Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Midside Special: Going Down with the Ship

“Now ending discreetly, just like a hidden sin,
as I go under please tuck me in.
Make me invisible.”

My name is Jayemel and I am a LOST fan. (Hey Jay.) I have been ever since my friend Nate dragged us to his dorm room and showed us the pilot he downloaded. He told us it was about a plane crash on an island. I don’t really remember what I anticipated. I don’t think I anticipated much. I definitely didn’t anticipate what would happen next, in the show or my life. I was hooked and so began the upward (downward?) spiral that would be my LOST fandom, and my personality.

We LOST fans are a unique breed. Our rabid passion is well known. We’ve already earned our pride and joy a unique place in entertainment history. Our leaders, Lindelof and Cuse, love to reference and admit the influence Star Wars has on their work. I can’t fathom LOST not reaching a similar pinnacle in American lore. In Clerks, Dante and Randy discuss the moral concerns of the independent contractors on the second version of the Death Star. Only true fans of the movies would have such a conversation. Imagining similar dialogue about LOST being written into future films is hardly laughable. Couldn’t we speculate endlessly about if Jack is actually Red Sox fan or not? Or what about the headline in the newspaper he picked up in Something Nice Back Home that stated the Yankees bludgeoned the Red Sox; was that another consequence of the Oceanic Six getting off the island, and thus is their fault? Heck, if Fever Pitch was created a few years after the Red Sox 2004 World Series win, I would have expected a LOST reference in it. Look at NBC’s recent semi-hit Chuck. There was a reference to the crash of Oceanic 815 in the pilot. Yes, a show from another network referenced LOST, while it is still airing.

These “independent contractor” conversations have already about LOST. Chuck (the show, not the character), though perhaps unintentionally was insinuating that the government did know about the crash, so they weren’t as lost as me believed. We, the lowly (highly?) fans have used the power of the internet to push and prod the permutations in different directions. We’re known for our endless theorizing, from pointing out the writers’ affinity for using juice as a plot device (even in flashes) to time displacement/parallel universe musings. More recently, we’re increasingly known for our loyalty to certain characters and relationships, so much so that such passion has seemingly hijacked our ability to rationally enjoy and understand the show.

Look, I’m not going to bullshit you. Beyond the opening post-crash frenzy scene, I have intensely disliked Jack. I knew his “Live Together, Die Alone” speech was coming. And also since the Pilot, Sawyer has been by far and away my favorite character. I connected with him instantly. I knew he was instantly important to the overall story. I saw the dichotomy and it was never a question for me. Jack and Locke? Please, move the two in to Santa Rosa with Hurley. They’re both insanely talented, and I love them in their elements, but they’re not leaders. Yes, I have my biases, I have since day one, but never did I think they would cruise me into a crossfire that quieted me. Me, Mr. Shoots Off at the Mouth a la Sawyer. Me, Mr. Opinionated a la House. Me, Mr. Internet LOST Column a la Bill Simmons. I found my posts at various message boards, most notably The Fuselage, censored for questioning if we’re supposed to like Jack and tangentially mentioning politics (which I strongly believe is an important theme of the story). Eventually, I was even banned from The Fuselage. I was e-homeless. All I could do was read Lostpedia and peter around in my own brain. Assumptions and misperceptions that ran rampant through the fan community went unchallenged. Then, before I was generously given this little corner of LOST-cyberpace that has become The Midside on, I inadvertently stumbled into the middle of a full blown war.

“This hidden explosion calls for a wandering cast with no direction.
Enter all monsters let us twist another fairy tale.”

I had never heard of the word “shipper” before a poster linked me to Fishbiscuitland. I had seen threads for fans of character couplings at The Fuselage, but never thought about the depth of the participants, um, passion. And when I first arrived at the now-infamous Fishbiscuitland, I didn’t give the idea anymore thought. I was too distracted by my excitement. I was allowed to post whatever I wanted. It didn’t matter that Sawyer was my favorite character or that I strongly disliked Jack. There were people that didn’t like Jack here too. Heck, they made threads about it. This place is pretty good, I thought.

My thoughts were shortsighted. Over the next year or so, as more and more “homeless” posters swam over to the pond. I learned new words and phrases. “Jate,” Skate,” “Jate is Fate,” “bubblehead,” and “Imaginary LOST” have all become part of my vernacular. When my friend Dan, who I’ve just introduced to LOST, called Jack “batshit” crazy the other day, I couldn’t help but crack up laughing, as “Skaters” routinely call “Jaters” and Jack “batshit” crazy. In between my column writing, real world work, and sporactic visits to Fishbiscuitland, the board became a “Skater” h(e)aven, and I, by association, inadvertently become a “shipper” by association.

Look, you know The Midside is all about honesty, and I’ve always admitted it. Kate and Sawyer belong together and will end up together. After we finished watching the first season, I asked my friend Dan, “Kate and Jack or Kate and Sawyer.” He replied, “Kate and Sawyer, I thought that was obvious.” Dan is a pretty smart guy. He picked up on some stuff the first time through that impressed me. So, his ability to read the writing mitigates his use of the word “obvious” a bit, but still, he didn’t even question the pairing. That is how integrated into the story it was. And I don’t disagree at all. It’s been there since the beginning, the second half of the Pilot specifically. And for that reason, “Jaters” irk the shit out of me. “Skaters” aren’t beyond reproach either though. Their behavior is far more grating than they’d ever care to admit, and sometimes it’s difficult to be associated with them.

I’m not going to go into a detailed account of what is so annoying about “Jaters.” There is plenty of such reading material available. If you’re interested, go read The Fish’s blog ( or The Fandom section at Fishbiscuitland ( They all do an amazing job of dicing “Jaters” like Baraka from Mortal Kombat. In fact, the Fish’s latest blog post is about how the “Jaters” have taken to saying that anyone who thinks Jack and Kate aren’t “fate” are not watching LOST, but a show called “Imaginary LOST.”

This retarded use of rhetoric is what really pisses me off about “Jaters.” They see something in such a backwards way and then ostracize and ignore anyone who disagrees with them in order to protect their own world view and mental stability. Yes, I have my own biases for Sawyer and Kate, but you know what? If I thought the show wasn’t about them and there was nothing else I liked about it, I wouldn’t watch the show in the same way that I don’t watch a billion other shows I don’t like. That’s what capitalism is all about. Hey, two people make a show at the same time, I don’t like how this one is going, let me try watching the other.” Another show I love is House. I think House and Cuddy would be great together. Does it look like it’s going to happen anytime soon? After the season finale, maybe, but the writers hint at it all the time and nothing happens. Am I going to stop watching the show if it never happens and/or House ends up with someone else (or, more likely, no one else?), no, because I love what the show is about and the character of House. But, if that relationship was all I cared about, I would have stopped watching a long time ago. If I wanted blue balls, I’d find the most childish and immature girl I could and try to date her.

The most angering thing of all is that this attitude, the type that spawns wars when dealing with social and/or political issues, comes from a profound misunderstanding of what LOST has been about since the pilot. This show has always played on preconceptions in storytelling. The writers take what we expect and, often times go in the opposite direction. What immediately appealed to me about the show was how it was a bunch of stock characters with new twists on them. I could imagine J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof even making that statement to each other as they created the show. “Hey, let’s make a stock show with stock characters, but have it not be that at all.” The “Jaters” use of the term “Imaginary LOST” proves how intellectually and emotionally brainwashed they are. They’ve bought into cultural “norms” so much that they can’t accept someone trying to shift the dichotomy, or, at least, liven up the conversation. “Jaters” are the kind of people who oppressive governments live for. “Hey, this this and this is true and anyone who disagrees is living in Imaginary Germany.” Yes, I said Germany on purpose.

The perfect example of their inability to see what they’re being shown, rather than seeing what they believe to be true is their treatment of characters. The whole Jack and Sawyer thing has been discussed to death. “Jaters” think Jack is a Jack Bauer-like hero even though, in a move that I believe is very intentional on the part of the writers, he started out troubled and degenerated ever since. “Jaters” think Sawyer is an unredeemable immoral asshole, ignoring the large plethora of American storytelling history, from Westerns, to TV shows like Renegade, to two movies the writers have reference in relevance to the character Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean (Han Solo and Captain Jack Sparrow). Everyone understands this error in perception by the “Jaters.” What no one ever talks about that really bugs me is their treatment of Jin. And the treatment isn’t limited to them. It is a bit pervasive throughout the LOST e-community.

Jin was never a bad guy. In the Kwon marriage, Sun was the messed up one. Jin did some messed up things, yes, but he never treated Sun poorly beyond the inadvertent neglect that became necessary to even be married to her. And you know what? He felt guilty about it the whole time. He loved her so much that he went to the ridiculous lengths of beating the crap out of a government official and the beating himself up over it. He felt so bad about it he was going to stay in America when they got to Los Angelos. But no, Jin was a piece of crap. He was an oppressive man working for the mob who wanted to keep Sun obedient and weak. No one seems to remember that Sun was the one who lied, cheated, and planned on living him in Sydney. And you know why everyone sides with Sun and not Jin? The writers were playing on preconceptions that are so ingrained in our society.

The story was setup so that, in a marriage from a patriarchal society the wife was the bad one, because in our post-feminist society we’re so used to the opposite story. Think of how boring it would have been if the entire story was Sun trying to get herself out from under her oppressive husband. Zzz, seen it before. Go read a Maureen Dowd column. The problem is that people, most notably “Jaters,” still see the story this way (and other characters and their stories too). Look, Sun is awesome now. It was badass when she bought her Dad out and I can’t wait to see her take on Jack. But don’t you see how her buying her Dad out was her making up for what she did to Jin? If he is still somehow alive, he won’t have to live as a mobster anymore. He can simply be her husband. If she had simply stood up to her father before, Jin probably could have been simply that much earlier. Sure, they may have been poor, but they would have been happier. The contrast is Penny and Desmond. Penny didn’t care what her father wanted. She wanted Desmond. Not coincidentally, Desmond was the “coward” in that relationship. It’s unfair (to the writers, to the actors, to anyone involved in the production, to the characters, to the story) to continue to harp on these preconceptions and ignore the events on screen. Still, though “Jaters” are a rare stunted breed, their shortcomings should not give a shortcoming to their opposition, “Skaters,” who I have inadvertently become a part of.

The most common description of “Skaters” seems to deal with the “snark” and “wit,” and it is that positive that often becomes a paradoxical negative. The simple fact is that “Skaters” are as obsessed with “Jaters” as “Jaters” are with the, I understand it to a certain degree. Having been on the short end of the stick in relevance to the political ramifications of the split, I like to know what the people who mistreated me are up to. I also like to scout the enemy. As a New England Patriots fan, sometimes it’s interesting to see what Indianapolis Colts fans are saying, but there becomes a point where it becomes redundant. “Ok, they hate the Pats, think Brady is overrated, and call them cheaters. Got it.” I figured out why they were saying, check in to see if anything new is going on, and move on. If there’s one thing I learned from ESPN’s coverage of Spygate (the Patriots “cheating” scandal) it’s that people love rally calls. They repeat mantras over and over again as if repetition equals truth, mantras such as “Jate is fate.” “Skaters” love to see that “Jaters” are being repetitious, point out that they’re being repetitious, and mock them for being repetitious. Yup, it makes them repetitious too. “Wit” is only witty if it’s original and immediate. If you repeat it, it becomes trite and unoriginal, and as House tells us, triteness kicks us in the nads.

“Skaters” aren’t immune from seeing the show differently than it actually is either. Whereas “Jaters” say “Skaters” are watching “Imaginary LOST,” “Skaters” say “Jaters” are watching LOST on the “batshit channel.” Likewise, they tend to sidestep or ignore their own misunderstandings of the show. Recently, a “Jater” named “lulinha_k” on fanforum posted a list of things she believes “Skaters” have been wrong about. “Skaters” mocked this post completed, ignoring it as completely invalid. The list does hold some merit:

“- Kate loathes Jack in the FF. Jack is crazy, they dont have to go back;
- Kate is living happy in her house with Sawyer/Frimples;
- Kate IS pregnant (ZOMG because they showed us that Sawyer can have kids in EMFH and that pregnancy scare for Kate in I DO and what´s the point of showing us all of this if not to hint that Kate IS preganant I´m 100% sure she is pregnant ZOMG)
- Kate doesnt care about Jack because she is gonna have sex with Sawyer again this season even after Jack´s "Because I love you".;
- Jacks "Because I love you" was the kind of brother/sister love and we are going to see Juliet becoming the love of Jack´s life;
- We will have some great epic skate reunion ("I´m survivin", "SAYID!", "They tried to kill you? great, gimme the baby");
- Kate´s invatation in Eggtown was a "friendly" invite;
- Kate is attached to Aaron in the future because Sawyer gave her the baby and asked her to take care of him;
- It´s OBVIOUS that Jack and Kate were NOT in a romantic elationship pre-TTLG FF;
- Jack and Kate will NEVER EVER GET TOGETHER. NEVER. N-E-V-E-R. TPTB gave up on Jate back in season 2.”

The poster is right, Kate wasn’t happy in New Otherton, she wasn’t pregnant, she didn’t have sex with Sawyer again (yet), she didn’t reunite with Sawyer (yet), Sawyer didn’t ask her to take care of Aaron, and Jack and Kate did get together (in one episode). “Skaters” would never admit they were wrong on so many things, and that lack of admittance is their fault that mirrors the “Jaters” inability to see based their preconceptions. “Skaters” push on, making predictions and statements that make no sense as long as it makes them feel personally good about where their favorite couple will end up and how their liking of them fits into their personal world view.

The new trendy “Skater” prediction is that Sawyer and Juliet will never happen. Sawyer has already had enough meaningless sex in his life, they say. It would make Juliet a joke to have her be the other woman again, they say. Their statements about Sawyer are a complete contradiction of how they viewed Kate being with Jack in the flash forwards. Three years had passed, they said. She couldn’t be expected to be alone forever, they said. They seem to be forgetting that Sawyer and Juliet saw the freighter explode. They believe Jack and Kate are dead. How come Sawyer isn’t allowed to move on with his life in this instance? Likewise, their statements about Juliet show a complete misunderstanding of her character. In every one of her relationships (that we’ve been shown), she was the other woman. It would make sense if she was the other woman again. Regardless of that fact, if Sawyer believes Kate is truly dead, then Juliet wouldn’t be the other woman. Well, unless you’re only allowed to love once in life, or be in a relationship if you’re in love, in which case, I’m glad I’m picky.

Perhaps most disturbing about “shipper” culture is a talent the two groups share: an affinity for using basic graphical and internet technology to adopt and chop screencaps. The most immediate things they love doing with screencaps is making long “photo essays.” These essays consist of a large amount of screencaps one after the other with lines of “analysis” following each one. They most frequently feature split second facial expressions that members of either group use to determine exactly what the character is feeling and then apply to the relationships at large. If I had known that complex feelings and thoughts could be determined so quickly, I would have been paying much closer attention to the facial expressions to people around me. I guess I’ll have to start. These screencaps then become “evidence” of the supremacy of each “ship,” and the scene becomes unforgettable.

After the facial expressions, screencaps then become a tool for fanart. The groups make banners, avatars, youtube videos, drawings, and other pieces of art that feature their favorite pairing. Most recently, “Jaters” have really used their talents here to irk “Skaters” by taking scenes with Sawyer and Kate, removing Sawyer, and inserting Jack. That level of skill can only be reached if the person has a certain level of creepy as well. These pieces of arts are then shared within the group, who then appropriate it for whatever purpose they want. Most frequently, the banners are used as signatures in forums (the avatars are likewise used), often as an underhanded way to taunt the opposite coalition. Some posters even spend their time making fan fiction, original stories using the characters. Sometimes I wonder what these people could accomplish if they used some of this time and talent for other things.

“No need to worry it is just another monster.
No need to fear here in the secret show.
No need to worry I am just another monster.
In you, I'll see me, in the secret show.”

The most bothersome thing about “shipping” is how the loyalty of the fan is to the relationship between the two characters and nothing else. I think Sawyer and Kate is the best pairing, but if the story goes another way and it makes sense in that it does justice to the overall story and the characters. I’m even not ashamed to admit that I’ve somehow become a “Skater.” Fishbiscuitland is the only LOST message board I read and post it. I barely read any other sites beyond Lostpedia, and I’m not even registered there to be able to edit it. I just don’t care much what posters at other sites have to say, mainly because I’ve found their thoughts to become redundant and unrevolutionary. It’s why I have this little corner of LOST-cyberspace. Me? I’m no different than you, I just write more.

And yes, I have an avatar and signature at Fishbiscuitland. My avatar is irrelevant to Sawyer or Kate, it is the JML logo. My signature, on the other hand, while just words, is relevant. It is an exchange between executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse in a podcast following the Season 3 episode “I Do”:

Lindelof: "How much clearer could you be about her choice? I mean, who's watching it and going, 'I'm not sure that she picked Sawyer, I think maybe she went with Jack there.' She's had sex with him."
Cuse: "And yet- And yet people actually do, you know, I think certain people maybe just don't value the act of sex as being that important."

You see, the quote isn’t just about Sawyer and Kate, it’s about the ramifications of relevance to their story. If Kate hasn’t made her choice, what does that say about her? If you think she hasn’t made her choice, what does that say about you? If you think she has made her choice, what does that say about you? Too often, “Jaters” and “Skaters” focus on small immediate things, from “Imaginary LOST” to the “batshit channel” to screencaps to fan fictions. The show becomes one dimensional. They’re worried about the choice and not the who or why behind it. Yes, it’s just entertainment, but that doesn’t mean it lacks what makes us human, the questions we ask. Entertainment is strongest when it helps us confront those questions, but you have to let it. Besides, if you take the humanity out of a relationship, you’re just fucking.

And if you disagree with that then:

Shut up, you’re wrong.

Jayemel can be reached at