One of the biggest hits of the new TV season is ABC's Lost, a drama about 48 people stranded on a desert island. This is not to be confused with the game show Survivor, much less the goofy Gilligan's Island. Lost is scary, absorbing, and thought-provoking.
The show begins with a man in a suit waking up to find himself in a jungle. That establishes a theme that goes back to one of the very first novels, Robinson Crusoe, and that has continued to resurface ever since: What would we modern, sophisticated, technology-dependent people do if suddenly we lost all of the props from our civilization?
It might have been easier for Robinson Crusoe to do it alone, and then with his faithful companion Friday, than for a modern group of 48 people from various nationalities, personality types, and walks of life.
Their troubles began when their airliner lost its communication system and wandered thousands of miles off course. Then an explosion made the tail come off, and the plane crash-landed onto an island. What happened to the plane-was it terrorism?-is only one of the mysteries that will gradually unfold. As the survivors deal with the dead and the wounded, we learn from flashbacks to the doomed flight that the various passengers have mysteries of their own.
As the audience starts to wonder about the resourceful Kate, who was a prisoner being transported, why the druggie rock star was acting so suspiciously just before the tail assembly came off, and what the deal is with the Iraqi veteran of the Republican Guard, the island itself becomes a mystery: What is the creature that lurks in the jungle? What is a polar bear doing in the tropics? Who else is on the island?
The scenario is ripe for the exploration of worldview issues. Will survival come from the survival of the fittest or cooperation? Will the group make decisions together as a democracy or will it follow natural leaders, such as Jack, the doctor, who seems to be the central character? Does going back to what the old philosophers called a "state of nature" mean that everyone becomes a noble savage or a Hobbesian animal? Or might culture be created, as human beings tame nature, with the help of a larger belief system, such as religious faith?
Or will Lost develop so many intriguing story lines - of the soap opera, the mystery, and the thriller - that it will become this generation's deadly serious, post-9/11 version of Gilligan's Island?