Featured Image: @_diannalopez for @crwnmag
Article By: Kasey Edgerton
Escapism gets a bad rap for the obvious reason that it involves “escaping” reality. When taken to extremes, such behavior can, of course, lead to social withdrawal and a shallow life at best, and at worst, some serious disorders. But let’s not forget about the middle ground. Escapism in moderation can not only be very beneficial to overall wellbeing; it can be crucial. Sigmund Freud once penned, “Humans cannot subsist on the scanty satisfaction which they can extort from reality.” Escapism is important because it reminds us that we can still feel happiness, passion, and hope about our lives.
In Defense of Escapism
The belief that escapism is inherently harmful or cowardly is an argument of privilege, typically made by people who have never felt themselves in a position where they needed to escape from detrimental circumstances, and no actual escape was possible. Right now, America as a whole is experiencing a very stressful time. There is an unprecedented level of political chaos, divisive rhetoric, and exacerbated tensions across the nation, and no escape is clearly in sight. The inability to physically escape doesn’t relieve the human need for one. Enter pop culture, classic literature, salsa classes, YouTube videos, horseback riding, etc.
When things get overwhelming, your brain and your body need an escape, and that’s OK, especially when all you see is a constant crisis on the news. Trust in your instinct and turn on that cheesy sitcom or House Hunters marathon; a little escapism here and there can be key in self-care. When in the throes of turmoil and political unrest, top priorities are generally centered around basic survival needs like physical safety and health, and mental health can often be permanently shoved to the backburner. Constant immersion in the 24-hour news cycle and combative nature of social media takes its toll. We need to consciously balance awareness with a healthy state of mind; we need to consciously escape.
Escapism and Mental Health
It’s so important to realize that you can be well informed without completely dedicating your life to current events. Remember, you can’t help the world if you can’t help yourself; it’s okay to do “selfish” things that make you feel good when you’re drowning in all the bad. Escapism is integral to self-care and coping. It allows you to temporarily disengage your brain from problems in order to re-center, re-energize, and prevent total mental and emotional exhaustion. Many are too quick to write escapism off as mere avoidance when it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Avoidance is simply ignoring the problem, hoping it’ll just magically go away. Escapism does not do that. It is a momentary respite, not a way of life.
Finding Your Personal Escape Route
Escapism is also so many different things to different people, and there is no “right” form or answer. The key is to find what form of escape works for you, things that bring you joy and peace, and hope in the future. Some people might gravitate towards a creative outlet, to let out all of their pent up emotions and thoughts in a tangible way. Others need to be distracted with the company of others, or simply temporarily lose themselves in a fictional world like Harry Potter or Game of Thrones. Many choose to engage with nature, volunteer, care for animals; the list goes on and on. Just find something that resonates with you, and makes you forget the worries and stresses of our modern world for even just a moment.
Think of escapism as a mini vacation for the soul. No one ever speaks mockingly of vacations being escapist, when in reality that’s exactly what they are. It has become so accepted in our society that people are typically healthier and overall happier if they are able to take semi-frequent time off and, “get away from it all.” Vacations nourish the soul and soothe the mind. They are also an expensive endeavor that not everyone can afford. Sometimes it’s just not feasible to travel any farther than the comfort of our own living room, and that’s okay.
Escapism and Society
When asked about escapism, culture, and our current political times, Pop Culture Happy Hour host Linda Holmes had what I find to be a very succinct metaphor to share:
“Did you see ‘The Martian’ with Matt Damon? He’s got a big thing he’s trying to solve, which is that he’s stuck on Mars and he has to get back to Earth. And they spent a lot of time in the movie on the fact that he has to figure out how to grow potatoes on Mars. The potatoes on Mars do not actually get him back to Earth. He’s not actually solving the problem. But if he doesn’t have potatoes, he’s not going to live long enough to solve the problem and get back to Earth.”
She continued: “So, to me, my hope is, the songs that you love, the books that you love, the TV that you love, the conversations that you have about people that are kind of nourishing to you, help you — those are your potatoes. . . and you have to have that stuff in order to make it long enough to get back to Earth.”
Escapism is what it is. It’s Hollywood gossip sites while sipping a Starbucks drink, or binge-watching The Office for the third time, or even watching YouTubers narrate highly elaborate makeup tutorials that you know you’ll never attempt in your life, but it doesn’t matter. Everyone deserves an escape now and again, and yours can be whatever you need it to be. Healthy politics really hinges on our sharing of a wider culture that isn’t solely politics, otherwise, we end up viewing our fellow citizens as nothing more than representatives of opposing tribes, crippling our ability to empathize, not to mention our ability to collaborate democratically. We need that common ground that going to the movies or engaging in hobbies gives us to even move towards constructive political ends.