To escape or not to escape…is that even a question? It seems on the surface to be no- there is no question here. But when you dig deeper you find two disturbing points on the same compass. Two basic thoughts that divide people who consume any form of media. To escape- to flee from your bitter cold life if only for a moment. To not escape- to read for other pleasures, to consume as a form of experiencing life and not denying it.
On one hand, we have the argument from films like Sullivan’s Travels, where deep thoughts and painful life isn’t good to the common man, to the poor and the downtrodden. No, no, they need escape, they need laughter, they need release. I don’t know about you, but I find that whole idea to be disgusting and patronizing. Is media then like religion and drugs and mysticism- a panacea to their dull and dreary lives? Is it heroin for the soul? And why not? If people’s lives are miserable enough, how would reminding them of their misery help them?
True, true, all valid, a very good point in a way. Yet, at the same time- art is a way of connecting, a way to experience and overcome our personal tragedies. By letting us experience it in a distanced form, we can get closure in a way that doesn’t destroy us from the inside out. It can also provoke, challenge, make us think and make our world more real by broadening our experiences, albeit virtually.
Escape then denies us of these experiences. It denies us the connection to ourselves and our world. It’s like a drug addict who seeks release from our lives, the devout who thinks the next life is better and rushes towards it. It’s throwing a blanket over the whole thing and hoping it just goes away when we stop thinking about it.
This can be dangerous. Escape itself? Nothing intrinsically wrong in it. Nothing in the bone of it. But our approach to escape? There can be danger there. Lying in the wait. Poised in the shadows with a knife. Denying reality is wrong, but even more wrong at the heart of this argument is much more dangerous. It’s the idea that entertainment (esp. enjoyable, escapist entertainment) is beyond critical reproach. That it’s above our critical centers. That our mind does not need to engage with it. It engages with us.
This is like opening a floodgate of problems into our mental landscape. Our mind consumes narratives, and these narratives take up residence in our thoughts. These thoughts are symbolic soups, wandering around, intermingling. Changing and reprocessing through time. Memories and thoughts and dreams and concepts and language all fluttering around, shaping our coherent sense of self.
By not engaging critically with these works of escapism, we deny our only defense against intruding moralities and philosophies. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most forms of escapist media are very troubling philosophically, ethically and morally speaking once you strip it down to it’s bare message. And it seems odd to me that people think it’s wrong- intrinsically wrong- not to engage with the negative aspects of these things. Just because it’s escapism. Just because it’s fun.
They act like you’re ruining something they enjoy by bringing to light these darker pieces. Why is that? You can still enjoy something and critically assess it. Or is our generation that mentally bankrupt? That we either have to enjoy something completely wholly and believe every word of it? Or we hate it completely? There is no middle ground?
This to me is one of the key dangers to escapism. It’s not just a drug, it’s a drug that changes who we are slowly, slowly. Rotting us from the inside out. Claiming our critical facilities.