Danny Yee >> Humour

                     L'Isle de Gilligan

                        Brian Morton

     Editor's  Note:  The  following  etude  originally
     appeared  in  the  journal  Dissent  (Summer 1990)
     under the title ``How Not To Write for Dissent.''

     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.

If you liked this, you'll probably enjoy Postmodern Pooh, Frederick Crews' parody of modern literary theory.
Humour << Danny Yee