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Jeremy Bentham, the Panopticon and the Island

By JOpinionated,

  Filed under: Lost Theories
  Comments: 13

Given that the word ‘Panopticon’ entered the vernacular of many LOST fans after it was discussed at Comic-Con last week (when Damon and Carlton verified it as one of the reasons that Locke was given the pseudonym Jeremy Bentham), I thought it was time to delve into the real Bentham’s design and analyze how it relates to our vanishing island.

Panopticon Bentham.jpg

In 1785, philosopher Jeremy Bentham designed a circular prison building called a Panopticon, featuring a central observation tower surrounded by jail cells; all inmates were to be monitored around the clock without knowing who was watching or when. Bentham was inspired by a Parisian military school, with manageable supervision in mind.

He did not live long enough to see his vision come to life, but there are several modern variations in various countries (Arnhem, Breda and Haarlem: Holland, Carabanchel Prison: Spain, Chi Hoa prison: Vietnam, Caseros Prison: Argentina, Huron Historic Gaol: Canada, Millbank Prison: England, Mount Eden Prisons: New Zealand, Old Provost: South Africa, Palacio de Lecumberri: Mexico, Presidio Modelo: Cuba, Round House: Australia, Statesville Correctional Centre: Illinois, Twin Towers Correctional Facility: California).

Here are Bentham’s thoughts about the system, as expressed in 1798’s Proposal for a New and Less Expensive Mode of Employing and Reforming Convicts:

“A building circular. The prisoners in their cells, occupying the circumference; the officers in the centre. By blinds and other contrivances, the Inspectors concealed…from the observation of the prisoners: hence the sentiment of a sort of omnipresence–the whole circuit reviewable with little, or… without any, change of place. One station in the inspection part affording the most perfect view of every cell.”

Replace a few words from the LOST world, and…

“An archipelago isolated…the passengers on the beach, occupying the circumference-the Hostiles in the center. By monitors and other contrivances, the Others concealed…from the observation of the passengers: hence the sentiment of a sort of omnipresence-the whole island reviewable with little, or…without any, change of place. One man/one company in the inspection part affording the most perfect view of every hatch.”

French philosopher Michael Foucault compared the Panopticon to modern society, and cautioned that ‘visibility is a trap.’ While that warning can be applied to the island’s location and Ben and the Others’ modus operandi, it is also quite appropriate for whomever or whatever Jacob may be. Whoever created and implemented the hatch system for a variety of experiments also shielded their true identity from those they were studying.

The structures at the Presidio Modelo in Cuba strongly resemble above-ground, inverted hatches:

Bentham Panopticon Presidio Modelo.JPG

Additionally, there are similarities between the aerial view of the Panopticon layout and the Swan hatch blast door map:

Thumbnail image for Bentham Panopticon.gif

Bentham Panopticon Blast Door Map.jpg

There are myriad literary and film references to Bentham’s design as well. George Orwell’s character Big Brother in Nineteen Eighty Four is an obvious nod to the Panopticon; the hatches and surveillance cameras on the island smile in both directions. And The Truman Show presents a modern day Panopticon. [If I had to venture a guess, Sayid will be Truman…the first among the Oceanic 6 to uncover exactly who ‘produced’ their entire experience; who was watching them, for how long and why.]

Theorize away. This is my debut post on DocArzt, so feedback and theories are welcome!

A few inquiries to get the ball rolling…

Is Ben Linus the central observation system on the island? Was Jacob his predecessor?

Was Widmore present when the original hatches and housing were built?

Were either Widmore Industries or Paik Heavy Industries involved in the design of the
Dharma stations?

Were the passengers of Flight 815 all specifically pre-selected and brought to the island to undergo Panopticon-style observation as a group for their various crimes and behaviors?

Was the Santa Rosa Mental Institution, where Hurley, Libby and Locke’s mother were all patients, a Panopticon being utilized by those responsible for their current conditions and whereabouts?