Escapism – An Underrated Superpower

by Evgeniy Isaev via flickr
by Evgeniy Isaev via flickr


I was trained to be an artistic snob, and as Jimmy Stewart would say, I was a very apt pupil.

The prevailing attitude in my college theater program — or to do them justice, the attitude I was most primed and receptive for — was that commercial entertainment might be a way to pay the bills, if one must. But our true calling was to make Art. (Be sure you hit the “Ah” on that word. Ahhhhhht.)

Ahhhhht is supposed to be demanding, and ground-breaking, and soul-shattering, and grueling, and confronting. I need an ibuprofen just talking about it. Commercial entertainment (sniff) is cheap and unworthy, and only suitable for the masses who just don’t know any better. (Be sure you get a good, tight curl on that top lip when you say “masses.”)

I embraced this elevated stance, and brought it home with me. When I tried to introduce Mom to some real, challenging Ahhht, she set it aside with an apologetic smile. “Sweetie, I’ve had enough sadness in my life. I don’t need to take on anyone else’s.”

I may have a permanent bruise on my brain from how hard I rolled my eyes at my mom. (Actually, that would explain a lot). Hopelessly bourgeois. Only interested in escapist, commercial dreck. She just didn’t have what it took to deal with Real Issues of Great Significance.

Of course, I conveniently ignored the fact that Mom’s own significant issues included a childhood filled with poverty and violent, alcoholic grownups. An adulthood spent caretaking one relative after another, on both sides of the family. A major lifelong illness that gradually plunged her into severe physical and mental complications. All I could see was the comfortable suburban home, the dull business degree, and boring, secure marriage – not the odds of her white-knuckling that life out of the chaos she’d always known.

Of course, my attitude didn’t just hamstring my theater career for years. It cut me off from true emotional connection with thousands and millions of genuine, kind people who live generous, amazing lives of sincerity and purpose. Because sincerity isn’t edgy, and simple kindness is profoundly uncool.

Life started knocking the haughty edges off after a while.

I began to see real people, unencumbered by such notions, find real meaning in work I had dismissed as “simplistic” or “unenlightened.” It occurred to me that the very word entertainment is the same one we use for inviting someone into your home and feeding them. It’s hospitality.

Time and experience also taught me to see themes, and how they meet people’s heart needs. Genre fiction gets dismissed for its familiar package, but it deals with deep themes of human experience:

Adventures are about overcoming your fears and finding inner strength. Romances assure us that even imperfect love can transform. Science fiction celebrates the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism:

And my personal, eternal favorite —

Mysteries remind us that in the big cosmic game of rock-paper-scissors, Injustice cuts Innocence, but Truth smashes Injustice.

When my own Real Issues of Great Significance showed up and I transitioned to writing, the old snobbery showed up again. That vein of arrogance ran deep, and produced a rich flow of insecurity. When I started looking for beta readers for my first book, I sat with one friend and apologized profusely for the “silliness” and unworthiness of my ideas.

This friend, after all, knew all about Real Issues. She’d spent the better part of a year with her eldest daughter in an isolation ward, fighting a rare disease with sci-fi level treatments. It seemed so presumptuous to present her with a stupid mystery novel when surely she needed Great Ahhht to feed her soul.

“Look,” she said, “You know what got me through those nights in the hospital? Mysteries and romances. I was so fried, I couldn’t even watch T.V. I wanted to be there with my girl, but I had to get away, too. Those books kept me sane.”

Her words made it all come together.

If a friend showed up on my doorstep, hurting or lonely or just looking for some companionship, would I smack them in the face, feed them raw broccoli and a protein shake, and take them on a five-mile run? No! (You might, but let me know so I don’t accidentally go to your house, okay?)

I’d make them comfortable, give them a hug and something to drink, and try to make them smile.

Now, I embrace my inner bourgeois. Having reached a point in my life where I know what real struggle is like, I finally understand that a place to simply be refreshed is worth creating in the world. So that’s the goal of my stories: to give warm hospitality — entertainment — to a whole new set of friends, whether or not we ever meet face-to-face.

So whether you’re in the midst of a major life struggle, or you just had a really long day of adulting, come on in. Get comfy, have a drink and a cookie, and consider the words of that immortal bard, Samuel J. Snodgrass:

Does entertainment that tries to be “challenging” leave you cold? Have you been comforted or refreshed in hard times by books or shows that you’re a little embarassed to admit? Have you allowed artistic snobbery to choke your gift? Leave a comment, and let’s talk about it.

1 thought on “Escapism – An Underrated Superpower”

  1. I used to pass comment when someone mentioned they’d enjoyed something I didn’t like. Usually, something like ‘you don’t like that do you?’ with a hint of a sneer.

    Then I realised that people love what they love and rather than criticise I ask why they like it so much. While the content may differ the emotions and the thoughts the experience provokes are often very similar.

    Great post that reminded people like what they like 🙂

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