LOST and theology: The Others
I've been re-watching the American TV series Lost. It is one of my favourite TV programmes, it's very well produced on all levels.
The engine of the storyline is mystery. As the viewer, you don't have any idea what's going on, and the drama happens when certain things are revealed. But of course every answer just brings ten more questions.
The basic premise is that an airplane crossing the Pacific crash lands on a deserted island. Except the survivors soon discovered the island is not exactly deserted. There are "Others" on the Island, as well as all sorts of mysterious goings-on.
Obviously re-watching a series like that is very different experience when you know most of the answers, and what's happening behind the mystery. In general the show knew where it was going, and planted some mysteries at the beginning that it solved at the very end six years later. This is not to say that there weren't some inconsistencies and plot dead-ends. But in general they had a strong sense of plot.
What is striking when you re-watch it is the development of "the Others." In the first two series the Others are slowly revealed. They are mysterious figures that emerge out of the jungle and kidnap children, they appear to be "savages" dressed in rags, they appear to be sub-human, amoral, vicious killers. One of the survivors says "they're animals."
But they appear a lot less scary when you're re-watching the series. Because you know that they are nothing of the sort. As the series develops we begin to see more of the Others. We see that they are people of different ages and sexes. We see some of them are married. We see they have book groups and bake muffins. And significantly we see them having funerals when one of them is killed by one of the survivors. We've been used to seeing them as the "bad guys" but slowly we begin to see things more from their perspectives. We begin to see them as frail human beings doing the best. No doubt some of them do some very immoral and violent things: killing, kidnapping, torturing. But then, when the survivors felt it was really necessary they did similar things too.
The point is an enemy is much scarier when we view them as inhumane monsters. When we know their names, their frailties, when we see their grief, it's impossible to see them as terrifying. Certainly the violence they bring is dangerous, but as a viewer you are simply not scared by them anymore.
Humans have an ability to "Other" a group of people - this fuels our fear and anger. But it is much more difficult to do this when we see the reality that, whatever else they are, they are still stupid frail human beings like the rest of us.