L'Isle de Gilligan

Posts: 427
Joined: Mon Nov 15, 2004 1:00 pm

L'Isle de Gilligan

Post by Hawke »

The following etude appeared in a 1990 issue of "Dissent", a magazine dedicated to modern culture and politics, under the title "How Not to Write for Dissent". It is an entertaining read, but is intended a highly well-read scholarly audience, so some of the humor may be lost. Either way, you should read it. It's fun!

Brian Morton

The hegemonic discourse of postmodernity valorizes

modes of expressive and ``aesthetic'' praxis which preclude

any dialogic articulation (in, of course, the Bakhtinian

sense) of the antinomies of consumer capitalism. But some

emergent forms of discourse inscribed in popular fictions

contain, as a constitutive element, metanarratives wherein

the characteristic tropes of consumer capitalism are sub-

verted even as they are apparently affirmed. A paradigmatic

text in this regard is the television series Gilligan's

Island, whose seventy-two episodes constitute a master-

narrative of imprisonment, escape, and reimprisonment which

eerily encodes a Lacanian construct of compulsive reenact-

ment within a Foucaultian scenario of a panoptic social

order in which resistance to power is merely one of the

forms assumed by power itself. (1)

The ``island'' of the title is a pastoral dystopia, but

a dystopia with a difference-or, rather, a dystopia with a

differance (in, of course, the Derridean sense), for this is

a dystopia characterized by the free play of signifier and

signified. The key figure of ``Gilligan'' enacts a dialect

of absence and presence. In his relations with the Skipper,

the Millionaire, and the Professor, Gilligan is the

repressed, the excluded, the Other: he is the id to the

Skipper's ego, the proletariat to the Millionaire's bour-

geoisie, Caliban to the Professor's Prospero. (2) But the

binarism of this duality is deconstructed by Gilligan's

relations with Ginger the movie star. Here Gilligan himself

is the oppressor: under the male gaze of Gilligan, Ginger

becomes the Feminine-as-Other, the interiorization of a

``self'' that is wholly constituted by the linguistic con-

ventions of phallocratic desire (keeping in mind, of course,

Saussure's langue/parole distinction). That Ginger is iden-

tified as a ``movie star'' even in the technologically bar-

ren confines of the desert island foreshadows Debord's con-

cept of the ``society of the spectacle,'' wherein events and

``individuals'' are reduced to simulacra. (3) Indeed, we

find a stunningly prescient example of what Baudrillard has

called the ``depthlessness'' of America in the apparent

``stupidity'' of Gilligan and, indeed, of the entire series.


The eclipse of linearity effectuated by postmodernity,

then, necessitates a new approach to the creation of modes

of liberatory/expressive praxis. The monologic and repres-

sive dominance of traditional ``texts'' (i.e., books) has

been decentered by a dialogic discourse in which the

``texts'' of popular culture have assumed their rightful

place. This has enormous implications for cultural and

social theory. A journal like Dissent, instead of exploring

the question of whether socialism is really dead, would make

a greater contribution to postmodern discourse by exploring

the question of whether Elvis is really dead. This I hope

to demonstrate in a future study.


1. Gilligan himself represents the transgressive poten-

tialities of the decentered ego. See Georges Thibault,

Jouissance et Jalousie dans L'Isle de Gilligan, unpub-

lished dissertation on file at the Ecole Normale Su-

perieure (St. Cloud).

2. Gilligan's Island may be periodized into an early,

Barthean phase, in which most episodes ended with an

exhibition of Gilliganian jouissance, and a second

phase whose main inspiration is apparently that of

Nietzsche, via Lyotard. The absence of any influence

of Habermas is itself a testimony to the all-

pervasiveness of Habermas's thought.

3. The 1981 television movie Escape from Gilligan's Is-

land represents a reactionary attempt to totalize what

had been theorized in the series as an untotalizable

herteroglossia, a bricolage. The late 1970s influence

of the Kristevan semiotic needs no further comment


4. Why do the early episodes privilege a discourse of

metonymy? And what of the title-Gilligan's Island? In

what sense is the island ``his''? I do not have the

space to pursue these questions here, but I hope to do

so in a forthcoming book.
Posts: 16817
Joined: Sun Oct 31, 2004 1:00 pm

L'Isle de Gilligan

Post by koan »

Truly an exercise in silliness. But fun. He should analyse Leave it to Beaver or the Flintstones while he's at it.

Return to “Poetry Writing Forum”