Something I encounter a lot in my line of work are arguments about whether escapism should address social issues. The loudest voices state that they want their entertainment to be free from “political” messages. They certainly have a right to pick and choose what they personally consume. It gets problematic when they try to dictate what other people should read, watch, or listen to. It’s downright authoritarian when they want to limit what creators ought to be allowed to create. Most of the time their objection isn’t with the concept of escapist content having a message, but that they disagree with the point being made.
We spend a lot of energy focusing on what we’re escaping to. We try to forget what it is we’re escaping from. In the act of escape, we aren’t facing the things that make us uncomfortable. We don’t deal with the things that we fear. Our lives are lived in denial, through the use comfortable euphemisms. We do everything we can to protect ourselves from reality. I can’t help but speculate that that’s why there’s so much depression, anxiety, and other mental illness in modern America. We don’t know how to talk about these issues, we don’t feel like we’re allowed to talk about these issues, and we face the reality of getting shouted down for discussing these issues.
The Power and Promise of Escapism
By incorporating some of these issues into our escapism, and dealing with them allegorically, it at least takes some of the edge off. We know that we’re not the only people thinking these thoughts, and seeing these problems. That’s part of the power of things like Star Trek and the X-Men. It’s why having films with broader representation of women, people of color, and gender diversity is important.
Escaping isolates us. It can be frightening and frustrating to contemplate the things that are beyond our control. We only give those things power by ignoring them, though. We can find fellowship and common purpose, if not in addressing the problems and working together, then within our shared escapes. If we can’t fix the problem, then we can at least provide each other with some sort of comfort and reassurance.