Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Who Is Jeremy Bentham?

He's Locke of course. Or someone who totally looks like Locke. And is dead. Or at least looks a lot like they're dead. It's always best to be careful when you're talking about Lost, because things are not always as they seem. (And the show is definitely at its best when things aren't what they seem: for example when the Black Rock turns out to be a ship, Locke turns out to have spent part of his life in a wheelchair, Sawyer's name isn't really Sawyer, or like when The Others turn out not to be bearded sea-billies but the remains of a hippie commune and some mysterious hostiles.)

Names are supposedly chosen with some care by Lost's powers-that-be. So who was Jeremy Bentham? According to Wikipedia, he lived from 15 February 1748 to 6 June 1832 and he was

an English jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer. He was the brother of Samuel Bentham. He was a political radical, and a leading theorist in Anglo-American philosophy of law. He is best known for his advocacy of utilitarianism, for the concept of animal rights,[1][2] and his opposition to the idea of natural rights, with his oft-quoted statement that the idea of such rights is "nonsense upon stilts."[3] He also influenced the development of welfarism.[4]

And further:

Bentham's position included arguments in favour of individual and economic freedom, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the end of slavery, the abolition of physical punishment (including that of children), the right to divorce, free trade, usury,[5] and the decriminalization of homosexual acts.[6][7]

Hmmm. Nothing about donkey wheels, four-toed statues, Jacobs or Smoke Monsters unfortunately. But it is interesting that Bentham was also an economist. Of course, one of Lost's eps this year was named "The Economist". It was the ep where we saw a flash-forward of Sayid, shacking up with a nice blond in Germany. Then it turned out it was all a cross/double cross kind of story because really, his blond was working for an economist that Sayid was supposed to kill because he was on Ben's list. Instead, Sayid got shot by his blond Elsa and then shot and killed her. Then we got to see Ben in a vet's office, stitching Sayid up. So. Was Jeremy Bentham aka Locke the economist in the episode? It seems kind of unlikely. So maybe it's Bentham's "philosophical" ideas that informed the choice of the name. Just like we've had a Rousseau, a Locke and even a Hume on the show.

More interesting for us Lost-followers is perhaps what happened to the real Jeremy Bentham when he died:
As requested in his will, his body was preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet, termed his "Auto-icon". Originally kept by his disciple Dr. Southwood Smith,[12] it was acquired by University College London in 1850. The Auto-icon is kept on public display at the end of the South Cloisters in the main building of the College. For the 100th and 150th anniversaries of the college, the Auto-icon was brought to the meeting of the College Council, where he was listed as "present but not voting".[13] Tradition holds that if the council's vote on any motion is tied, the auto-icon always breaks the tie by voting in favour of the motion.

The Auto-icon has always had a wax head, as Bentham's head was badly damaged in the preservation process. The real head was displayed in the same case for many years, but became the target of repeated student pranks including being stolen on more than one occasion. It is now locked away securely.

Yep, odd goings-on with a dead body that is put on display, carted around, preserved, brought along for meetings and has its head used for pranks. Does this bode ill for what will happen to Locke's dead body next season? Will his head fall off? Not likely. I hope. (The possible lameness-level of carting Locke's corpse around just makes me shudder.)

We have a somewhat radical philosopher then, whose body was treated with some weirdness after death and was even put in situations where it "participated" in meetings. And had a vote. Seems to me the writers of Lost checked the Wikipedia entry, just like all of us.

There's a lot more in depth info about Bentham here. For one thing, we find out that
his cadaver, per his instructions, was dissected, embalmed, dressed, and placed in a chair, and to this day resides in a cabinet in a corridor of the main building of University College.

Eww. And also: ewww!!!!

So how and why did Locke get off the island? Why did he pick Jeremy Bentham as an alias? How did he die? What did he say to the O6 when he came knocking? And Walt? How will Jack get him back to the island?

I just hope we do get to see a lot more of Terry O'Quinn, and NOT of him in a coffin, embalmed, corpsefied or zombiefied.

Screencaps of Locke/Bentham in the coffin from "There's No Place Like Home" and Sayid from "The Economist" thanks to Lostpedia.

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