Thursday, January 15, 2009

Are We Lost?: The secret language of Lost - the return of the hippie gods

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 1/15/09

God doesn't know we're here. No one knows we're here. - Henry Gale

Whenever I see one of those pretentious bumper stickers – are all bumper stickers pretentious? – that says “Kill Your Television,” the TV show Lost, beginning its end run next week, comes to mind. Because in our time, some of the best writing and troupe acting – The Soprano’s, House – is on television. And Lost, directed by the young visionary J.J. Abrams, is at the top of the pack.

In Lost, there is no false distinction between high brow culture and low theater. Any random episode may contain references to both Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain and George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Likewise, Catholic priests travel in harmony and consort with Taoist Immortals and Tibetan Dakinis.

But I’m surprised a public panic hasn’t set in. Like the hysteria among academics when Marcel Duchamp entered a toilet seat in a prestigious art show a hundred years ago. Or when The Beatles arrived with Sgt. Peppers and the record was banned in England. This show has conspicuously religious overtones – the lead character’s father is named Christian Shepherd - but not the kind conventional religionists so vocal in our day might appreciate.

Maybe there has been no complaint perhaps because Lost’s clever writers speak a secret language to a knowledgeable audience, much as the great Russian writers of the 19th century wrote in code and double meanings to slip their revolutionary message past the censors. And from beginning to end, this long and fascinating series has been concerned with a singular thought that has been sleeping for 40 years: The end of the former age and the rise of the new Age of Aquarius, which technically started in January, 2000.

In the secret language of Lost, Ben is identified in season two as the Christ, marked by the wound in his chest. He is tortured in a cell like the Christ in Dostoyevski’s Grand Inquisitor, a chapter in The Brother’s Karamazov. In his cell, John Locke gives him a copy of this book.

In last night’s episode Ben turns the turnstile to “move the island” – shifting the age from Pisces to Aquarius. He “breaks a glass” to the North Pole; the center of the world aligned with the North Star, where the Titan turns the style from age to age. He shifts the mystical island to the “New Jerusalem” where he will end his reign and turn his responsibilities over to John Locke.

John Locke is identified as the new agent; the avatar of Aquarius, replacing Ben, avatar of the previous Platonic Month, the Age of Pisces. In the lexicon of Lost, at the end of the journey, Ben has become a random killer – commentary perhaps on a war in our time often referenced in Lost, that resembles the last days in the book of Revelations.

In Lost, people have historic names. Richard Alpert, leader of Ben’s cult, is the real name of the Harvard professor who, with Timothy Leary, started the hippie movement. He took the name Ram Dass and wrote a popular book in the day titled Be Here Now. “Oceanic” airlines is the company name which owns the plane which brought the group to the island. It is the name taken from Orwell’s 1984 of the global America - Oceania. The plane, representing the American condition, crashes between Platonic Months.

Locke goes to the jungle where Ben’s old constituency is waiting for him. Richard Alpert, a Taoist Immortal who never ages, says, “welcome home.”

Actually, I find it kind of troubling that there is so little frustration or public anger or confusion about this as there was with Duchamp and John Lennon. It is a little like I feel about censorship and the Homeland Security. I’m against it but I’d be disappointed if I was left off their lists.

Maybe people don’t read the secret language, but it hides in plain sight. Maybe we don’t care. Maybe we are no longer curious.