The Enemy of Escape is the Jailer

Escapism: habitual diversion of the mind to purely imaginative activity or entertainment as an escape from reality or routine.

i’d like to make a few entries on the various forms of escapism that i enjoy.  Before i get to that though, i figured it’s a good idea to think about the concept generally.  What it means, the positives and negatives, and so forth.

A further elaboration on the definition is that escapism is a means to avoid what we perceive as unpleasant or banal aspects of life.  It is often attributed to an avoidance to or relief from depression or general sadness.

i don’t agree with that assessment.  Certainly, that is encompassed in the overall definition, but to characterize escapism as purely a mechanism of depression relief i think neglects a broader view.

Do you think this image belies an avoidance of real-life problems?  i don’t.  To me it suggests that escapism can be grounded in reality, but take you somewhere you might not otherwise have been able to go.  Maybe what you find through escapism enhances what is real.  Or brings you to a place where you have a new perspective on reality.  You might wonder why someone would have a desire to escape from the picturesque scene shown here.  Maybe the view from the top of that ladder shows you how beautiful the vista is from a different vantage point.
For those who engage in the creation of escapism material, it’s certainly not a bad thing.  J.R.R. Tolkien said in an essay that escapism has an element of emancipation through it’s attempt to figure a different reality.  i can buy that.  Reality, for what it’s worth, is defined largely by our choices.  Look at it this way: throughout all of time, there are very good things that happen all the time, and there are very bad things that happen all the time.  If you choose to zero in on only the bad things, chances are your reality is going to be pretty grim.  So perhaps escaping into different realities like fantasy literature for example, gives you a chance to look at things differently and understand that despite what may seem like an overwhelmingly negative world actually does have good things and good people who champion them.

His friend and colleague C.S. Lewis was more than happy to point out that the enemy of escape was a jailer.  So can it really be all that bad?

By the way, i’d like to point out here that quite a bit of reference that i use is from Wikipedia.  i know a lot of people scoff at that as a less-than-ideal reference source but i disagree.  It’s not without flaws, but as an aggregate of our shared knowledge, what’s the harm in using it as a resource?  Even in school, where it ‘s specifically discouraged most of the time, there’s an easy way around that: citation.  That’s what all those superscript numbers are, and there’s handy links at the bottom of each page that bring you to the source material.
So anyway, if you don’t feel inclined to read more about escapism there, i’ll let you know that social critics often warn that controlling powers can use escapism as a means to further or hold on to that control.  This is where the idea of religion as the “opium of the people” comes from.  It’s also prevalent in lots of dystopian stories, where those in power use television or similar constructs to pacify the greater population.  Galouye’s Simulacron-3 that i mentioned a couple posts ago is sort of like that.  And i’m sure you already thought of The Matrix, which all but hit you over the head with the notion.
Even this blog you’re reading is a form of escapism.  Is that so bad?  There’s plenty of other things i could be doing that are more productive right now: working ahead for my classes, ironing my work clothes, scrubbing the bathroom sink.  On the other hand…
In light of that, i definitely don’t see this exercise as an escape from unhappiness.  In fact it’s the complete opposite.  In general i consider myself an unusually happy person.  Today my escape is in sharing that with you.  We all need those things that stimulate the parts of our minds that maybe don’t get worked out that much when we’re so busy with all the normal stuff.
In the next few entries i’ll discuss some of my favorite forms of escapism.  My guess is i won’t be alone in those pursuits.  What are some of yours?  There’s a good chance that reading blogs is one.  What are some others?  Feel free to let me know: that’s what the comments boxes are for.


  1. […] Recently, i put the question to a few others: “You are transported to a fantasy realm (think Middle Earth) via a magical amusement park ride – do you quest to return home or remain in this land of swords, sorcery, and good vs. evil?”  Today, i fully expected this heretofore meandering wall of text to draw primarily from that well.  For the uninitiated or unaware, that is the basic premise behind the 1980s animated Dungeons and Dragons program.  As you may imagine, as an embryonic geek of 6 or 7 who’d only just discovered D&D through his older brother’s classic “Red Box,” this cartoon was a watershed moment in my development.  While other kids dreamt of being fire fighters, astronauts, and cops when they grew up, my vision was being shaped every Saturday morning.  What did i want to be when i grew up?  Why, a shaggy-haired teen pulled through time and space to battle fearsome beasts for treasure, of course.  My only gripe with the show was the recurring plot to find a way back home.  Are you kidding me?  There ain’t no magic loot in suburbia.  On the other hand, no constant threat to your well-being either.  At least not in the overt, rampaging-monsters-coming-to-destroy-you way.  Looking back now, and sifting through that perspective a bit, kind of weirds me out.  Not the most constructive view of escapism. […]

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