitants called the Others. Together these outside influences create an aura of fear that dictates events on the show.
The smoke monster is the first to appear on Lost.  It attacks Jack, Kate, and Charlie while they are searching for a radio.  It stays confined to the jungle and makes a very mechanical sound as it tramples over trees.  The smoke monster kills without reason and moves with frightening speed. Once it is introduced, it stays in the back of the party’s minds and triggers a flight mechanism whenever spotted.
Unlike the smoke monster, the boars are known by the whole camp, and not just the main characters, to exist.  They ransack the fuselage of the plane wreckage and destroy some of the camp.  Once the boars are discovered, Locke begins to hunt them for food.  Jin, Hurley, Charlie, and the rest of the camp begin to gather food and fish to feel like they are contributing to the whole.  The boars will eventually relocate to different area, but in early development of the camp they are representative of how the camp becomes a small community.
The polar bear serves the same purpose as the smoke monster.  Their intent is to confuse and scare the survivors. The island is a tropical place, located between Australia and Los Angeles.  A polar bear has no business being an indigenous animal on this island.  Questions concerning the history of the island arise in light of this encounter.
The most important of all of the looming terrors of the island are the Others.  The Others are the original inhabitants of the island.  They are incredibly strong, they are armed, and they have the advantage of superior numbers.  The first encounter with the Others is with a character named Ethan.  He appears to have been in the plane wreck, but it turns out that he is sent to investigate the situation by the leader of the Others.  The Others are interested in the pregnant Claire because a result of being on the island is that pregnant women die during childbirth.  Ethan tries to kill Charlie and kidnaps Claire only to be killed again by Charlie. 
Meanwhile, Sawyer, Jin, and Michael try to leave the island on a boat they made. They encounter more Others who kidnap Michael’s son, Walt.  The boat is eventually destroyed and Sawyer, Jin, and Michael wash up on shore of the other side of the island.  They encounter the survivors of the tail end of their plane.  Sawyer, Jin, and Michael find out their tenure on the island has been much different than the tail section.  The tail section survivors have been harassed by the Others and have been living in constant fear.  The Others, despite their true intentions, are universally viewed by all survivors as an enemy.
The island forces a decision of what geographic location should be selected for shelter.  Initially, the survivors believe they are going to be rescued, so they remain on the beach in hopes of increasing the odds of being found.  After encountering the Others, another location is found near a cave and freshwater stream.  A debate begins over whether or not the group should live near the ocean, which has a supply of fish and increased likelihood of being saved, or the jungle, which has a supply of drinking water along with protection from an attack by the Others.  This forms a rift amongst the camp.  A compromise is reached that leads leaving a small group in the jungle as a lookout.  Small groups visit the new camp every day for water and checkups.  These decisions contain adaptive information that displays the ingenuity of the human mind when forced to survive in a ruthless environment.  While their dual camp system certainly works, it is put to rest when a mysterious hatch is opened containing food and water.  Desmond, the man in the hatch, informs them of food drops that come to the island.  This allows the show to focus on plot points, rather than food acquisition.
During the “settling the island” phase of the show, three main characters start to drive the show: Jack Shephard, John Locke, and James “Sawyer” Ford.  There are 46 survivors, but somehow these three men are brought in to the spotlight of the show.  They all display certain characteristics that follow the showoff hypothesis laid out by Kristen Hawkes (Buss 83).  Symbolically, Jack is a man of science, Locke is a man of faith, and Sawyer is a man of heart.  Their lives have followed certain paths that make them stand out.  Jack is a doctor whose father passed away recently.  Jack always strived to be a leader, but his life off of the island is filled with failed opportunities to excel at leadership roles.  Once on the island, his status of doctor forces him to be the de facto leader of the survivors.  He provides medical care for the sick, he bravely enters the jungle as every time a situation arises, and the camp looks up to him no matter how reluctant he is to lead them.
Locke’s arrival to the island was much more spiritual for him.  Before the crash, he was crippled from the waist down.  He was trying to go on a walkabout in Australia, but wasn’t allowed on the tour by the leader of the excursion.  After the plane crash, Locke is miraculously able to walk.  He understands that the island is special and unrelentingly believes the island has a purposed destiny for the survivors.  Through his hunting and tracking skills, he garners support for his views on the island.  This comes to plays a major role in later seasons of the show.
Sawyer is arguably less important than Jack and Locke, but he represents something more than them: the underdog.  On the outside, he is uncouth, unmannered, and kind of a jerk.  However, he is also sexy, charismatic, and kind-hearted.  Before showing up to the island, Sawyer was a con man.  He had unfortunate beginnings, but similar to Locke and Jack, the island granted him an opportunity to live the life he wanted, rather than the one given to him.  He scavenges supplies from the plane and uses them to barter his way out of chores.  Sawyer wants to play a larger role in the group, but he does not have the discipline or respect that Jack has.  He undergoes a metamorphosis after Jack is captured by the Others.  The camp is without a leader and he steps in to fill the gap after making amends with everyone.  He steps down upon Jack’s return, reluctantly, yet gracefully.
            Relationships also spout up around the characters and, once again, plenty of adaptive information is found.  The main relationship is a love triangle that exists between Jack, Kate, and Sawyer.  This is where the major mating strategies are displayed.  The simple observation is that Jack and Sawyer want the same thing: the attention of Kate.  Jack shows genuine interest from the start for Kate.  He earns her trust right away by concealing her secret of being a fugitive.  He allows her independence to make decisions about tracking the Others, boars, and going on various treks.  Sawyer, on the other hand, gives her the nickname of Freckles and flirts with her at every opportunity.  He does a good job of balancing his obvious interest with his portrayal of indifference. 
            Kate displays two adaptive qualities in the looming triangle.  She approaches Jack as a prospect of a long-term mate and Sawyer as a short-term mate. All of the tell-tale signs exist in Jack.  For starters, he is a doctor!  It is no myth that doctors and, in Jack’s case, surgeons live stable lives and are financially well off.  He was also married before the plane crash.  Kate finds out that Jack’s spouse divorced him leading her to believe he does not have a fear of commitment.  Jack is the leader of the camp.  Everyone values his opinions on matters of importance and believes him to be of great character.  Jack often ventures into the wilderness encountering numerous hostile situations.  He proves that he’s athletic, and as an added bonus, he certainly is handsome.  I don’t think that J.J. Abrams could have picked a better example than Jack for displaying all the qualities a woman would look for in a long-term mate.
            Sawyer is quite the opposite of Jack.  He lacks a real job in conning others out of their money.  He is often sets up ‘long cons’ that take months to make a single bust.  He is more youthful than Jack; he has long hair and a beard; and he is much more lackadaisical and flirtatious.  Sawyer is from Tennessee and is a criminal.  Kate sees him as her short-term mate.  Women look for thrill and danger in their short-term mates.  They represent some fantasy that becomes materialized.  Sawyer is an exotic criminal on a remote island fighting the forces thrown against him and Kate.  Kate uses her encounters with Sawyer as an opportunity to clarify to herself what she needs in her long-term commitments.  She does not know that Jack is better from the start, but using Sawyer as a short-term mate she can separate the qualities between the two that she needs.  The suitors in this case are manipulated by Kate to increase their desire for her.  By playing Sawyer against Jack, Kate is able to secure the love of Jack by way of jealousy.
            Other less prominent mating strategies involve Charlie, Claire, Sun, and Jin.  Charlie falls for the pregnant Claire.  She gives birth and Charlie develops strong ties to the child.  He shows strong feelings to the child, exhibiting father-like qualities even in the absence of direct genetic relation.  Sun and Jin have a much different dynamic.  Buss’s text does not take in to account cross-cultural tradition.  Sun and Jin have a relationship where the male dictates to the female all orders.  During the course of Lost, this relationship becomes more Westernized as the two interact with the rest of the survivors.
Lost contains adaptive information from many areas of evolutionary psychology. However, areas such as warfare and male strategies are absorbed by the more dominant ideas of survival and the strategies portrayed by Kate.  It is evident that the lives of so many of the characters in the series were affected by the actions of their parents.  It is wonderful how writers use these life paths of their characters to weave the exciting, suspenseful story arc of Lost.  The survival and mating strategies are obvious to onlookers, but they say a lot about the nature of being human.  We are animals shaped by millions of years of evolution and a lifetime of external uncontrollable events.  Lost is a testament to the evolutionary process in action.

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