Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Utilitarianism on "Lost"

Yeah, I know. I'm sure I'll get some groans and eye-rolling for this post, but I thought I'd do some posts on ethics in pop culture, and I decided to start by examining a television show that I have a very unhealthy obsession with. I know their are a lot of people out their who think that "Lost" is too confusing, or that the writers are making it all up as they are going. But the mere fact that the writers, in an unprecedented move for network television, negotiated an end-date for their show (just one year from now, actually) gives me great confidence in their ability to craft a satisfying, and answer-filled, ending. And as for the mystery, that's part of the reason why I find it so addicting. But what does all this have to do with ethics and utilitarianism? Two words: Benjamin Linus.

(Warning: SPOILERS abound in this post!) For those not in the know, I'll explain everything and why this applies to J.S. Mill's theory of ethics.

Introduced during the second season of the show (while claiming to be a hot-air balloon crash survivor named Henry Gale), Benjamin Linus actually turned out to be the leader of a fanatical cabal of island natives referred to by the plane crash castaways as "The Others." This mysterious group had been terrorizing the plane crash survivors almost since day one...and had done everything from kidnapping to killing to serve their ultimate purpose: a purpose that has yet to be revealed. In the show's second season finale, Ben and "The Others" captured several of the shows protagonists. During this scene, one of the shows protagonists Michael Dawson asked Ben "who" The Others actually were with Ben dryly answering his question with the statement that "they were the good guys."

Since Ben made this statement, much has been revealed about the significance of the mysterious island that the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 crashed on, why it requires protecting, and who it requires protection from. This is an island that is capable of doing everything from healing a man's paralysis to traveling through time and space (no, I did not make that up). And because of his deception and cruelty, audience members were lead to believe that Ben Linus was the central villain of the series, but now it seems that he operates under the belief that his actions are justified under the utilitarian guise of "the greatest good for the greatest number." And since recent episodes have revealed that what he protects might have something to do with the preservation of the space-time continuum, the "greatest number" might very well be everybody. I'll get into some more detail about how the enigmatic Ben exemplifies the central tenants of utilitarianism in another post and then, assuming anyone actually reads these, pose this question to readers about whether Ben's actions are justifiable. Wow, totally just outed myself as a major nerd...

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