WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station ran a story this past Tuesday about a new Tufts University class studying the phenomenon of ABC’s hit series Lost. The class — "The Future is Lost: The TV Series as Cultural Phenomenon" — is part of Tuft’s Experimental College, an undergraduate forum focused on pioneering innovations in education and faculty/student collaboration within the Arts and Sciences (which in addition to the "Lost" class also offers courses like: "Sabermetrics: The Objective Analysis of Baseball," "Ethical Leadership in Business," "Obesity and Children" and "Television in the Age of YouTube,"). The Lost course meets every Tuesday and Thursday evening this semester and is taught by a current Tufts Senior.
What really struck my attention in listening to this story (once I got over my initial reaction of "wow, $40,000 a year tuition to take a class about a TV show taught by a classmate!") was a comment made in the broadcast by one of the students of the class. She said that the class was teaching her to be more discerning and more wary about marketing messages integrated into the show. This is fascinating!
First of all, how interesting that young consumers are being taught to be wary of advertising. And, that the class is potentially unraveling Lost’s attempts to take a more subtle, less intrusive, approach to integrating products or sponsorships into the plot of the show (an approach, that I would consider a best practice frankly. Certainly better than the "blast out more messages" approach common to many marketers.)
Also interesting to me is the tug o’ war Lost (and other inventive uses of "traditional" media) faces as we enter the social computing world. For example, Lost does a tremendous job nurturing its community of users outside of the actual program broadcasts. Lost fans can purchase Lost gear, join communities, subscribe to a magazine, debate theories about the show online, even create their own fan sites using a Lost wiki. And yet the show itself is still constrained by the writing and production deadlines characteristic of network television. And ABC still has the authority to cancel the program at any time, with or without resolving its mystery. So even though users can "participate" in the show’s intrigue, they don’t, in fact contribute to its story.
Maybe these are some of the issues Tufts is analyzing in its class?