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Gilligan's Island

Walter Metz

Publication Year: 2012

Gilligan’s Island, created by Sherwood Schwartz, aired for three seasons between 1964 and 1967 on the CBS network. While the series was typically dismissed for its episodic inanity, author Walter Metz argues that this characteristic is precisely the source of the show’s innovation as it produces a vibrant critique of dominant American values. In this analysis of Gilligan’s Island, Metz reveals the inner workings of American television and society through an intensive look at the popular sitcom. In twenty-one short sections, Metz investigates many aspects of Gilligan’s Island: the narrative, the characters, the plot, and the performativity. Through multiple episode analyses and character examinations, Metz shows how the castaways’ actions on the island held deeper meaning and illustrated American social customs. The book also looks at several different themes presented in the show and connects them to many literary traditions, including Shakespeare (The Tempest and Hamlet), existential theatre (Waiting for Godot), and classic American literature (Moby-Dick). Through this discussion, Metz examines the literacy of Gilligan’s Island and the way it knowingly returns to certain tropes from high literature, masking their expression in a distinctly populist American idiom. Metz also addresses the legacy of Gilligan’s Island and its profound effect on American television, as evidenced by popular contemporary shows like Survivor and Lost. At one point in time, Gilligan’s Island was the most syndicated show around the world, but few scholarly articles exist about it. Fans of the show and those interested in television history and popular culture will enjoy this playful and informative study that fills a gap in television history.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This book is dedicated to my three children, Alex, Emma, and vii Charlie. They were the willing subjects of my crazy research experiment to see if they would love Gilligan’s Island as much as I do. I am delighted to report that, despite being...

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Introduction: A Minimalist Allegory

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pp. 1-3

At the end of the episode “Gilligan Goes Gung-Ho” (season 3, episode 83, December 26, 1966), the Gilligan’s Island castaways decide they need a police force. Due to the duplicitous machinations of the other petty, self-promoting...

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The Existential Island

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pp. 3-8

By placing seven stereotypical characters on an isolated island, the show’s creator, Sherwood Schwartz, is able to engage in absurdist comedy that interrogates without distraction basic questions of human behavior. As such, the show’s primary intertext...

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A Boy and His Whale

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pp. 9-13

In his book about the creation of the show, Inside Gilligan’s Island, Schwartz claims his intention was to demonstrate to postwar America how people of varying backgrounds needed to get along to survive as an allegory for Cold War America...

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Studying Gilligan

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pp. 13-20

Whatever else it may be, Gilligan’s Island is one of the most ubiquitously comprehended references in American cultural history. An extended study via Google Books bears witness to this grandiose claim. The largest group of...

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An Industrial History of Gilligan’s Island

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pp. 20-23

Gilligan’s Island is the archetype of the 1960s telefilm sitcom. Shot almost exclusively on a soundstage in Los Angeles, the show from its first broadcast suffered the scorn of critics everywhere. The reviewer for the...

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The Narrative Innovations of Gilligan’s Island

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pp. 23-28

The first season of Gilligan’s Island is far more devoted to serial narrative than we would expect of a 1960s telefilm sitcom. In episode 2, “Home Sweet Hut” (October 3, 1964), the Skipper demands that each of the castaways...

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Gilligan’s Cave

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pp. 28-31

The comic simplicity of Gilligan’s Island was deliberately offered as a parody of Cold War liberal Newton Minow’s elitist critique of “mindless” early 1960s television. This critique was built into the very name of the sunken boat that marooned...

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The Skipper’s War Trauma

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pp. 31-35

In a way that seems surprising in 2011, the politics of the first season of Gilligan’s Island focus on the legacy of World War II. Season 1 of Gilligan’s Island does not conceive of World War II as history; it is present for the characters...

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Gilligan Fights the Cold War

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pp. 35-37

In “Nyet, Nyet—Not Yet” (season 2, episode 45, November 18, 1965), a Soviet space capsule falls into the lagoon. The Professor, above the foibles of political differences, runs to greet the cosmonauts...

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Gilligan and Identity Politics

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pp. 38-39

In terms of current understandings of identity politics, Gilligan’s Island is least defensible. Its depiction of racial difference is reprehensible: the natives are at once blood thirsty, cannibalistic savages and remarkably incompetent...

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What Great Books Would You Bring to a Desert Island?

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pp. 39-41

As constructed by Sherwood Schwartz, Gilligan’s Island repeatedly announces itself as existing within, not as opposed to, the literary tradition. Gilligan’s Island continues the tradition of envisioning a functioning island utopia...

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To Be Gilligan, or Not to Be

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pp. 42-46

It is, however, in dialogue with the works of William Shakespeare where Gilligan’s Island finds its deepest resonance with the traditions of high culture. Despite having been studied intensively by Shakespearean...

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Prospero’s Children

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pp. 46-53

Given Gilligan’s Island’s interest in utopian literature, it is not the one-off episode riffing on Hamlet that establishes the full Shakespearean force of Schwartz’s show. Instead, Gilligan’s Island is at its most Shakespearean in its engagement with the themes of...

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A Poke in CBS’s Eye:The Aesthetics of Gilligan’s Island

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pp. 53-56

In his foundational study of the history of comedy, Northrop Frye discusses the green world of Shakespearean comedy, such as the forest in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1596), that space to which characters retreat to avoid the seriousness...

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Gilligan Goes to Carnival

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pp. 56-60

Ever since 1960s telefilm sitcoms entered incredibly successful syndication on early morning and late afternoon local television stations, they have been much reviled for their appeal to children...

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Gilligan and the Short Story

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pp. 61-63

While The Tempest is clearly the urtext behind the premise of Gilligan’s Island, series television is based on a need to, in individual episodes, reinvent the basic premise in unusual ways. Exposing itself to critical ridicule...

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Gilligan’s Island and Film History

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pp. 63-71

Along with other 1960s telefilm sitcoms such as Bewitched, Gilligan’s Island gave directorial work both to classical Hollywood directors (such as Jack Arnold, who had directed Russell Johnson in 1950s science fiction...

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Gilligan’s Island and Performativity

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pp. 71-86

These episodes about putting on a show (almost one-third of the entire run of the series, some thirty installments in all) serve as the innovative heart of Gilligan’s Island. From the Shakespeare show, “The Producer,” to the Broadway...

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Gilligan, the Natural Man

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pp. 86-91

Performance and natural history studies converge in an analysis of the episode “Beauty Is as Beauty Does” (season 2, episode 38, September 23, 1965) in which Gilligan’s forward thinking derails a misguided beauty contest between...

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The Afterlife of Gilligan’s Island

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pp. 91-101

After cancellation, Gilligan’s Island found great success in the United States as a morning and afternoon UHF staple in syndication. The most successfully syndicated sitcom on the global television market...

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Conclusion:Television in the Age of the DVD

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pp. 101-104

When I began writing about Bewitched in 1996, both that magicom and Gilligan’s Island were airing on local stations as well as basic cable’s TV Land many times per day. As I finished drafting this manuscript in 2010...

Works Cited

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pp. 105-107


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pp. 109-115

E-ISBN-13: 9780814336472
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814333723

Page Count: 144
Illustrations: 20
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1