By Leslie Dale Feldman
The connection of science fiction to political themes may seem current (i.e., Lost) but it has antecedents in classic television of the 1950s and 1960s, including in the classic television show the Twilight Zone in which space aliens try to enslave people to use them as ingredients in soup and where the nuclear threat of the Cold War forced the people of Earth to board spaceships to other planets. The television series Lost began when the head of ABC wanted a story based on a combination of the movie Cast Away, The Lord of the Flies and Gilligan’s Island. Oddly enough, there was an ABC show in 1969 called The New People the first episode of which was written by Rod Serling, the creator of The Twilight Zone, about college students who were stranded on an island after a plane crash.
In my book, Spaceships and Politics: The Political Theory of Rod Serling, the political themes, ideas and motifs behind the classic show The Twilight Zone are highlighted and fantasy is mixed with politics. While Lost features characters with the names of political philosophers (i.e., Locke, Rousseau, Hume and Burke) Spaceships and Politics attempts to demonstrate the political ideas of such philosophers in the Twilight Zone, especially in the shows written by Rod Serling.
Another connection with Twilight Zone to Lost is Serling’s fascinaton with airplanes, which appear in several of the shows. Serling was trained as a paratrooper in WWII and several of the Twilight Zone shows deal with airplanes including an airplane that is used as a time machine (the Odyssey of Flight 33) a mysterious airplane that disappears (The Arrival) and an Air Force plane crash (King Nine will Not Return). In The Twilight Zone the plane is frequently used as a vehicle to take people to fantasy worlds where identity is in flux.
So, while sci-fi/fantasy mixed with political ideas may seem like a new idea (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica) this connection can be seen in such sci-fi and fantasy classics as Star Trek, Gulliver’s Travels, George Orwell’s 1984 and in the work of Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451, and a Twilight Zone episode called I Sing
the Body Electric—which is from the title of a poem by Walt Whitman about the industrial revolution--in which a man hires a nanny who is a robot) in addition to Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone which used science fiction to highlight political ideas such as dictatorship, freedom and war. So it’s not surprising Rod Serling has a connection to Lost considering they are both of the same genre.
Leslie Dale Feldman is professor of political science at Hofstra University and the author of Spaceships and Politics: The Political Theory of Rod Serling.