Love Boat and Fantasy Island
Television utopias

by Ellen Seiter

from Jump Cut, no. 32, April 1987, pp. 9-11
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1987, 2006

LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND literalize the cliché that television is escapist. The Pacific Princess, the cruise ship nicknamed by its crew the "Love Boat," exists for leisure and pleasure exclusively (though passengers may experience considerable heartache on the journey). No one takes the Love Boat to get anywhere, exactly. Usually the voyage serves to put things — especially personal relationships — back where they started. What takes place on board is personal life: emotions removed from the everyday cares of work money, homes, cars, neighbors, even, for the most part, children. The work that the crew of the Love Boat performs is that of vigilant friends patrolling the ship night and day in search of passengers who need "someone to talk to." In the environment of the pleasure cruise, conflict takes the singular form of interpersonal strife, and sympathy, charity, and honesty abound as remedies.

FANTASY ISLAND exists in geographical temporal isolation. Guests arrive at the tropical island by way of hydroplane with the desire to realize their most compelling fantasy (something which can invariably be accomplished in one weekend). Fantasy Island itself is a luxurious resort hotel, operating under an apparently divine mandate. A large staff occupies the island to serve drinks and chauffeur guests around the island in special vehicles (which look like a cross between a golf cart and a family station wagon). The island is also populated by people of color — they are visually coded as "scantily clad natives" — who assemble in the background to welcome and bid farewell to the usually white guests, and perform the hula for them. They are silently obedient to Mr. Roarke (Ricardo Maltalban), the island's ruler, who refers to them as "children."

In accommodating the guests' fantasies, Roarke transforms various spots on the island into many different geographical locations and historical periods. What everyone who visits the island dreams about is the impossible, that which can only become accomplished by supernatural means. The fantasies realized there involve changes of time and place. No fantasies involve a character's ordinary life, or take place where the character works and lives. Like LOVE BOAT, but with more bizarre and exotic settings, what happens in the fantasies consists of guests working out personal problems. In the Gothic atmosphere of FANTASY ISLAND these problems frequently take the form of psychological obsession. At the end of the program, the guests depart from the island having been "cured," that is, having rejected their fantasies altogether. The excitements experienced on FANTASY ISLAND never change the guests' lives, except to teach them contentment with what they already have back home.

The narrative situation in each case is overtly utopian, yet each program, in different ways, effectively satisfies and denies utopian impulses. LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND explicitly offer something Richard Dyer has identified as characteristic of all entertainment:

"… the image of "something better" to escape into, or something we want deeply that our day-to-day lives don't provide. Alternatives, hopes, wishes — these are the stuff of utopia, the sense that things could be better, that something other than what is can be imagined and maybe realized" (177).

Dyer suggests that the utopian ideals of energy, abundance, intensity, transparency and community can be found in popular culture in both its representational and its non-representational ("colour, texture, movement, rhythm, melody, camerawork") codes (178).

Here I use Dyer's categories as a starting point for analyzing the utopian themes in LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND. I wish to demonstrate first how the apparently absurd narrative premises of each show nevertheless create the possibility for a limited satisfaction of certain utopian ideals. Second, by analyzing the narrative organization, the use of generic combinations and of actors, and the high degree of intertextuality — which characterize both LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND — I will locate those strategies which create intensity, transparency, and abundance at the narrative level. I have restricted my discussion of the formal aspects of utopianism to narrative codes. However, Dyer's attention to non-representational signs in the musical and their relationship to utopianism, could be profitably applied to television (as Dyer does, schematically, with television news). The narrative patterns I describe typify one kind of successful television series paradigm developed by the powerful independent producer Aaron Spelling. The success of LOVE BOAT, which has been broadcast on ABC prime time since 1977, and widely syndicated, has become legendary among U.S. television producers.

Attention to the utopian aspects of popular culture — a type of analysis originated by the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch — has been advocated by Frederic Jameson as a useful antidote to manipulation theories of the mass media, and to the tendency to see television as nothing but false consciousness. Jameson describes the relation between "utopian gratification and ideological manipulation" in mass cultural texts as one of "profound identity" (288). In the third section, I discuss the relation between utopianism and ideology, arguing that LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND redefine utopian desires in terms of heterosexual romance, while affirming sacrifice, obedience, and contentment with one's lot.


Richard Dyer suggests,

"… the categories of the utopian sensibility are related to specific inadequacies in society."

Scarcity and the unequal distribution of wealth are addressed by the utopian solution of abundance. Exhaustion — resulting from work and the strains of urban life — is countered in the utopian solution by a kind of boundless energy in which work and play are "synonymous." Dreariness is countered by intensity –

"the capacity of entertainment to present either complex or unpleasant feelings in a way that makes them seem uncomplicated, direct and vivid, not 'qualified' or 'ambiguous' as day-to-day life makes them, and without those intimations of self-deception and pretence" (182).

Manipulation is replaced by transparency; fragmentation is replaced by community. (Dyer, 180-84)

On LOVE BOAT, all guests have equal access to the ship's array of pleasures. Working class characters frequent the ship as regularly as upper class characters although they sometimes come as stowaways, as employees of one of the other guests, or as couples who have pathetically invested their life savings in the trip. The staff does their work willingly and happily — more like volunteers than employees. Aboard the ship, abundance (conventionally coded as "luxury") is visible everywhere. Guests go about their business unconcerned with the economic realities of poverty or unemployment. Access to Fantasy Island is similarly uninfluenced by class, and no expense (however magically incurred) is spared in the creation of guests' fantasies. Such abundance is restricted, however, to the privileged few who have successfully passed Roarke's screening process, which he bases on an unstated criterion of worthiness. Any actual concern with money systematically becomes banished from LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND. The staff offer services freely, charitably, and unselfishly.

We recognize both programs' settings from travel brochures and advertising. We know such vacation experiences — cruises and tours of the tropics — are limited in the real world to the upper-middle and upper class. To set both programs in the leisure sphere serves to blur class distinctions, while offering the leisure industry's products as something everyone can aspire to. (LOVE BOAT had a phenomenal impact on that section of the travel industry devoted to cruises.) As Dyer comments on the limitations of utopianism in entertainment, "At our worst sense of it, entertainment provides alternative to capitalism which will be provide by capitalism." (185) LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND are typical, in this sense, of a tendency which characterizes television in general.

"Television articulates the responses of people to their class condition, not the class condition itself. Hence it is primarily a medium for the expression of classes for themselves. Here again, however, the expression is rarely one of oppositional solidarity of either the dominant or the subordinate class towards one another. Rather, television — along with most other commercial enterprises — exploits the competitive fragmentation among people who belong to what is objectively the same, subordinate class. Hence social divisions on television as elsewhere emerge as a kind of sliding scale of social stratification as opposed to primary class division." (Fiske & Hartley, 102)

Guests arrive on LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND full of energy — something they often verbalize in the episode's opening scene. The world of work, of keeping regular hours, and of exhaustion seems very remote indeed. Despite the fact that the characters' initial energy may get somewhat dissipated later in the program when hardships and misunderstandings ensue, most characters arrive prepared to play around the clock. The guests' energy is infectious: the staff rarely experiences fatigue either. The most constant feature of each plot, no matter what its generic conventions, is that the fictional time must fall on a weekend. Together the shows (which were broadcast back to back on Saturday night for several years) form a paradigm of a fantasy weekend, as Budd et al. have suggested,

"… the show's travel adventure and emotional motifs seem designed to approximate for its audiences the experience of 'going out'" (69).

These programs not only offer entertainment's conventional utopian solution to everyday dreariness — intensity — but they highlight this intensity by relying on such rapid narrative development. Unlike real weekends, which may slip by uneventfully while we try to catch up on rest, these fantasy weekends are packed with energy and excitement — even if the weekend passes swiftly.

On FANTASY ISLAND the characters' desire for intensity becomes deliberately punished by Roarke. He subverts everyone's fantasy by providing only painful intensity. At the end of both programs' episodes the characters typically feel ready to settle down again, but on FANTASY ISLAND they have had to learn this the hard way. Roarke punishes each fantasy as lawless and defines all desires as selfish. Guests on FANTASY ISLAND must learn to reject utopianism and defer to authority. On LOVE BOAT characters usually come to accept family life as more meaningful and more gratifying, even if less intense, than the world of the pleasure cruise. But LOVE BOAT does not close off such utopian desires with the finality that characterizes FANTASY ISLAND, and guests often reappear on LOVE BOAT in search of more excitement.

The utopian solution of transparency provides LOVE BOAT'S strongest theme. Personal problems of all kinds get cured by honesty. Even if the guests originally have an initial negative reaction to such open communication, they eventually accept and love one another (under the guidance of the sympathetic crew). As it offers this utopian solution, however, LOVE BOAT confines transparency to family relations. The narrative assumes that guests would not try out such experiments in open, spontaneous communication on the boss back home. On FANTASY ISLAND transparency as an ideal becomes undermined by Roarke, for while he encourages his guests to practice emotional honesty, he withholds information from them about their fantasies. Roarke always already knows how the fantasy will work out, and he knows how much suffering it will cause. An authoritarian theme replaces the utopian solution of transparency: Roarke's omnipotent wisdom has to be accepted unquestioningly.

LOVE BOAT offers a powerful fantasy of community, both among the staff and in the instant friendship they offer guests. The thoughtful help offered by the staff always turns out right in the end, even though it may at first appear that they have "interfered" in a private, domestic matter. On LOVE BOAT everyone belongs to one big happy family, where status differences become unimportant, where all are devoted to maximizing personal happiness. On FANTASY ISLAND, guests are fragmented rather than part of a community. They are isolated on the island and answerable to one individual's authority rather than to the community. Roarke's autocratic, patriarchal control over everyone remains far from utopian.


LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND offer an extreme example of some tendencies which characterized TV production in the U.S. in the 1970s:

  • rapid exposition;
  • multiple dramatic climaxes and resolutions in each episode;
  • liberal borrowing from other sources — especially other television series — for storylines;
  • combination of melodramatic and comic portrayals;
  • reliance on guest stars to renew the narrative formulae.

These techniques also lend the programs their vividness, their breathtaking pace, and their wanton emotionalism — characteristics which mirror, on a formal level, the intensity and energy which typify utopian content.

Each episode of LOVE BOAT begins with the arrival of three sets of guests whose stories will intertwine. The three plots which make up each episode are self-contained. Different writers do each script, and the characters from different stories do not interact.

In LOVE BOAT, the characters appear in the lobby at the beginning of the cruise to get their room assignments and meet the staff. The next scenes take place at poolside, where the characters, surrounded by extras (men and women with exceptional figures dressed in swim suits), spell out their problems; arguments develop; they reveal emotional sore-spots and articulate their desires. Then scenes happen in the dining room where the guests and staff meet, have dinner, dance, and at crucial plot points, adjourn to the deck. At this point, thirty minutes into the program, characters usually begin to feel distress. Engaged couples call the whole thing off; married couples decide to divorce; characters with a "problem" reveal the whole truth. (A woman tells her romantic interest that she has had a mastectomy; a teenage boy announces that a new waiter on board is his long-lost brother; a man confesses to his lawyer, the woman he loves, that he actually committed the crime she defended him for.) The next day, resolutions begin to take shape at brunch, on the shuffleboard deck or in one of the ship's many cocktail lounges. After fifty minutes, all conflicts are resolved in one scene. Characters experience a change of heart, apologize, beg forgiveness, fall in love with the appropriate partner, or reveal one last secret which changes everything.

The various plots which this narrative structure can accommodate are drawn from many different genres and usually range in tone from slapstick to the shamelessly maudlin. Douglas Cramer, co-producer of LOVE BOAT and creator of LOVE AMERICAN STYLE, describes the strategy this way: "We've always tried to make one of our stories a farce, one a comedy and one a 'warmedy' that brings tears" ("Love Bloat," 30). Romantic melodrama, farce and musical comedy predominate as genres on LOVE BOAT. Since 1983, the program has also employed many "backstage musical" plots, turning the dining room of the Pacific Princess into a cabaret and featuring musical guest stars.

FANTASY ISLAND follows the same pattern, with romantic melodrama, farce, Gothic and horror plots. Since FANTASY ISLAND evolved in later seasons to handling only two stories per episode, the formula calls for one serious story (a tear-jerker or suspense plot) and one light-hearted story (usually a costume drama). Mr. Roarke's supernatural powers, which expanded after the show premiered in January 1978, enable him to send FANTASY ISLAND's guests back to any time period, or to draw historical figures into the present. This "Time Machine" aspect of the program has provided an easily expandable premise for stories. When a waitress, tired of serving others, fantasizes that she is being waited on, Mr. Roarke makes her Marie Antoinette. Another episode brings William Shakespeare into the present to write a script for an actress whose fantasy is to perform something that the bard wrote for her personally (Shakespeare rewrites Portia's speech from THE MERCHANT OF VENICE during his stay on Fantasy Island). This freedom of genre, period and locale, means that nearly all fictional texts can be adapted to suit the demands of FANTASY ISLAND's narrative structure: Romeo and Juliet, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Naughty Marietta are just a few examples. Film and television plots provide the most often-used material.

The various generic elements and their accompanying affect (suspense, horror, sentiment, humor) become formally juxtaposed through classic parallel editing techniques. Despite the liberal borrowing of plots from diverse genres, both programs essentially work in a melodramatic mode. Emotionalism, audience accessibility to the narrative codes (music, acting, lighting, etc.), reliance on coincidence, surprise revelations, and sudden reversals place LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND solidly within the melodramatic tradition.

Both programs exemplify what David Thorburn has described as the "multiplicity principle" in television melodrama:

"… a principle of plotting or organization whereby a particular drama will draw not once or twice but many times upon the immense store of stories and situations created by the genre's brief but crowded history … Where the old formulas had been developed exhaustively and singly through the whole of a story — that is how they became stereotypes — they are now treated elliptically in a plot that deploys many of them simultaneously … By minimizing the need for long establishing or expository sequences, the multiplicity principle allows the story to leave aside the question of how these emotional entanglements were arrived at and to concentrate its energies on their credible and powerful present enactment." (539)

Above all, the melodramatic codes provide an effect of intensification. Plot development and plausibility are relinquished on LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND in favor of an energetic succession of emotionally charged and eminently readable scenes. The appearance on each episode of several well-known guest stars, who have roles as characters on other television programs, makes this possible.

During its first six seasons on the air, LOVE BOAT used seven hundred guest stars. While the staffs of the Love Boat and Fantasy Island appear every week in supporting roles, the guest stars make up the steady parade of major characters in the individual dramas. The original LOVE BOAT offered Gabe Kaplan (WELCOME BACK KOTTER), Don Adams (GET SMART), Florence Henderson (THE BRADY BUNCH), Hal Linden (BARNEY MILLER), and Karen Valentine (ROOM 222). LOVE BOAT has also employed many aged film actors: June Allyson, Red Buttons, Douglas Fairbanks, Janet Gaynor, Lillian Gish, Helen Hayes, Mary Martin, Ethel Merman and Ann Miller. Typically they are featured in stories laden with nostalgia, where they are admired and pampered by the crew and finally called upon to perform in the cabaret. Anyone with celebrity status can be a guest on LOVE BOAT: sports stars, fashion designers, models, and singers. While LOVE BOAT has more guest stars per episode than FANTASY ISLAND, the pattern is the same, and many actors who appear on LOVE BOAT turn up for another holiday weekend on FANTASY ISLAND.

Actors often play roles identical to roles they have already appeared in. Barbara Billingsley, Beaver's mother on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, appeared on LOVE BOAT playing the devoted mother of a teenage boy. Anson Williams (HAPPY DAYS) visited Fantasy Island desiring to go back in time and meet his grandfather as a young musician, played by David Cassidy (THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY). Joan Collins and John James (Alexis Carrington and Jeff Colby of DYNASTY, another Spelling production) visited both LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND, playing parts similar to their DYNASTY roles.

These guest roles have the quality of intertextuality — the role in the episode resembles the role on another television show and may refer as well to publicity about the star off-screen. This intertexuality reaches fantastic proportions. On an episode of FANTASY ISLAND, for example, Susan Lucci (the celebrated villainess Erica from ALL MY CHILDREN) plays a soap opera actress tormented by hallucinations of her villainous character, which are causing problems with her husband, a soap opera director played by Chris Robinson (who regularly appears as Dr. Rick Weber on GENERAL HOSPITAL). The scripts often contain many self-reflexive jokes about the guest star's other parts in television shows or films and about publicity surrounding the star. This system obviously furnishes an admirably efficient promotional system for other ABC television series.

The way these programs use characters who are cast as actors confirms David Thorburn's assertion that the actors' performances are the driving force of television melodrama — whose "most dependable and recurring strategy is to require its actors to display themselves intensely and energetically from the very beginning" (536). When guest stars arrive on the Love Boat or Fantasy Island, they typically search for the very thing they lack on their regular television series. Characters' desires remain the same from one program to the next.

The resonance between the television series in which the actor stars and the individual episodes of LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND allows the audience to recognize the character and her/his desires immediately. In these two shows' "special appearance" narratives, however, the viewers can enjoy a certain narrative closure, which the regular series often denies them. As John Ellis has characterized the regular TV series, it

"repeats a problematic. It therefore provides no resolution of the problematic at the end of each episode, nor, often, even at the end of the run of a series … Fundamentally, the series implies the form of the dilemma rather than that of resolution and closure" (154).

Although THE LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND offer this kind of narrative satisfaction, ordinarily unavailable on the regular television series, the two programs can articulate their own dilemmas and treat the whole problem of desire still only in terms of existing television codes.

"On every show, the fantasies are socially acceptable and politically conservative: no one asks to experience hermaphroditism or to be a drug dealer or to live in tan environment free from racism or carcinogenic wastes" (Budd, et al. 10).

Principally, two narrative tactics serve to circumscribe desire according to television's codes: how the fantasies initially become articulated and how the recreational staffs of these utopian locales operate.


In our collective imagination, the pleasure cruise stands out as an occasion for sexual liaisons. LOVE BOAT maximizes sexual encounters among characters and makes innuendo the dialogue's mainstay. The changing cast of guest stars make this possible since the show's regulars could not strike up affairs with strangers or with each other on every episode under current standards of television censorship. Most of the guest stars, however, meet in the first few minutes of the program and spend the night together a mere five or ten minutes of screen-time later: that is what they are there for. The show's extras, walking through every shot in revealing leisure attire, contribute to the sexualized atmosphere aboard the Pacific Princess. Despite all this sexiness, LOVE BOAT is a family type of show, regularly broadcast at eight or nine o'clock Saturday night. The theme which emerges on every LOVE BOAT episode is that everyone is entitled to "love" (read: sex) with one other person. Only monogamous and conjugal love brings true happiness. The show obsessively reiterates the same message. Sex without love or with a series of different partners is invariably bankrupt, unsatisfying, even depressing.

While LOVE BOAT appears to be about (hetero-) sexual license, its major theme thus becomes the importance of the nuclear family. The program reinforces the institution of marriage by introducing in a controlled, contained way the possibility of sexual promiscuity and of divorce, only to reaffirm marriage as the sole happy, healthy arrangement for adults. LOVE BOAT exemplifies the quality of "myth on the right." Roland Barthes called it inoculation and described it as follows:

"… admitting the accidental evil of a class-bound institution the better to conceal its principal evil. One immunizes the contents of the collective imagination by means of a small inoculation of acknowledged evil; one thus protects it against the risk of a generalized subversion." (150)

The institution which the show protects is marriage, and the "evils" admitted are sexual dissatisfaction and incompatibility (narrowly defined in terms of personality traits, never in terms of power in male-female relations). Yes, LOVE BOAT says, men and women have their misunderstandings, anger, and periods of infidelity, but we have no reason for alarm. All current relationships can be salvaged. For each of the guests on the cruise, a romantic partner waits.

LOVE BOAT admits feminism (defined narrowly as careerism) as one of the "problems facing relationships today. It is introduced through "battle-of-the-sexes" plots which often present a woman of higher social status than her romantic partners, or a woman and man who take an instant dislike to each other upon meeting (in the playground mentality of LOVE BOAT, this clearly signals their avid mutual love). Examples of this sort of couple on LOVE BOAT include a woman attorney and her client, a society woman and a junk dealer, a professional tennis player and a clerk, an English professor and a football player. In each story, the woman learns to modify her behavior to a degree, which makes her acceptable to the man, who then loves her despite her higher social standing. On LOVE BOAT, professional women can enjoy love, too — part of the show's irrepressible optimism — but only after they learn how to sympathize with and console men who are threatened by them. The idea that "opposites attract" has an appeal because it means that every man and every woman form a potential couple. The battle of the sexes theme — a staple of screwball comedy as well as the romance, as Tania Modleski has argued — reinforces the notion that aggression between men and women is normal and healthy. Hostility from a man becomes a sign of deep and enduring love.

The theme song promises:

"Love won't hurt anymore.
It's a friendly smile on an open shore."

While the guests rarely have as good a time as they anticipate, all their troubles and romantic entanglements become resolved during the cruise, leaving them eager to get back home. The show makes all relations public aboard the Pacific Princess and has them develop under the watchful eyes of the crew. Getting couples out of domestic space (away from work, financial concerns and any children under the age of thirteen), providing them with a staff of pseudo-therapists constantly on duty, and populating the ship almost entirely with good-hearted characters makes this possible. LOVE BOAT has a preoccupation with personal life, narrowly defined as heterosexual love, but none of the sources of tension which plague couples on DALLAS, DYNASTY, or any of the daytime serials exists there. The show's irrepressible good spirits, constant re-formation of the family unit, and eternal optimism about romantic love set it apart from television's other family melodramas.

On LOVE BOAT, the crew often make mistakes; they are comically, amiably fallible. Even Captain Stubing, whom the staff treats with so much respect and carefully obeys, is supremely vulnerable when it comes to love. Captain Stubing has had a series of love affairs with glamorous women which did not work out: the woman may be ill-suited as a mother for Vicki, for example, or cannot give up her career.

In FANTASY ISLAND, Mr. Roarke is infallible — even women cannot get to him — and he eschews all attempts by powerful, goddess-type figures (such as Princess Nia, the Mermaid, who had a recurring role on the program's first season) to seduce him. Roarke remains all-knowing and all-powerful, though guests on the island frequently fail to realize this and must learn the hard way. No one ever succeeds in deceiving Roarke, so that every episode culminates in the reaffirmation of his power and wisdom. The presence of a strong patriarchal figure who is alternately benevolent and punitive gives FANTASY ISLAND a Gothic sensibility.[1][open notes in new window]

Most of the guests on FANTASY ISLAND are women and their fantasies frequently have to do with upward mobility: a waitress wants to be queen, a file clerk wants to marry a movie star, a secretary wants her old college roommates to see her living in fabulous wealth. Stories set in the past often have to do with professional ambition or fulfillment: an actress wants to perform a Shakespearean part written just for her, a black musician tries to get a job at the Cotton Club in Harlem, a songwriter wants to meet George M. Cohan. Each fantasy is essentially conservative and profoundly individualistic. All guests must suffer in some way simply because they allowed themselves to become obsessed with desire, because they refused to content themselves with everyday life. FANTASY ISLAND considers ambition of any sort as greed and punishes it. The ordeal of the fantasy teaches the characters to accept life as it already is back home.

While love and marriage seem to happen spontaneously on LOVE BOAT, on FANTASY ISLAND they occur as the result of Roarke's master plan: marriage and the family receive the stamp of divine wisdom. As a byproduct of the structured fantasies, people regularly fall in love and decide to marry; families become created or stabilized under Roarke's guidance. Married couples who visit the island to have a mutual fantasy often wind up on the verge of separation, but by the end of the story they become re-committed to each other and fully satisfied with the marriage. A newly married couple, for example, had the fantasy of eternal youth so that they could stay together "forever." Mr. Roarke sent them to an island in Ancient Greece where it so happened that the woman there who controlled the secret of eternal youth wanted to kill the wife in order to grant the husband his fantasy. All other power figures encountered during the fantasies — and they are often women — seem appallingly evil and selfish, so that the guests feel tremendously glad to return to Roarke's control. In the "eternal youth" fantasy, after a violent ordeal which involved having the wife bound and gagged, Roarke saved the couple — after they relinquished their dream of eternal youth. As they left Fantasy Island they happily returned to normal married life and vowed to make the most of the time they had together.

Roarke represents one of the strongest and most punitive patriarchal figures on primetime television. He enjoys more control than J.R. Ewing of DALLAS or Blake Carrington of DYNASTY. The limits of Roarke's power have never been defined and the screenwriters have expanded them from season to season. His powers are magical: he can conjure up things and people out of nothing; he can turn time back or stop it; his stare can paralyze people. He has apparently lived "forever," since he remains personal friends with people like Helen of Troy, and he enjoys mental telepathy and clairvoyance. For all narrative intents and purposes, Mr. Roarke is God the Father.

Roarke rules the island like a colonial master. His relation with Tattoo, his assistant, represents an extreme form of the type of control he exercises over everyone on the island.[2] Tattoo's attempts to understand and carry out Roarke's orders provide the program's primary source of comic relief. At the beginning of each episode Roarke calls out to the island's natives, "Smiles, everyone, smiles!" Even Roarke's white suit suggests the costume of colonialism. The casting of an Hispanic actor in the part of Mr. Roarke — a part which, as the name implies, was originally intended for an Anglo — disguises some of the more overt racist premises behind FANTASY ISLAND.

Despite their similarity in terms of narrative structure, LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND differ in significant ways. With its authoritarian theme and emphasis on punishing desire, FANTASY ISLAND is a deeply reactionary program. LOVE BOAT speaks to some utopian sentiments-particularly the desire for transparency and community — even while it reinforces the naturalness and satisfactoriness of the social hierarchy. As Richard Dyer writes,

"To be effective, the utopian sensibility has to take off from the real experiences of the audience. Yet to do this, to draw attention to the gap between what is and what could be, is, ideologically speaking, 'playing with fire.'" (185)

Understanding how television incorporates and manages the utopian sensibility can help us understand what kind of world television offers and what kind of world television could create.


1. This aspect of the Gothic has been analyzed by Modleski and by Diane Waldman, "'At Last I Can Tell it to Someone': Feminine Point of View and Subjectivity in the Gothic Romance Film of the 1940's," Cinema Journal, 23, No. 2 (1983), 29-41.

2. Tattoo (Hervé Villechaize) appeared on FANTASY ISLAND from 1978 to 1983. During the 1983-84 season, Mr. Roarke's assistant was an English butler, apparently modeled after the John Gielgud character in the popular film ARTHUR.

Works Cited

Barthes, Roland. "Myth Today." The Barthes Reader. Ed. Susan Sontag. New York: Hill and Wang, 1983. Pp. 93-149.

Budd, Mike, Steve Craig and Clay Steinman. "FANTASY ISLAND: Marketplace of Desire." Journal of Communication, 33 (1983), pp. 67-78.

Dyer, Richard. "Entertainment and Utopia." Genre: The Musical. Ed. Rick Altman. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981. Pp. 175-89.

Ellis, John. Visible Fictions. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982.

Fiske, John and John Hartley. Reading Television. London: Methuen, 1978.

Jameson, Frederic, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as Socially Symbolic Art. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1981.

"Love Bloat." TV Guide (5 June 1982), pp. 28+.

Modleski, Tania. Loving With A Vengeance: Mass Produced Fantasies for Women. Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1982.

Thorburn, David. "Television Melodrama." Television: The Critical View. Ed. Horace Newcomb. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.