All the Best Losties 1
King of Pain
“You needed a father figure and I needed a kidney, and that’s what happened. Get over it. And
John, don’t come back. You’re not wanted.” These words are uttered by Anthony Cooper to his
son, John Locke (pictured left) in an episode
of the ABC drama Lost entitled
“Orientation” (October 5 2005). Cooper’s
disturbing rejection of his son correlates
with an anti-patriarchal theme that the show
has projected prominently during its first
four seasons. The narrative’s hyper-
depiction of paternal inefficiency and terrorism eradicates the idealistic archetype of the loving
and stable father, which populated suburban sitcoms during the “golden age” of television.
Instead of perpetuating familial stability and compassion, the patriarchal figures on Lost commit
acts of amorality that induce instability, fear, and other devastating psychological repercussions
towards their children.
Political philosophers theorize that the familial unit serves a metaphor for the state. Lost
premiered on September 22, 2004, almost exactly three years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A
large majority of the American populous displayed feelings of volatility, trepidation, and despair
towards the reigning Bush administration. In 2005, director Jack Bender1 stated that Lost was the
right show at the right time because it “speaks to those issues” that we’re dealing with in a
post-9/11 world, “which means it’s right on the pulse of people’s concerns and desires.” Some of
Jack Bender is a recurring director for Lost. He has also directed episodes of The Sopranos, Felicity, Northern
Exposure, along with various other television series.
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those concerns have to do with the people we find ourselves living and working amongst (Wood,
The writers of Lost present the show with a highly self-conscious narrative that elicits a
closed-reading interpretation of the show’s text. Active viewers invest themselves in interpreting
the significance of a character’s motivations and minute details such as intertextual references.
By using the text of Lost as a facilitator, I believe that the narrative’s adherence to paternal
inefficiency and terrorism is a metaphor for a nation’s disillusionment towards their governing
“fathers.” Furthermore, the narrative is also a reflection on the disintegration of moral authority
that occurs because of paternal inefficiency and terrorism.
Flashback: From Suburbia to Disturbia
Throughout the course of six decades, the depiction of the father has de-evolved from the
romanticized perfection of the suburban sitcom dad to the “idiotic” and “amoral” dads that are
pervasive in television narratives today. In his book The Fifties, David Halberstam (1993)
discusses the portrayal of fathers as seen in 1950’s sitcoms such as Father Knows Best and The
Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. He states:
Dads were good. There worse sin was that they did not know their way around the house and
could not find common household objects or that they were prone to give lectures about how
much tougher things had been when they were boys. The dads were above all, steady and
steadfast. They symbolized a secure world (p. 509).
The depiction of the suburban sitcom dad bears a resemblance to the conservative strict father
model that author George Lakoff describes in his essay “Metaphor, Morality, and Politics, Or
Why Conservatives Have Left Liberals in the Dust.”
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[The father] is morally strong, self-disciplined, frugal temperate, and restrained. He sets an
example by holding himself to high standards. He insists on his moral authority, commands
obedience, and when he does not get it, metes out retribution as fairly and justly as he knows
how. It is his job to protect and support his family, and he believes that safety comes out of
strength (1995, para. 48).
The suburban sitcom dad is depicted as an idealistic model of stability and love. From the
1950’s through the early part of the 1970’s, television fathers such as John Anderson (Father
Knows Best), Ward Cleaver (Leave it To Beaver, pictured right), and
Mike Brady (The Brady Bunch) exemplified the paternal figure and
loving husband that preserved the familial unit. Widowers such as
Sheriff Andy Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show) and Steven Douglas
(My Three Sons) also became prominent depictions of the idealistic
In the 1970’s, the idyllic model of the father was displaced by grittier representations of
paternal figures. Archie Bunker (All in the Family, pictured left) was a
cantankerous bigot who constantly spewed politically incorrect rhetoric. He
constantly engaged in impassioned arguments with his son-in-law who he
referred to as a “meat-head.” In addition, Archie was not a well-educated individual who
struggled to provide financial security for his family. Similarly, Fred Sanford (Sanford and Son)
lived in Watts, an impoverished area of Los Angeles. Fred was a widower who ran an antique
and junk store with his son Lamont. Sanford was a belligerent schemer who constantly belittled
Lamont’s intelligence. Conversely, the character of James Evans Sr. on Good Times
represented a strong patriarchal presence despite the family’s financial insecurity. However,
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James character met with a tragic demise midway through the series that deprived the Evans
family of a paternal guide.
Even more interesting, Happy Days, which took place from the 1950’s through the early
1960’s, contained one of the most loving and secure fathers in the form of Howard Cunningham.
Happy Days, which debuted three years after All in the Family, accentuated the notion that the
idealistic suburban dad was more comfortable in existing in 1950’s suburbia than in the
turbulent urban televerse of the 1970’s.
As the 1970’s were approaching a close, the sitcom Different Strokes utilized a collision
of classes as the basis for a unique paternal dynamic. Wealthy widower Phil Drummond who
resided is New York’s posh Park Avenue adopted two impoverished African-American boys,
Willis and Arnold Jackson from Harlem. Despite the difference in class structure, Drummond’s
paternal construct and the morality he propagated was that of the suburban sitcom dad
In the 1980’s, Bill Cosby (pictured right) reintroduced the nuclear family
to television audience in 1984’s The Cosby Show. However, one major
difference is that the wives were now in the workforce and contributed to the
financial preservation of the household. Along with Cliff Huxtable, fathers
such as Jason Seaver (Growing Pains), Steven Keaton (Family Ties), and Carl
Winslow (Family Matters) reintroduced the empathetic and secure paternal figure as part of a
restoration of the family sitcom.
However, the “idiot dad” soon displaces the compassionate and stable father. The “idiot
dads” essentially serve as punch lines for the audience. “Idiot dads” can range from miserable
dads in dead-end occupations (Al Bundy, Married with Children, pictured left) to clownish
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breadwinners who possess incompetent parenting skills such as Ray Barone (Everybody Loves
Raymond) and Homer Simpson (The Simpsons). The hyper-ineptitude of these paternal figures
ridicules the idealistic paternal model presented during the golden age of television and the
rebooted family sitcoms of the 1980’s. In her essay, “From Wise to Foolish: The Portrayal of the
Sitcom Father, 1950’s-1990’s,” Erica Scharrer describes her theory for the emergence of the
“idiot dad.” She explains:
The all-knowing, wise sitcom father of the past is theorized to have enjoyed a position above
humorous criticism due to his economically crucial role to the sitcom family. That portrayal
is hypothesized to have given way to a modern scenario in which the sitcom father is the
target of a growing number of jokes and is portrayed in situations that make him look
increasingly foolish (p. 23).
With few exceptions such as Al Bundy (pictured left), most “idiot dads”
are married to working women who have a fundamental role in maintaining
a household’s economic survival. In the new millennium, the steadfast
suburban sitcom dad is essentially extinct. However, “Idiot dads” such as
Two and a Half Men’s Alan Harper still persevere.
As “idiot dads” continue to pervade sitcoms, television dramas
allowed audiences to embrace the “amoral dad.” Shortly after the debut
of HBO’s The Sopranos in 1999, murderous mob boss Tony Soprano
became an iconic figure of admiration. Despite the fact that Tony
committed numerous amoral acts, including murder, he is still a loving
father to his children. Loving dads who engage in moral relativism such
as Vic Mackey (The Shield, pictured right), Bill Hendrickson (Big Love)
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and Jack Bauer (24) are written with tremendous complexity to garner sympathy from their
audience. However, could these moral relativistic characters be a facilitator for the decline of
morality in our country?
Many of the paternal figures on Lost are modeled to some extent after the “idiot dad” or the
“amoral dad,” and sometimes both. However, the comedic elements of the “idiot dad” are
displaced to tragic or blatant paternal inefficiency. Unlike amoral dads Tony Soprano and Vic
Mackey, the unscrupulous fathers on Lost do not profess love for their children. Instead, they
engage in acts of paternal terrorism. The fathers depicted on Lost exemplify a susceptible
environment. Many of the fathers are amoral, lack self-discipline, and possess a volatile
temperament. Through acts of abandonment, violence, psychological torment, and deceit, the
fathers on Lost are exemplars of failure who induce distrust, fear, and vengeance from their
children. Consequently, the children evolve into moral relativists, who find themselves displaced
from society. In the following two sections, I will explore the detrimental effects of paternal
inefficiency and paternal terrorism on its victims: the children.
The Kids Are Not Alright
In the episode “Greatest Hits” (May 16 2007), Charlie Pace documents the five fondest
memories of his life. One of his recollections centers on the day that Charlie’s dad, Simon Pace,
taught him how to swim. Ironically, Charlie drowns in a
subsequent episode. Even though Charlie (pictured right)
sacrificed himself to save his friends, his death by
drowning illustrates that even a father’s most valiant
attempts to ensure a secure world for his son can be futile.
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Sadly, the ineffectual efforts of Simon Pace are allegorical to the inefficiency of the U.S.
government to prevent the September 11th attacks. The U.S. government possesses powerful
military and other protective agencies to ensure the well-being of its citizens. However, these
resources were still not efficient enough to have prevented the murder of the nearly 3,000 people
on September 11th. In addition to a deterioration of faith in our governmental “fathers,”
Christians began to question God, to whom many consider the divine father, as to why such a
horrific event could occur. In essence, Simon Pace’s fruitless efforts resonate with America’s
disenchantment with their fathers, whether their familial, governmental, or spiritual.
Child abandonment plays a prominent role within the theme of paternal inefficiency.
Claire Littleton (pictured below), Hugo “Hurley” Reyes, and John Locke were all abandoned by
their biological fathers. As a result, these characters struggled to exist
in non-secure surroundings. In the episode “Abandoned” (November 9
2005), the character of Shannon Rutherford experiences another form
of abandonment after her father dies. At the reading of his will,
Shannon learns that he did not provide her with any form of financial
support in the event of his death. Thus, Shannon’s father forsakes her of a secure future.
Similarly, many Americans felt discarded by their own government in a post-9/11
environment. The government became accountable for a devastating economy that especially
affected the middle-class and further impoverished the destitute. Countless individuals
encountered unemployment, the deprivation of adequate health insurance, and a future deprived
of security. These individuals felt abandoned by their president who failed to provide them with
a secure world. Shannon, along with Claire, Hurley, and John ultimately found themselves
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struggling to locate proper guidance in their lives while in the real world, America was
searching for a leader to grant them a sense of their own security.
Houses of the Unholy
The 9/11 terrorists’ attacks initiated a climate of foreboding amongst the citizens of the
United States. Many American citizens blamed the ineffectuality of the government for the
prevalent threat of international and domestic terrorism that created a non-secure national
environment. On Lost, many of the fathers engage in paternal terrorism, which constructs an
atmosphere of fear and distrust towards their offspring. Paternal terrorism shares the “close to
home” attributes of domestic terrorism.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines domestic terrorism as the unlawful use, or
threatened use, of violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the
United States (or its territories) without foreign direction, committed against persons or property
to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in
furtherance of political or social objectives (http://www.terrorismfiles.org).
Paternal terrorism refers to the unlawful use of psychological torment and/or violence by a
paternal figure committed against members of the spouse, children, and other members of the
familial unit in to further dysfunctional social objectives(such as displacement of self-hatred,
satisfy amoral desires). Paternal terrorists eliminate the preservation of a secure world created by
the protective fathers in suburban sitcoms.
On Lost, paternal terrorism can be literally bloodless and solely psychological. For
instance, in the episode “White Rabbit” (October 20, 2004), Jack Shepard’s father, Christian,
told him that he did not have “what it takes” to be a doctor. Christian is portrayed as an abusive
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alcoholic who constantly berates Jack (pictured left). In the episode,
“All the Best Cowboys have Daddy Issues” (December 8, 2004), Jack
retaliates by refusing to conceal a lie that results in Christian losing his
medical license. After being disgraced, Christian abandons his family.
Lost depicts paternal terrorism as a detrimental horror that produces violent tendencies
within its recipients. In “Maternity Leave” (March 1 2006), John presents The Brothers
Karamazov for Ben to read. The patricidal them of the book foreshadows the retaliation of
paternal terrorism contained within the Lost narrative. For instance, John Locke’s father,
Anthony Cooper, was a con artist who plagued his son’s life with tragedy. In addition to
swindling a kidney from his son, Cooper also pushed John out of an eight-story window, which
resulted in the latter,’s paralysis. James “Sawyer” Ford’s father killed his mother and committed
suicide after being the victim of a con orchestrated by Cooper. John used Sawyer’s vengeance to
manipulate him into killing Cooper.
Kate Austen and Benjamin Linus are two other examples of characters who engage in
extreme acts of amorality and retribution to combat paternal terrorism. In “What Kate Did”
(November 30 2005), Kate (pictured left)
ignites an explosion in the family home that
kills her father, who she assumed was her
stepfather at the time, to protect her mother
from his alcohol-induced mental and physical
abuse. Additionally, Wayne terrorized Kate
through various forms of sexual harassment including attempts at molestation. Kate’s literal
obliteration of Wayne and her house symbolizes the annihilation of the father and the home as
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protective entities for their children. Unlike the sanctity of the Nelson household, Kate’s
environment was engulfed in abuse, insecurity, and anxiety. Furthermore, Kate resorts to
terroristic actions to alleviate the threat of paternal terrorism. This graphic illustration is
reflective of the war on terror that was commenced by George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks.
The Bush Administration endorsed violent retaliation against those individuals and political
groups who engaged in terrorist activities.
Benjamin Linus’ war on paternal terrorism produces multiple casualties in “The Man
Behind the Curtain” (May 9 2007). Ever since his wife died giving birth to Ben, Roger Linus
held his son accountable for her tragic death. Roger
(pictured left with Ben sitting in the foreground), who
also abused alcohol, engaged in paternal terrorism to
displace his self-hatred, which manifested from the death
of his wife and a lowly job as a custodian for an enigmatic organization called The Dharma
Initiative. After years of abuse, neglect, which included forgotten birthdays, Ben’s resentment
motivates him to kill his father and become a willing participant in the massacre of The Dharma
Initiative orchestrated by a hostile society.
In addition, Ben’s involvement in the annihilation of The Dharma Initiative is also an act of
destruction against the social order. Roger joined The Dharma Initiative under the assumption
that he was going to maintain a position of prominence. Instead, he was given a menial job as a
custodian, which further initiated Roger’s cruelty and disregard. By assisting in murdering
members of The Dharma Initiative, Ben destroyed the system that played a vital role in fueling
Roger’s paternal terrorism.
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These disturbing moments illustrate the various dimensions of terrorism. Whether the
terrorism is international (9/11) or domestic (1995’s Oklahoma bombing), or paternal, innocent
people are susceptible to become casualties of an individual or group’s violent and self-serving
agenda. Ben combined patricidal intentions with the political goals of a hostile society to
annihilate not only his father, but also casualties within a social order.
Where Do the Children Go?
In conclusion, the text of Lost elicits multi-faceted discourses on the social dynamics
between fathers and their children. The show’s propagation of paternal inefficiency and terrorism
is a startling commentary on the desecration of sanctuary and morality in today’s society.
Children of the 1950’s sitcoms willingly adopted their moral codes from the sense of constancy
and love that their fathers presented to them. However, television’s de-evolution of the father has
perpetrated the continued and seemingly accepted existence of the “idiot” and “amoral” father
figures contained in narratives. Lost characters such as Charlie Pace and Shannon Rutherford
suffered because of their father’s inefficiency, while John Locke, Kate Austen, and Benjamin
Linus evolved into moral relativists because of unloving, authoritarian, and unscrupulous fathers
In the post-9/11 environment, many Americans looked at the Bush Administration as an
ineffectual entity that appeared apathetic, autocratic, and amoral. In her article, “Values and
Morals in American Society: The 1950’s Vs. today,” Lonette Harrell (2007) stated “a cultural
values survey of 2,000 American adults, given by the Culture and Media Institute, found that 74
percent of all Americans believe that our nation is in a moral decline” (2007, para.1). The text of
Lost therefore becomes an allegorical caveat. Without an effectual father to provide safety, love,
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and morality, their children are doomed to become lost in a world of danger, apathy, and
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