I recently re-watched all six seasons of the hit ABC show Lost. During the show’s run, I would read several blogs and message boards to see what theories other fans had about the show. I revisited some of those blogs as I binge watched it last month, and I have to say, there are definitely parallels between the Lost and Duran Duran fan communities!
Before I go any further, if you have never seen Lost and think you might want to someday, stop reading. Massive spoilers ahead!
Lost premiered in the fall of 2004. It’s about a group of people who survive a plane crash on a deserted (or so they think…) island in the Pacific. Each episode of the show focuses on one character, and provides flashbacks into that person’s pre-crash life. As such, Lost developed parallel plot lines: There were adventures on the island as the survivors tried to adapt, and there were back stories for each character (and, as it turned out, many connections among them). In re-watching the show, and then going back and reading various blog and message board entries associated with each episode, I noticed the many similarities with my experience as a Duran Duran fan.
Soap Opera fans vs. Sci-Fi fans/Casual Duranies vs. Hard Core Duranies
At Duran’s shows, you can pretty easily distinguish between the casual fans who look lost (pun intended) during a song like Paper Gods or Before the Rain, and the hard-core fans, who are singing along to every single track, new and old alike. In the Lost fan community, the two main types of fans are not necessarily distinguished by their familiarity with the show as they are with their motivation for watching it. I call one camp the “soap opera” fans and I do not mean this negatively. (I grew up watching Guiding Light well into my teens!). The soap opera fans are invested in the characters and the romance and the back story. They want to know if Kate will fall in love with Jack or Sawyer. (In fact, there is even a subset of fans, split between “Jaters” (people who want to see Jack and Kate together) and “Skaters” (people who root for Kate and Sawyer to fall in love).
The other Lost fans I call the “sci-fi” group. I count myself in this camp. We enjoy the rich storytelling and character development, but are more intrigued by the show’s mythology. What is the island? Who (or what) is the smoke monster? What happened to the Dharma initiative? Why are so many of the characters named for famous philosophers and scientists? These are the questions that preoccupy us.
Duran Duran has to cater to both sets of their fans, although there is certainly a recognition by the band that they need to skew things a bit more toward the casual fan if they want to sell tickets to concerts. Likewise, Lost was first and foremost a character driven show that used elements of sci-fi to develop its mythology. In both fan communities, this caused tension and disagreement.
For us Duranies, much of the tension revolves around the set list. We understand the band needs to sell tickets and cater to casual fans, but do they have to play so many hits? After 14 albums and 35 years, can’t they throw a bone to the hard-core fans and swap out even 1 or 2 songs with rarely played material?
For the sci-fi fans of Lost, we wanted answers more quickly than the show could (or would) provide. And not only that, but we wanted satisfying resolutions to the show’s mysteries, not convenient and lazy writing done after the fact because perhaps the writers wrote themselves into a corner. (The mystery behind the Dharma initiative and pushing the bottom? Satisfactory. Lapidus seeing the dead pilot’s body missing a wedding ring on the news, and thus signing up for the freighter mission? Ridiculous).
It also works the other way: A show or band can be hugely successful when it manages to please its various fan factions. For me, the last two shows I’ve seen—one from the Paper Gods tour and the other from 2012’s AYNIN tour—were both great blends of hits with new material. On Lost, the season four episode “The Constant” represented one of the high points of the series for both sets of fans. In that episode, Desmond’s consciousness travels back and forth through time. His future self essentially guides his past self so that, in the climax of the episode, he is able to finally talk to his fiancé, Penny, via a dramatic phone call on the freighter. Fans had been waiting for over two years to see if Desmond would ever finally connect with Penny, and the show did not disappoint (even if it was only a phone call.)
Of course, the reaction to the show revealed the stark differences in the two fan camps of Lost. While everyone loved the emotional reunion of the two characters, the “soap opera” fans would write things like their “mind was blown” by the premise of the episode (i.e. the time travel). As someone who grew up watching Twilight Zone and Star Trek reruns, I had to laugh at that. Further, Lost’s creative team openly admitted that “The Constant” paid homage to a great Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode, “All Good Things…” which had a similar plot line. “The Constant” was an excellent, classic episode of Lost that delivered on multiple levels. It was many things—but to us “sci-fi” fans—it certainly was not “mind blowing.”
In Lost’s series finale two years later, this chasm between the two fan groups was especially evident. Although it was clearly spelled out by Christian Shepherd (yes, that is his name!) in the final scene that some characters lived a long life after their experience on the island, while some didn’t, many people refused to accept that. They thought the Ajira Airlines jet that Lapidus flies off the island crashed and everyone on it (Kate, Sawyer, et al) died right there, just like Jack did.
I will admit that it didn’t help when ABC decided to stick footage of the wrecked plane on the beach over the closing credits of the series finale. Which leads us to:
Interference from network executives/the record label
We all know how the powers-that-be have influenced Duran Duran’s history. The best example is, of course, Sony telling Duran that they didn’t hear a first single on Reportage, which started a chain of events that led to Andy’s departure and Red Carpet Massacre. On Lost, the show’s creative team begged ABC to give them an end date for the series. Naturally, the network was hesitant. Why would they want to wind down one of their most notable and successful shows? The show’s creators asked for two more seasons; the network made them do three. Some would argue that it was evident that Lost was dragged out longer than it had to be, resulting in some weaker episodes and, of course, a paucity of answers to the show’s questions.
As noted above, the network also made a major blunder at the end of the series finale. After a highly emotional show—in which Jack dies saving the island, and the “sideways” world is revealed to be a purgatory created by all the characters—someone at ABC thought viewers needed some kind of way to decompress. So rather than roll the final credits over a black screen, or even over footage of the island, they used stock footage of the crashed plane on the beach. On the show, the original plane wreckage had washed back into the ocean years before, so some people mistook it as a sign that the newer plane (the Ajira jet) had crashed. Others thought it meant that everyone died in the first episode, and the entire show never happened. Ultimately, the shows creators took to Twitter and made sure fans understood that it was an ABC decision which had no bearing or meaning on the show’s plot.
Nikki and Paulo/Liberty & RCM
We all know there are songs and even albums in the Duran catalogue that are reviled by fans. We probably won’t always unanimously agree on which ones, but generally albums like Liberty, Pop Trash, and RCM tend to not fare well in discussions or polls (just check out Daily Duranie’s recent surveys on songs and albums and see for yourself!). Lost is no different. Season three introduced us to Nikki and Paulo, two survivors who heretofore had never been seen on the show. Fans were annoyed to have two new characters returned into the show’s story, especially two annoying ones.
Luckily, their arc ended satisfactory (both get buried alive, which was met with universal acclaim by the fan community). But it seemed like one of many unnecessary diversions in season three, just as many of us Duranies wonder about some of the decisions the band makes on some albums. Also, just as Nikki and Paulo were not accepted by the Lost fan community, so too were different additions to the Duran lineup over the years met with less than full enthusiasm by some (and we don’t go any further down that rabbit hole today! But you know of what I speak…).
Evolving from the early material
The first run of Lost episodes produced and aired are heavily character driven. Indeed, if you watch roughly the first third of season one, the show’s mythology is in the background. It rears its head with the monster killing the pilot, and of course the revelation that Locke was in a wheelchair and can now walk. But despite this, in general, the show’s focus is on its characters and relationships. Every early Lost episode ends with a song—usually some kind of folk song heard through the perspective of Hurley’s headphones—as the camera pans, in slow-motion, over the beach and survivors. It’s only when Locke and Boone discover the hatch, about eight or nine episodes in, that a deeper mythology about the island’s history begins to emerge. Gradually, episodes stopped ending with feel-good songs and with more dramatic, cliff-hanger events. In fact, if you compared the first third of season one with, say, the season six episodes that occur at the temple, it’s almost like watching a different show.
Of course, Duranies can say the same thing. Comparing Rio to Medazzaland, or Seven and the Ragged Tiger to Red Carpet Massacre, evokes similar feelings. Bands—and shows—evolve over time, sometimes for the better, sometimes not.
Don’t complain about it
Expectations are tough to manage. For a band working on an anticipated album, it can be especially tough. Snippets get leaked online, and comments are made in interviews by the band or producer, and we form our opinion about an album we have never heard! And after a great effort like All You Need is Now—that seemed to undo all the damage done by RCM—what to expect of Paper Gods? Certainly the band’s choice to go in a different direction from AYNIN should not have surprised anyone. But it also doesn’t mean that it’s easy to get used to. I had a tough time with much of the album at first, although now I appreciate its diversity and can’t stop listening.
For Lost, expectations for the series finale were similarly very high. Fans wanted satisfying resolutions to the characters’ story arcs, as well as finally getting answers to questions. In many ways, the Lost finale delivered. Jack became the new “Jacob” and saved the island. Kate, Sawyer, Claire, Richard, Miles, and Lapidus escaped. In other ways, though, season six felt rushed. Several characters were killed off, including Sun and Jin, as the show moved toward the endgame, and in many cases it was frustrating (in Sun and Jin’s case, they had a young daughter living off island who was orphaned…it felt like a loose end that the writers Lost track of). And while many questions about the island were answered, others arose. There were enough unanswered questions that an epilogue featuring Hurley, Ben, Walt, and some Dharma employees was filmed called “The New Man in Charge” and included on the season six DVD set. It did provide some additional answers and closure (in much the same way that many of the bonus tracks on Paper Gods provided a welcome balance to the rest of the album).
Ultimately, like Paper Gods, the Lost finale grew on me. I was very disappointed in many aspects of it when it aired in 2010. But now, watching the entire show from start to finish, I found it much more satisfying. It’s still not perfect, but it is better than I remembered it.
In season five, Lost finally introduces us to Jacob, the mysterious leader of “The Others” who inhabited the island before the Losties crashed on it. In that episode, the Man in Black observes that all who come to the island “fight and destroy” and it “always ends the same.” But Jacob takes a more optimistic view, replying that “it only ends once. Anything before that is just progress.” Sometimes I think that could just easily describe our Duran Duran fandom. We analyze, we argue, we anticipate, we react-every album, every concert. Luckily for us, unlike Lost, it hasn’t ended.