A student-taught course in Tufts' Experimental College explores how the hit ABC show "Lost" became such a cultural phenomenon.
Medford/Somerville, Mass. [03.02.07] ABC's hit drama "Lost," now in its third season, has captivated viewers with the saga of airline crash survivors stranded on a desert island surrounded by mysterious circumstances. But the show commands attention beyond its prime time slot, thanks to a rabid fan base that is using the Internet to broaden the show’s impact. This semester, a Tufts student and a Tufts graduate are co-teaching a unique course that examines the way “Lost” has evolved from a typical fictional series into a cultural phenomenon.
"What we're trying to get at is a bigger picture of the future of media and the intersection between technology and media and the economics of that," Chad Matlin, a senior anthropology major and instructor of the class, told BBC Radio Five Live's "Up All Night."
The course — "The Future is Lost: The TV Series as Cultural Phenomenon" — is taught as part of the Experimental College's Peer Teaching Program, which began in 1966. Ed Kalafarski (A'06) co-teaches the course with Matlin.
Matlin is using the pass/fail course as an opportunity to explore how the show, known for its twisting and turning plot, has become a pop culture phenomenon, as well as how ABC markets and positions the show.
Coursework involves reading articles and studies on television and culture, film screenings and books like "Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter," and students tie the television show to everything from classic literature to Eastern philosophers.
Matlin's interest in teaching the course came from his amazement at the interactive entertainment that "Lost" encouraged. Its devoted fan base has mobilized on the Internet to participate avidly in the program's interactive marketing games and puzzles.
"The fan community around this show has just developed into a tight-knit community in which people help each other figure out the mysteries of the show," Matlin said to BBC Radio. "The Internet is bringing people together to deal with something that is usually referred to as just a hobby, but here it's becoming what people do when they come home from work for three hours at night."
Matlin also told BBC Radio about a scavenger hunt in London where "Lost" fans found pieces of paper hidden around the city and input the codes printed on the papers online to access hidden video clips that divulged secrets about the show.
"What's interesting there again is not the mystery; it's that we are mobilizing people in our reality based on a fictional show," Matlin said. But it's about more than entertainment, says Matlin. Showbiz, after all, is a business.
"The fans of this show are very technically savvy, so what does that mean as far as the demographics of this show, who does ABC try to court economically, who are the advertisements geared towards?" he explained to the BBC. "All these things come into play.”
ExCollege Director Robyn Gittleman told BBC Radio that the Peer Teaching Program is designed to expose students to "many different pedagogies," and the "Lost" class is indicative of that approach.
"We also encourage students to get involved in their own education, and this is another way of giving students the power to actually teach a course of their own liking as well as their own design," she added.
The experience of pitching, designing and running a class, Gittleman explained, is a unique experience for an undergraduate.
"I think it is good mental training," Gittleman told the BBC. "[ Chad] was able to think about all the complexities of this television program and then put together a syllabus that made sense to our board, who then decided that we thought that he could teach this course."
"Entertainment can capture people's imagination, and then we're … using that process and applying it to actually connecting people," Matlin told BBC Radio, a use he calls "very powerful."