Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Morton on Imprisonment and Escape on L'Isle de Gilligan

L'Isle de Gilligan is an essay by Brian Morton. It appears in Dissent (1990). Here's the abstract:
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.
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 dialectof 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 bourgeoisie, Caliban to the Professor's Prospero. 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 identified as a "movie star'' even in the technologically barren confines of the desert island foreshadows Debord's concept of the "society of the spectacle,'' wherein events and "individuals'' are reduced to simulacra. 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.
There is more here.