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. (4) 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. Notes: 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 here. 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.