What Gilligan's Island Taught Me About Life

John | Aug 3, 2011

Sherwood Schwartz, the creator of Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch, passed away on July 12 at the age of 94, leaving a legacy of pop culture behind him. In researching my original post on Schwartz’s passing, I was fascinated with the fact that his shows – which appeared to me as a child in the 80′s as simplistic, campy fluff – actually had a statement to make. I came across a book Schwartz wrote about this show in particular called Inside Gilligan’s Island which gives a look of how the show was pitched and developed. You get a glimpse of the passion Schwartz had for these characters and what they stood for. Gilligan’s Island was originally pitched to CBS as a ‘social microcosm’ and Mr. Schwartz said that he planned for the show to make a social statement because “we all live in this big world and have to live together and get along.” James Aubrey, then President of CBS, wanted to have the castaways fix the boat and continue to travel from place to place. Schwartz knew that this Sitcom Odyssey wouldn’t let the characters focus on the lessons they needed to learn, so he fought for his “carefully delineated…microcosm” so that we could connect with the shows prototypical personalities. So looking back, how did he do? What did these shows teach us about living together, compromise and how to deal with the harsh realities of, well, reality? While there are a lot of individual lessons to be learned from every episode, I think looking at the series from a more macro perspective provides us with the sum effect the show had on us. So here are 4 things I learned about life from watching Gilligan’s Island.

1. Sometimes you can turn a coconut into a radio but you can’t fix a hole in a boat.

One of the running gags on the show was the ability to fashion pretty much anything from the crude items found on the show. From radios and plumbing to stethoscopes and pedal-powered cars. These were all pretty creative inventions but none of them ever helped the underlying problem of being marooned on a desert island. They say the necessity is the mother of invention, but invention is not always useful. There are a lot of stresses in our lives and one of the most common coping mechanisms is throwing yourself into a huge project. Sometimes, especially when faced with sudden loss or other situation where we don’t have any control over the outcome, we need to feel like we are doing something. However, doing something and doing something that will help are often two very different principles.

2. Swatting someone with your hat can be a sign of affection.

How many times did the Skipper get angry with Gilligan and hit him with his hat? 342. No, just kidding. I haven’t counted and can’t find anyone else out there that has either. But it happened often enough that the image is clear. Now, while some have complained about the abuse Gilligan sustained, I feel that the action was almost fatherly. Gilligan, for all his optimism and accidental heroism, was pretty stupid. And sometimes when someone you care about is in the middle of doing something stupid, you have to step in and knock some sense into them.

3. Despite all your best efforts, there remains the unforeseen.

Another of the reoccurring themes of Gilligan’s Island was the train of visitors to the lost island. Castaways frequently showed up on the island. Some of them were fun like rock bands and others were dangerous…like rock bands. Or headhunters. Or doppelgangers. It just goes to show you that even marooned alone on an uncharted desert island, you can never escape the inevitability of the unforeseen. Or the inevitability of on screen cameos.

4. A three hour tour is rarely a three hour tour.

The five passengers of the S.S. Minnow signed up for a nice, leisurely boat tour from Honolulu purporting to last three hours. Then ended up spending three seasons and 98 episodes marooned on a desert island. If you’re anything like me you often sign up for things without any knowledge of how they’re going to pan out, what they will entail or how significantly they will affect your life. Can I help you with that? Sure. Do I have time to take on this extra project? Sounds like fun. Being aware that pretty much nothing will ever work out the way you expected it to at the onset is important to understanding how it all plays out. Making the best out of a bad situation often requires us to let go of that initial idea of how something was supposed to happen, and just making the best of it. Being lost on a desert island may suck, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, hold democratic elections, put on a beauty pageant or an off Broadway play, race turtles, and more.


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