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"Lost" and the Emergence of Hypertext Storytelling

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the new-buzzwords-for-hollywood dept.

Television 170

Hugh Pickens writes "The TV series 'Lost' involves a large cast of characters marooned on a tropical island after a plane crash, with episodes that thread lengthy flashbacks of characters' backstories with immediate plots of day-to-day survival and interpersonal relationships, and a larger 'mythos' involving the strange and apparently supernatural (or science-fictional) happenings on the island. Independent scholar Amelia Beamer writes that the series works as an example of a recent cultural creation: that of the hypertext narrative. 'In Lost, the connections between characters form the essential hypertext content, which is emphasized by the structure of flashbacks that give the viewer privileged information about characters,' writes Beamer. 'Paramount are the connections unfolding between characters, ranging from mundane, apparently coincidental meetings in the airport, to more unlikely and in-depth meetings, reaching back through their entire lives and the lives of their families.' Beamer writes that the series also pays tribute to video games, another relatively recent interactive means of storytelling."

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Right. (4, Informative)

julesh (229690) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063316)

Because nobody ever told stories with large amounts of flashback before the advent of hypertext.

Re:Right. (1)

zoomshorts (137587) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063336)

And no one cares. Trust me, no one cares.

Re:Right. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32063350)

i care.

Re:Right. (2, Funny)

JustOK (667959) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063542)

there's an app for that.

Re:Right. (1)

lilomar (1072448) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064592)

iCare

Odyssey (1)

DrYak (748999) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063366)

Indeed. Could cite Odyssey as an example of classical non-linear story telling to your argument.

The fact is that most of the current TV shows tend to be dumbed down idiotic stuff. Only in a few situation, the producers happen to be less coward and green-light something a little bit more intellectual and hope that the eyeballs won't be bored aways from the advertisers to which they attempt to sell them.

Re:Odyssey (2, Informative)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063480)

Umm... I remember reading "Choose Your Own Adventure" books when I was 7. Circa 1987.

Bad exemple - we're speaking about out-of-order (3, Informative)

DrYak (748999) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063708)

Although they are written in a random order to avoid spoiling the plot, while playing "Choose Your Own Adventure" books you still have a story starting with its beginning, finishing with its end, and in between told chronologically. The story happens in-order of the reading order (even if the reading order itself is a little bit complex).

Whereas with Lost, most of what would be an introduction and put into the beginning of the show, is told during the show in flashbacks. What is chronologically the beginning is spread all over the season. In turn what is the first episode happens only later in the story (the crash and following events).

To go back to my classical example, the Odyssey begins telling the end of the story (the gods deciding to let Odysseus go home) and the biggest part of the story is told through flashbacks and characters telling what happened to them before, sometime with several such layers of indirection. (Imagine flashback-in-a-flashback). The begging of the story (War against Troy) is told in a such several-layered indirection somewhere in the middle of the text. This leads to a great complexity in story telling. The story doesn't happen in the same order as one reads the chapters.

Probably other even older epic poem feature similar out-of-order telling. But Odyssey is the oldest I've studied. As the top-parent sarcastically said, it's nothing new and it's not something specific of Lost or of Hypertext. Human mind works in non linear manner, so out-of-order story telling is probably as old as story telling around a fire in some cave.

Re:Bad exemple - we're speaking about out-of-order (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063928)

I kind-of think "Lost" is the dumbed down version. A chance meeting five years ago might have relevance to the current storyline, but you don't find out about the five-year-old chance meeting until you're already in the middle of the story where it's relevant.

And lately, apparently, there's a whole flash-sideways thing going on that so far appears to be impossible to be relevant to anything in the actual story....

Re:Bad exemple - we're speaking about out-of-order (1)

poopdeville (841677) | more than 4 years ago | (#32065502)

Well, some of the actions taken in the last season lead to a time paradox. As a "physical effect", an alternative reality was spawned, and it "should" have a part in correcting the time paradox. (Not that this was explained in the show)

Re:Bad exemple - we're speaking about out-of-order (3, Funny)

nextekcarl (1402899) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064388)

Although they are written in a random order to avoid spoiling the plot, while playing "Choose Your Own Adventure" books you still have a story starting with its beginning, finishing with its end, and in between told chronologically. The story happens in-order of the reading order (even if the reading order itself is a little bit complex)...

That would have been helpful to know before reading them, Dammit! I knew I was doing something wrong. ;^)

Re:Odyssey (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064068)

Do you mean the ones that go: "If you choose to run away from the dragon, turn to page 37; if you choose to fight it, turn to page 2D6 + 37"?

I was never into them, but my brother was - and he'd have been too old by 1987 so they weren't new even then. Did I tell you about this belt, and the onion I used to wear on it...

Re:Odyssey (1)

kobiashi maru (1717276) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064296)

maybe they could have 1st person view TV shows and movies that changed based on what number you pressed on your remote control...

Re:Odyssey (1)

FesterDaFelcher (651853) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064262)

Wow, you sure zinged those cowardly and idiotic producers with that horrible run-on sentence. I'm sure all of Hollywood is scrambling to find out who DrYak is so they can hire them up some gal-dang talent.

Re:Right. (5, Insightful)

julesh (229690) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063386)

I wrote: Because nobody ever told stories with large amounts of flashback before the advent of hypertext.

To emphasise this: what exactly does the author in the article that couldn't be applied to a story that clearly was not influenced by hypertext storytelling because it hadn't been invented, e.g. Joseph Heller's Catch 22: a highly nonlinear story which switches attention between numerous different points in its protagonist's career as the reader needs to learn more about the character's history in order to understand what comes next (or before). What the author describes as "levelling up" is generally called "raising the stakes" by most writers and is a widely used trick to keep readers/viewers interested in a long story. See, for example, Lord of the Rings, where it occurs several times: when Frodo et al reach Rivendell, in Moria, when the Fellowship splits. Allusion is a very widely used technique, and has a very long history in filmmaking. A good example of a pre-hypertext film with a lot of allusion is Blade Runner.

What is perhaps interesting is that Lost has a lot more popular appeal than the examples I quote above, so maybe this type of storytelling is becoming more appealing to the average TV viewer?

Re:Right. (3, Insightful)

houghi (78078) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063624)

What is perhaps interesting is that Lost has a lot more popular appeal than the examples I quote above, so maybe this type of storytelling is becoming more appealing to the average TV viewer?

That would be more thee marketing then the storytelling. If anything it was exactly that storytelling (well the lack of a good story) that put me off Lost. First season was ok. After that it felt just like "how long can we milk this?".

Same happened for me with Heroes. All the flashbacks and jumps are not really an integrated part of the story. They are placed there as an afterthought so they can milk it a bit more.

Re:Right. (4, Insightful)

slim (1652) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063974)

I think you're doing Lost a disservice. Sure, it's not the first to do non-linear storytelling, and the article is daft to suggest it does.

But I think Lost is a fascinating form. An epic story told over the course of 121 hours (OK, ~90 hours + ad breaks), with an overall structure, a proper beginning, middle and end, and a kind of fractal-ness, in that each series also has a story arc, and to some extent so does each episode.

I have trouble thinking of anything else that's achieved this. Other TV series and comics tend to have an open ended structure, so it's beginning followed by endless "middle", and maybe a tacked on "end" when it gets cancelled (e.g. The Sopranos). Things like the X Factor, Prison Break, Heroes tease us with some kind of big potential denouement, but in reality the writers don't know what it is, and will churn out episodes until they're told to wrap it up. Novels are usually much shorter. Even the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy has less plot than Lost.

It's especially not fair to compare Lost with Heroes. Lost's writers claim to have always known how the overall story would work out -- and that appears to be true. With Heroes, it's pretty clear that they make it up as they go along.

Comics *usually* have the same open-endedness that TV series do. I'm sure some comic geek will tell me of a great comic with 200 issues in which the writer clearly knew how it would end, as he was writing the first issue -- but I don't know of one off the top of my head.

Oh, I would say The Shield pulled it off. So Lost is not quite unique.

Re:Right. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32064154)

except in the early days the lost writers admitted they had no real clue where the story was going. they had an idea for an ending, but were making up the middle as they went along and assuming they would eventually be able to tie everything back together. they've since doubled back on that statement and claimed they knew the entire arch the whole time, but frankly i think they're full of shit, and the end to lost is going to be one of the biggest disappointments in television history, with endless loose ends that don't make any sense. quite simply, at this point it would be impossible for an ending to wrap everything up in a way that makes sense. as for shows that actually have planned arcs, the HBO and Showtime series often do, although rarely does it pan out that way. The Sopranos was a series of planned 2 and 3 season arcs, but the success led the creators to cram in extra seasons, and in my opinion it ultimately ruined the show. Carnival was fully planned for three story arcs each three seasons long, but was canceled after two seasons, leaving viewers with nothing. Similar thing happened with Deadwood. One show I can think of that pulled it off successfully was Six Feet Under. The show's entire bible was written before the first season aired, and they stuck to it all the way through, leading to one of the most satisfying and powerful final episodes I've ever seen.

Re:Right. (1)

ooshna (1654125) | more than 4 years ago | (#32065524)

Don't forget to mention Oz and the smelly crap sandwich of a final season it had.

Re:Right. (3, Insightful)

johny42 (1087173) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064252)

I have trouble thinking of anything else that's achieved this.

Babylon 5's Michael Straczynsky also had everything planned from the beginning. And it had quite a lot of plot. And humor.

Except they then told him not to wrap it up, thus the somewhat arbitrary fifth season.

Re:Right. (1)

Upsilonish (1250840) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064382)

He had five seasons of material. The only reason the fifth season is "arbitrary" is because there was a good chance that the show wouldn't be picked up for a fifth season, so the main storyline's conclusion had to be moved to the end of season four.

Re:Right. (1)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064680)

Things like the X Factor, Prison Break, Heroes tease us with some kind of big potential denouement, but in reality the writers don't know what it is, and will churn out episodes until they're told to wrap it up.

They're called "mini-series". See Band of Brothers or Angels in America. Yeah, they may not be as long as Lost, but they have a complete, well-though story.

Re:Right. (1)

slim (1652) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064802)

They're called "mini-series". See Band of Brothers or Angels in America. Yeah, they may not be as long as Lost, but they have a complete, well-though story.

I'd say a miniseries was similar in scope to a novel, and often they're adapted from them. In the UK, for example, Pride and Prejudice or Brideshead Revisited. A novel adapted into 11 TV episodes.

Lost is an example of something more than 6 times longer than that, and with that format comes extra responsibility. If we think of a piece as having fractal layers (e.g. in Lord of the rings: series, book, chapter, paragraph, sentence) -- the longer the piece, the more layers it needs in order that the reader/viewer doesn't lose interest.

You couldn't stretch Band of Brothers out to 6 series just by slowing down the way the story is revealed. It needs mini-closures, and mini-openings, paced to maintain interest.

Re:Right. (1)

Wannabe Code Monkey (638617) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063764)

Catch 22... Lord of the Rings... Blade Runner

I'd just like to add to that list Pulp Fiction and Slaughterhouse Five. Hell all of: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonlinear_(arts) [wikipedia.org]

Re:Right. (3, Insightful)

farlukar (225243) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063388)

Because nobody ever told stories with large amounts of flashback before the advent of hypertext.

But if you tie it to a fancy buzzword, it's all new and exciting!

Re:Right. (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063642)

We all know the basic definition of a hypertext narrative1.

FYI - That's a terrible way to kick off an essay.
But it seems that the gal knows what she's talking about.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypertext_fiction [wikipedia.org]

Re:Right. (1)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063806)

1) tie some popular social phenomena to a fancy buzzword
2) sound really smart to those that are too lame to learn stuff without the aid of a fancy buzzword
3) ???
4) profit

Film at 11 (2, Insightful)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063420)

In other news: current generation also think they invented sex, drugs & rock and roll.

Re:Film at 11 (1)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063756)

Nah, we invented Family Guy and baconaise.

I think our work here is done.

Re:Film at 11 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32063884)

Nah, we invented Family Guy and baconaise.
I think our work here is done.

Am I somehow strange for not knowing what either of those things are?

(yes, I know how to Google, and I did just look them up... wasn't aware of either of them before now though)

Re:Film at 11 (1)

ooshna (1654125) | more than 4 years ago | (#32065548)

If you never heard of family guy you need to turn off the parental controls on your tv.

Re:Metaphor (2, Informative)

b4dc0d3r (1268512) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063888)

Scholarly attribution of cultural shifts often use cotemporal shifts in alternate media to describe anything sufficiently novel that it can be distinguished from the previous generation. People make labels and associations out of stuff in order to categorize and examine and study, and it isn't necessarily a literal equivalence. In this case it is merely the codification of an emerging trend using an easily understandable metaphor borrowed from something most people are at least familiar with.

In other words, this has exceeded the nominal number of flashbacks for a television show, now someone is looking around for a relevant explanation and nomenclature so that people studying this can use a common understanding. "The storytelling works a lot like hypertext" is a metaphor. If it really were hypertext, it would be a choose your own adventure book.

In art, Impressionism started in painting around 1850 or so, named because a critic latched on to the painting "Impression, soleil" by Monet to describe the new style. A similar movement in music happened, probably due to the same need to break accepted rules in order to make more use of the medium. This lagged behind painting by maybe 30 years, and when music appeared they called it Impressionism too. Music had already by that time evolved through Romanticism, which broke the established Classical rules enough that it was distinguishable from the previous generation. Painting did not have that Romantic period so much, since the emphasis was on realism, and Impressionism was the rule-breaking group.

Musical Romanticism had already begun the "impression" style by introducing the tone poem and other works meant to simply evoke and emotion - not to tell a story or be enjoyed intrinsically. This started around 1830 with Mendelssohn and Franck, and Liszt. That was the musical equivalent to artistic Impressionism. The equivalent to musical Impressionism was really more like Cubism.

Re:Metaphor (1)

wjc_25 (1686272) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064760)

This is a good point; the problem is that the hypertext metaphor is a poor one. Academics are fixated on hypertext lately. I remember one Medieval Lit lecture I attended last semester where the speaker compared hypertext to, of all things, the marginalia of Middle English manuscripts. There's this tendency to use hypertext as a stand-in for all the various innovations in information presentation that have occurred over the last couple decades; it's a worn metaphor, and a boring one.

That aside, there's nothing particularly innovative in Lost's storytelling. People's tastes in art are so conservative that people forget that most of these "new" ideas date back decades if not longer. You can look back to the 1960s and the work of Ballard to find novels told in a form far more experimental than any television series has absorbed.

Re:Metaphor (1)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 4 years ago | (#32065480)

That aside, there's nothing particularly innovative in Lost's storytelling. People's tastes in art are so conservative that people forget that most of these "new" ideas date back decades if not longer. You can look back to the 1960s and the work of Ballard to find novels told in a form far more experimental than any television series has absorbed.

Some experimental novels does not equal a TV show watched by 12 million people. Of course a massively popular TV show didn't invent what it was doing. That doesn't change the fact that a rating topper is doing it, which changes everything.

There's a valid objection to calling it 'hypertext', which is just a stupid name. But television has gotten amazingly complex over the last decade or two, especially since producers can start assuming that you've watched every episode of the show, in order.

Seriously, compare the plot of a random House episode with the plot of a random 1980 medical drama. They have to have all sorts of added twists and whatnot.

Hell, compare an episode of I Love Lucy to an average sitcom. Even the modern dumbest sitcom has to provide two plotlines.

With Lost, it was demonstrated that audience will follow convoluted tons of characters and time-travel plots and out-of-order flashbacks and slow multi-season reveals. Even if the audience itself doesn't think this, and has to be tricked into watching at the start.

This is well past, like three times as much, what even the most complicated TV mainstream show did before it. (Yes, yes, I'm sure someone's going to point to some obscure anime that maybe 200,000 people have ever seen. That's not really the same thing.) It's raised the bar of what the television networks think the audience will put up with.

Re:Metaphor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32065322)

The original text assumes that his reader has some background in narrative and comparative literature. I don't know what it's doing here on slashdot.

...Frankly, this thread sounds no different from a bunch of philosophy undergraduates rambling about the meaning of "infinity" in calculus.

Re:Metaphor (1)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | more than 4 years ago | (#32065546)

In other words, this has exceeded the nominal number of flashbacks for a television show, now someone is looking around for a relevant explanation and nomenclature so that people studying this can use a common understanding. "The storytelling works a lot like hypertext" is a metaphor. If it really were hypertext, it would be a choose your own adventure book.

It's not a very good metaphor, as you point out. Hypertext is the equivalent of "see also" at the end of (paper) encyclopedia articles, combined with "see X" in the midst of the article when reference is made to another major topic. The important point here is that one doesn't need to follow those links in order to read the article, just like one doesn't need to click on a linked word in a Wikipedia article.

But the present example in Lost is about narrative, which implicitly requires a continuous forward flow through a story. The story may be told "out of order," but you're supposed to read it through from beginning to end, just like you're supposed to watch Lost episode-by-episode.

If this really were anything like "hypertext," the order wouldn't matter. You could watch the series of Lost flashbacks in the chronological order they actually happened, and you should be able to get as much out of it. But you wouldn't -- because the actual placement of the flashbacks within the narrative creates a specific experience that is predicated on the linear continuation of the series from episode to episode.

Musical Romanticism had already begun the "impression" style by introducing the tone poem and other works meant to simply evoke and emotion - not to tell a story or be enjoyed intrinsically.

I can't believe you're comparing some crap metaphor about a single TV series to a major artistic movement that altered the trajectory of the history of art.

This started around 1830 with Mendelssohn and Franck, and Liszt. That was the musical equivalent to artistic Impressionism. The equivalent to musical Impressionism was really more like Cubism.

Bah. Tone poems and such were actually some of the first purely instrumental works in music history to attempt to represent anything specific, so if anything these composers were actually doing the exact opposite of Impressionism. They were trying to take a type of music (instrumental music) which had previously been considered unable to convey specific meaning (cf. Kant, who compared instrumental music to wallpaper), and trying to give it a shape that explicitly represented something. (There were, of course, some previous attempts -- like Vivaldi's Four Seasons, to give one well-known example -- but the Romantic movement had a greater legacy.)

By the time people like Wagner had built onto the structure of the composers you mention, he believed that he could represent specific ideas and their relationships to each other through instrumental music -- which combined with vocal meaning, staging, etc. to produce a greater artwork.

Another tradition then started cropping up in France relating to the Symbolists and other such movements, and musically that led to greater blurring of meaning, though still an attempt to represent general emotions or qualities. Is it an exact metaphor to "Impressionism" in painting? No. But it's a heck of a lot closer both in the general conception and the historical context than the music you bring up, which was actually trying to go the other way and create more definite meaning and in some instances "to tell a story."

Re:Metaphor (1)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | more than 4 years ago | (#32065592)

Oh, and I forgot to say that your comparison to Cubism seems strange as well. I've heard Cubism compared to various musical trends -- usually free-atonal works of the early 20th century (which often relied on distortions or extreme versions of tonal gestures), and sometimes 12-tone music (which deconstructed the pieces of music and put them back together in a way that allowed a new order -- the tone row -- to be viewed from various perspectives) -- but what we usually think of musical "Impressionism" wasn't very much like Cubism. And of course, there were the composers who were actually influenced by Cubism, but that's a whole other story. (They certainly wouldn't be called "Impressionist.")

Re:Right. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32064168)

"Sound and the Fury" by Faulkner was written in 1998.

Re:Right. (1)

nospam007 (722110) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064290)

It also has flashforwards, flashsideways and jumpbackwards and jumpforwards.

Re:Right. (2, Informative)

Tony Stark (1391845) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064328)

How about Rashomon? Viewers will actually put together several different equally plausible results for the same scenario, based on flashbacks from each of the different characters. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rashomon_(film) [wikipedia.org]

Re:Right. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32064468)

Exactly what I was going to say. I'm fucking irritated by this nonsense posted to Slashdot everyday.

Not New, But, Still (1)

WED Fan (911325) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063352)

This so-called hyptertext story telling isn't new. A number of authors have used flashback, story-in-story etc. for ages. There were a number of 40's and 50's war films that used the technique. However, I think that its use on TV in a maxi (as opposed to mini) series, is innovative.

That said, I'm hoping that it doesn't become the defacto method of story telling for television. It can be over done.

Re:Not New, But, Still (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32063852)

You really didn't just say maxi just now, right? Please tell me I'm imagining that?

I'd rather attribute it to poor writing... (5, Insightful)

carlhaagen (1021273) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063354)

...and problems holding on to the "red thread", not really knowing what direction to go with it all. The writing started showing escalating signs of "crackelation" and inconsistency somewhere in the middle of the 3rd season - and by this I don't mean the "hypertext narrative" that was obvious already from the first few episodes. I tried to watch the current season recently, and I was truly more lost than ever.

Re:I'd rather attribute it to poor writing... (1)

WED Fan (911325) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063428)

I tried to watch the current season recently, and I was truly more lost than ever.

I'm going to assume, then, because of how you phrased your post, that you have not been watching everything.

My wife is a bit confused with this last season. I am not. But, there is a difference and I think its because I pay attention to the story, the characters, and the sources (presumed sources) of the writers. I read "Lostpedia" in between episodes. I understand that the characters are changing and how they are changing. I developed a really bad 30/60 minute attention span in the 90's and decided to get back to heavy reading. "Lost" is TV for readers.

I'd like to see maxi-series on TV. A maxi-series is a TV series that will last for more than 1 season and have a definitive end point, where the episodes are less episodic and more chapters. As a side effect, this would be the only way you could adapt many novels to visual media. Think of Heinlein, Clancy, Higgins, Dick, Zelazny, and etc. being done as maxi-series.

Re:I'd rather attribute it to poor writing... (1)

carlhaagen (1021273) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063470)

I have actually followed the entire series up until the current season. I have no attention span deficit, I am not an impatient watcher, I am not hard to entertain etc. Lost is on many levels very simple entertainment. Compare it to anything from eastern or southern Europe, f.e.. I maintain that it's a dead story they've been trying to keep alive longer than should be allowed, resulting in problems of escalating "loose ends" from early on.

Re:I'd rather attribute it to poor writing... (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063608)

I haven't watched the whole series, but the fact that they are still introducing new characters in the last 12 episodes screams of sloppiness (to me anyway).

Re:I'd rather attribute it to poor writing... (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063770)

the fact that they are still introducing new characters in the last 12 episodes screams of sloppiness

That seems pretty real to me. In the last page of your life, you'll probably have a few new characters like nurses, doctors, etc. A story that has no new characters in the last season seems too well crafted; plastic.

Re:I'd rather attribute it to poor writing... (2, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064060)

They haven't made any effort to constrain their point of view. God mode is on. So god should know what those people were up to the rest of the time. If they are introduced at the end in order to resolve the story, it smacks of hand of god.

(I suppose they might be drawing some very careful lines about what characters they show, but my viewing doesn't make it seem like that is the case)

Re:I'd rather attribute it to poor writing... (2, Interesting)

IamTheRealMike (537420) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063484)

I don't think Lost would be possible to follow at all without the Lostpedia. I do the same thing as you - watch the episodes then go back and read the Lostpedia entries to figure out what I missed (there's always something). Understanding everything in Lost requires you to store an incredibly complicated story with dozens of characters (or are we up to hundreds by now?) over a period of around 6 years and minimal if any helpful repetitions of what happened previously. The fact that the story requires a fricking encylopedia tells you what sort of show Lost is.

That said, I've watched every episode and can't wait for the last few. I'll miss it when it's gone. Truly, the writers are unusual in knowing how to build an engaging and dramatic mystery story on a never before seen scale.

BTW isn't Lost a "maxi series" by your definition? They've known when and how they'd end it since around the start of season 2 I think. It's almost always had a definite end point.

Re:I'd rather attribute it to poor writing... (1)

Mashiki (184564) | more than 4 years ago | (#32065258)

Using external site references in order to "fill in the blanks" doesn't make a good show, it does however make up for a poor narrative. Flashbacks within a story aren't difficult to write, the problem only happens when you base an entire show on it.

Re:I'd rather attribute it to poor writing... (1)

biryokumaru (822262) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063552)

A maxi-series is a TV series that will last for more than 1 season and have a definitive end point.

I know this is a terrible thing to say, but you may find that you'd enjoy Anime. Anime typically has a consistent, overarching storyline. A lot of it really is trash, like most TV, so watch out. Try Samurai Champloo [wikipedia.org] or FLCL [wikipedia.org] for good starters. Cowboy Bebop [wikipedia.org] is also quite good, but shows its age.

Re:I'd rather attribute it to poor writing... (1)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064720)

Cowboy Bebop won me with its opening music.

Re:I'd rather attribute it to poor writing... (1)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 4 years ago | (#32065650)

As I mentioned above, anime's been doing this sort of thing for a while. As have video games, aka, Planescape: Torment.

But there's a very large difference between an imported TV show that maybe a hundred thousand Americans see vs. a show with ratings of 12 million. The later demonstrates that this sort of thing can be popular outside of small genres with dedicated fans.

Lost is the 'format definer' for a new generation of shows.

Not the inventor, possibly not the best already, and certainly not the best forever, but it's going to be to this format like 'Star Trek' was to 'space opera'. I don't know what the format will be called ...'revelation shows'?

It is, in a sense, an ontological mystery, 'how did we get here?' but a generalized one rather than the more specific 'locked in a room' one. 'How did we get to this point in our lives that this is happening to us?'

At times, Lost played with the idea that perhaps it was a straight ontological mystery, perhaps they were in another universe or something, but in the end it turns out they did know how they got to the island...they crashed there. The island may be something else too, but it is also an actual place you can arrive at and leave, and they did actually arrive there via their actual plane crashing into it, and some of them really did leave there via helicopter/boat.

Re:I'd rather attribute it to poor writing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32063818)

I'd like to see maxi-series on TV. A maxi-series is a TV series that will last for more than 1 season and have a definitive end point, where the episodes are less episodic and more chapters.

That would be *so* cool to watch on an iPad! Except for the menstrual cramps...

I wonder what she means (5, Insightful)

carlhaagen (1021273) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063382)

'Coz it seems as if she can't, or refuses to look backwards in history - the "flashback" occurance in story-telling is older than the pen and paper. Is she really implying that this is something new that popped up after the web? :D To me, her writing appears to be just vacuous bollox in fancy phrasing making it appear bigger than it is.

What might be new is... (2, Insightful)

SadielCuentas (1253300) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063422)

As said above, this is not new at all. What might be new is:

1) Interpreting flashbacks as Hypertext
2) Doing that^^^ to get attention

It's called "Lost" because they Lost the ending (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32063426)

What a load or rubbish, this sounds like a one of those "fad" lines of thought emerging due to ignorance of what exists in the past. The old becomes new again.

Watchmen (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063436)

Watchmen is a perfect example of this, written in 1986. As someone else mentioned, the practice of excessive flashbacks showing character interactions over time (and related side stories) dates back to ancient Greece.

Re:Watchmen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32063462)

So the Greeks invented the internet as well. That dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding was right again.

Do not want (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32063442)

I'm actually, as they put it, a fan of the series but I strongly disagree that this "hypertext" narrative based on flashbacks and other similar constructs brings any value to the story. I mean, whenever the episode was dedicated to a flashback or the insight on a character... Well, it sucked to high heavens. To me, the flashback abuse and the over-reliance on episodes dedicated to carve a profile on a character or even to sum what the hell was going on seemed as clear signals the writers didn't knew what they were doing and were scrambling to fill the gaps they left in the story. I mean, they had a great story to tell (the island and all the mysteries, natural and man-made, associated with it) but they opted to waste time showing how Jack had a bad relationship with his father. That sort of stuff constituted a major anticlimax.

The angle on the multiple mysteries popping around was, on the other hand, quite appealing. That's exactly what made the show great. We had a cast of downtrodden people who found themselves on the lowest points of their lives facing multiple unexplainable dangers on a strange, foreign land that they knew nothing about. That's what made the entire series interesting. The rest was just poorly tailored cruft that was only used to filibuster the story-telling while the writers managed to figure out what the hell were they doing. And the consequence of that is that in the final season they are scrambling to explain some crap they added to the story as some sort of zig-zag and they are sucking at it. I mean, the island is hell and jacob Vs smoke is good Vs evil? WTF?

This is silly. (4, Insightful)

MindlessAutomata (1282944) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063460)

I'm sorry, but this is your typical over-analyzed and pretentious lit crit type nonsense. Tribute to video games... because it heavily foreshadows stuff? "Hypertext?" A heavy focus on characters and their relationships is nothing new, that's done in soap operas even. That was also one of the main focuses of Battlestar Galactica up until the end when suddenly it was just some John Zerzan fantasy instead.

There's no tribute to foreshadowing going on. Sure, while there are a lot of flashbacks in LOST, more than many other shows, but that doesn't mean LOST provides a revolutionary new way of storytelling.

Again, this is all just your standard humanities-inspired blahblahblah affair. Throw a bunch of shit out there, see what the readers buy, and use jargon and hope that enough people buy it that you get credited with created a new concept that is actually only marginally different from other concepts already out there. Give me a fucking break.

Re:This is silly. (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063850)

A heavy focus on characters and their relationships is nothing new, that's done in soap operas even. That was also one of the main focuses of Battlestar Galactica up until the end when suddenly it was just some John Zerzan fantasy instead.

I don't know what Battlestar Galactica you've been watching, but I remember it as a campy Sci-Fi series with evil robots which took their name from the reptile race that built them: the Cylons. ...which turned into an angelic sci-fi fantasy and eventually an even worse Sci-Fi show with a half-angel half human usurping Adama's command. [wikipedia.org]

Re:This is silly. (1)

misexistentialist (1537887) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064390)

It's not particularly interesting to me either, but it's not a terrible attempt at describing the "Lost" if for some reason you found yourself writing an article. The slashdot headline might mislead you into believing she is making some sort of claim that "Lost" is revolutionary, while she is merely using it as an "example." The show's focus on alternate story-lines, genres, meaning, signs, etc. is particularly attractive for lit-crit.

Re:This is silly. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32065330)

Lost is a bad example, but video games and movies/TV have certainly borrowed things back and fourth between one another.

It's not surprising since both games and film are visual media.

The things they borrow tend to be superficial things, like new camera angles and special effects.

Re:This is silly. (1)

eugene ts wong (231154) | more than 4 years ago | (#32065580)

Why does she use the phrase "hypertext storytelling"? Hypertext is something that refers to HTML & HTTP. Is she trying to coin a new phrase?

Oh come on - new? (2, Insightful)

the_other_chewey (1119125) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063492)

New? Seriously? One Thousand and One Nights has stories in stories in stories (in stories, ...), with flashbacks and story-level spanning references and all.
It's roughly a thousand years old.

I don't think... (2, Insightful)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063534)

...hypertext means what you think it means :)

Re:I don't think... (1)

JustOK (667959) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063566)

does it mean this? [slashdot.org]

The novelty of 'Lost' is the *unlabled* flashback (3, Interesting)

Jonathan (5011) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063550)

'Lost' requires the viewers to *infer* what is a flashback, flashforward, or alternative universe. Typically, these things are labeled in other movies or fiction. For example, they'll say "Twenty Years ago..." or in a movie, making the screen go all wavy or something similar. 'Lost' just jumps in and hopes the fans figure it out. About the only earlier example that I can think of is Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five" , which obviously the scriptwriters of 'Lost' have read

Re:The novelty of 'Lost' is the *unlabled* flashba (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32064300)

About the only earlier example that I can think of is Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five" , which obviously the scriptwriters of 'Lost' have read

You aren't very well-read, are you?

Lost airs... still? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32063560)

I remember having stopped watching Lost sometime during the first season (HOW many years ago?), when Michelle Rodriguez' character was killed. I think it was the only character I had liked.

Re:Lost airs... still? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32063674)

That's pretty strange... since she wasn't introduced until the second to last episode of season 1 (in a flashback) and didn't become a significant character until season 2 in which she was killed near the end.

Re:Lost airs... still? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32063834)

It seems you are correct [imdb.com] . Shows how much I liked the show. I can't remember a damned thing about Lost - just something about a white bear creature and Michelle. I must have missed the latter half of season 1 and started near season 2, then tuned out again and caught only the last episodes.

Didn't anyone watch Highlander? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32063562)

That thing was flashback city.

A loss, not a gain (3, Insightful)

pz (113803) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063650)

Independent scholar Amelia Beamer writes that the series works as an example of a recent cultural creation: that of the hypertext narrative.

I disagree. It is the loss of the ability for people to write the narrative form. Hypertext-like writing is a convenient crutch for writers who cannot integrate ideas into the normal flow of their work.
 

Re:A loss, not a gain (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32063876)

I disagree with your disagreement. Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five is written in a fashion somehow similar (way before Lost was produced btw), and even so everything is well integrated and it's a damn good book. Don't take my word for it though, try it yourself.

Re:A loss, not a gain (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32065026)

It's not the author's loss of ability. It's post-modern literature [wikipedia.org] . It is the reader that expects the story to evolve fragmented (whether or not that is a short-cut in explaining the story).

Re:A loss, not a gain (2, Interesting)

eulernet (1132389) | more than 4 years ago | (#32065032)

Hypertext-like writing is a convenient crutch for writers who cannot integrate ideas into the normal flow of their work.

You are right, but not for the reason you thought...

In fact, the recent movies and series are written with story writing software, like Dramatica Pro.
This allows to build complex stories, and most importantly, the story remains consistent even if the writers change !

You might have heard about the Writers Guild of America strike, or strikes before: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Hollywood_strikes [wikipedia.org]

The idea of the studios is to have writers being disposable, or at least they could be changed during the life of the serie. This was impossible 20 years ago.

BTW, using flashbacks in a serie makes it easier to write, since as a writer, you can add whatever you want at any point.

Re:A loss, not a gain (1)

Mashiki (184564) | more than 4 years ago | (#32065282)

In fact, the recent movies and series are written with story writing software, like Dramatica Pro.

Proof right there that 10,000 monkey's still produce shit.

Lost script, plot, and acting direction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32063686)

"The TV series 'Lost' involves a large cast of characters marooned on a tropical island after a plane crash, with episodes that thread lengthy flashbacks of characters' backstories with immediate plots of day-to-day survival and interpersonal relationships, and a larger 'mythos' involving the strange and apparently supernatural (or science-fictional) happenings on the island."

Plus, it's just plain awful.

Re:Lost script, plot, and acting direction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32063962)

Finally, someone else who sees. I watched the first 6 episodes and could barely keep an eye open. I don't even know why I watched episodes 4 to 6 when it was perfectly clear the whole series made no sense after the first three episodes.

An important innovation... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32063718)

... was conveying the true nature of the show in the very first or second episodes.

That has saved a lot of time for me...

(^_^)

Did she ever read Vonnegut ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32063724)

In Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five the main character travels through time the entire story, finding himself living and/or re-living different parts of his life. Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle actually talks about teams of people, called karass, that do God's Will without ever knowing it. Obviously, my statements do terrible injustice to the books, which IMO are a must-read.
In any case, it's damn clear Lost didn't bring anything new. Also, it's damn clear that I found a good reason to bring Vonnegut to the discussion, which makes me happy :)

I wonder if the independent scholar Amelia Beamer reads once in a while or just watches recent TV series. Nowadays one can become a scholar way too easy.

Choose-your-own-adventure (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32063808)

Hypertext storytelling? I thought the article was going to be about a choose-your-own-adventure story using HTML webpages.

Triple unity (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32063886)

It's even worse than that. For a long time stories and books were written like russian dolls a character of the main story would tell another story that would span entire chapters and inside this story another character would then tell another story that would also span entire chapters. So it's nothing new, it went so out of hand that it lead to the adoption by many writers of the triple unity: unity of time, unity of space and unity of plot. A story should all happen in 24 hours at a single place and have only one main A plot. So not only has it been done before but it has been done to such excesses than hundreds of years ago, writers chose to avoid this kind of storytelling technique by adopting some very stringent rules.

TLDR: Writers don't use this kind of storytelling because they're good. They use it to hide that the plot sucks.

Re:Triple unity (1)

Michael_gr (1066324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064206)

That's only relevant in short stories. Novels are different and are always more complex.

Lost Story Telling (2, Interesting)

Xoc-S (645831) | more than 4 years ago | (#32063958)

The best way to describe Lost is in the words of one of its main actors, Terry O'Quinn [wikipedia.org] . He called it The Mysterious Gilligan's Island of Dr. Moreau. (An allusion to The Mysterious Island [wikipedia.org] , Gilligan's Island [wikipedia.org] , and The Island of Dr. Moreau [wikipedia.org] .) Flashbacks and flashforwards in story telling is not new. The Mahabharata [wikipedia.org] and Arabian Nights [wikipedia.org] used it.

Re:Lost Story Telling (1)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 4 years ago | (#32065678)

Arabian Nights did not use flashbacks, you idjit. Arabian Nights used a framing story to tell multiple short stories.

And googling things that other people have mentioned is not actually a useful post, you karma whore. Luckily, no one seems to have fallen for it.

Tough to Top (3, Informative)

adosch (1397357) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064106)

Lost has been probably one of the most influential television shows in the past 10-20 years, easily. Especially with the cult following it's created by its story-telling has been pretty niche so far in this era of TV-movie-saga-shows.

Lost, for me, has equated to reading 'The Hobbit' + 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy as a young kid: Everything from that point on has extreme potential to copy-cat, suck and lose my interest very quickly because there's such strong intention to try and top the topper.

Re:Tough to Top (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32064140)

You need to read more, it had no coherent plot and was cobbled together as each season was renewed.

Re:Tough to Top (1)

mmaniaci (1200061) | more than 4 years ago | (#32065130)

Lost, for me, has equated to reading 'The Hobbit' + 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy as a young kid

That's really, really sad. I can't believe you compare a megabudget corporate TV production to a true work of art.

Everything from that point on has extreme potential to copy-cat

Only a fool would think Lost wasn't already a copy-cat show. All they (the producers/writers of Lost) are trying to do is cash in on the end of the reality show fad that has plagued the US for the past decade or so. They just mashed up Survivor and Real World with the style of 24, Prison Break, and other serial TV shows. I for one am not the least bit impressed.

Re:Tough to Top (1)

poopdeville (841677) | more than 4 years ago | (#32065600)

You also haven't watched the show. Merely being on an island does not turn it into a "reality show". In fact, considering that there have been multiple wars, time travel, the creation of alternative universes, etc, it is much more like a 100 hour long sci-fi action movie. About as far from reality as you can get, and still be (mostly) logically consistent.

Did she not see Pulp Fiction? (1)

Michael_gr (1066324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064268)

Large cast of characters with no single protagonist, non linear storytelling, several parallel story lines which cross in interesting ways - it was all there in Pulp fiction. And it's not like pulp fiction was unique in any of this - multiple storylines exist in almost every Robert Altman film, and non-linear storytelling with flashbacks goes at least as far back as 1941 and Citizen Kane. And that's just in film! In literature these things had been done literally centuries ago.

Take it from a Semiotician... (4, Interesting)

rothstei (1357055) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064422)

My academic work in semiotics pays off; finally, I'm the one with the credentials in a Slashdot thread! Basically: no. A long, winding story with many characters, capable of self-reference, does not qualify as hypertext. Hypertext is the use of the written text itself as an interface for accessing other files of text. The ability to abstract a particular meaningful concept with another (like, say, compare character A to character B) is a factor of human consciousness, not a feature of the narrative. Basically, what Lost does is introduce a wide-variety of (granted, typically unexpected) characters and and narrative elements, and just keep adding them, not always resolving them in the way we're used to. Because of all this excess narrative (read: crap) it's easy enough for a creative audience to make all of these concept abstractions themselves. Takeaway: the technology the narrative (the media, the story, and the concepts) don't enable any "hypertexting", just our good old fashioned human capacity for abstraction.

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night... (3, Funny)

tunapez (1161697) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064478)

There I was reading about a TV show I've never seen, yet know way too much about.

Flash back 4 years ago and there I am stuck in seat B on a runway in Chicago. A and C excitedly talking about the "new season". Imagine my surprise when C asked if we could set the laptop on my table so everybody in our row could enjoy Season 2 on DVD. I finagle the aisle seat out of the deal. GOAL!!!!!!!

Fast forward to last year, and a radio program comes on talking about a TV show, and how they split the fabric of time by triggering a nuclear bomb, while stranded on an island. I recall my four hour flight in the aisle seat and thank my stars we did not crash on a deserted island, carrying nukes.

Fast forward once again to this moment in time, and beyond, and I'm hoping those crazy bastards never get off that island. If they do they'll pollute the others in the chain and eventually kill a tourist in a drunken UTV crash.

/emerging hypertext storyline ©
/bleading edge sarcasm ©

2.5 cents (4, Informative)

AnAdventurer (1548515) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064652)

Lost Jumped the Shark so long ago, I don't think the writers could even keep up and just made up plot devices as they went on, "hypertexting" as they pleased to fit those "devices" in.

I tried watching Lost. (1)

trypanon (1408107) | more than 4 years ago | (#32064842)

I made it about halfway through the first season. Bass player wants his drugs. Pregnant woman is pregnant. Something about a smoke monster. *click*
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