I’ve been thinking about escapism for a while now. It’s a word that often gets thrown around when we want to speak about books or even TV shows. The ability to become immersed in a world that differs from your own can become addictive. Especially, if you’re struggling with the way life is right now. Whether it’s because of lockdown, the stresses of life or even just 2020 in general.
I think we can all admit this year has just been a complete shit-show.
Someone one asked me what my favourite genres were and I replied with Fantasy and Romance. They made an off-hand comment about me seeking escapism and ever since then I feel like my whole world has been shifted from beneath me.
I’ve never once thought about why I love those particular genres or why I instinctively reach for them when I’m feeling particularly down.
The definitions of escapism are interesting to say the least.
What is Escapism?
Escapism – the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.
Escapism – mental diversion from unpleasant or boring aspects of daily life, typically through activities involving imagination or entertainment. Escapism may be used to occupy one’s self away from persistent feelings of depression or general sadness.
Essentially, it’s a short-term relief from the pleasantries of life. Apparently, it’s an unhealthy coping mechanism because the key word is short-term.
So in regards to books, it’s the habit of reading to forget about the real world for a while. It allows readers to get swept away into the story.
Is Escapism unhealthy?
I, personally, don’t think it’s unhealthy. Books provide that little bit of comfort that is needed. It’s relaxing. I can literally feel my mind settling down and the millions of thoughts that buzz around my head finally quietening. It’s helped me tremendously mentally. So, I guess here’s why I think escapism isn’t all that bad when it comes to books.
1. You can put down books in the middle of reading them. It’s not as if you’re playing a game and you have to win something. You can decide at any point when to read or when not to.
2. Majority of the time, you’re learning something. Fantasy tends to be the genre associated with escapism and I can’t tell you how much I’ve learnt from fantasy books. I’m currently reading The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang and I’ve learnt so much about Chinese history already.
3. Most escapism genres are based on real-life events. You’re never completely immersed into some fictional alternative world. There are points where you’re reminded of life.
4. It can be a chance for your brain to recharge mentally. You’re taking the time out to stop and relax for a second.
5. More often than not, they make us happy.
6. Quite frankly, if I want to have a good laugh or lose myself in another world – what is it to you?
Are there particular ‘go-to’ genres for escapism?
I do believe that those who do read have a ‘go-to’ genre whether you realise it or not. That one genre your brain craves because it knows that’s what will allow it to finally relax. It took me a while to work out what mine was and I don’t think it’s as simple as your favourite genre. It’s the genre you reach for when times are tough or the world just seems like it’s falling to pieces around you.
Aka any genre you’ve read the most during this year.
So, I asked my Instagram followers about their go-to genres for escapism and most people said:
- YA Fantasy
- Crime thrillers
- Historical Fiction
Why Fantasy and Romance?
The majority of my followers said Fantasy/YA Fantasy was their ‘go-to’ escapism genre followed closely by Romance. As I mentioned before the Fantasy genre is often associated with escapism, simply because you are literally immersing yourself in another world. I think the risk here is that often Fantasy can be often simply regarded as nothing else but escapism. It completely misses how important Fantasy is for stretching your imagination.
We’re also forgetting how much of Fantasy relies on realism. Urban Fantasy books such as City of Bones by Cassandra Clare and Legendborn by Tracy Deonn rely on actual places as the setting of their stories. For instance, City of Bones is set in New York and for a reader from London who’s never been to New York it can feel like a fantasy world and thus, escapism. However, for a reader living in New York it’s less likely to feel like escapism.
Main characters will often have real-life issues such as drug addictions or mental health problems. As I mentioned before, I’m currently reading a Chinese History inspired Fantasy trilogy and the main character suffers with drug addiction. It’s impossible for authors to write fantasy novels without including some elements of realism. So, I think it’s simply unfair to say the fantasy genre is nothing else but a form of escapism.
As for Romance novels, I think it’s more about the cheesy loose storyline that gets adapted.
Protagonist meets love interest.
A whole bunch of events in the middle.
They live happily ever after.
It’s more about the fact you know what’s going to happen in the end. There’s no shock. You know they’ll end up together but you’re willing to pay attention to the middle parts of the story because it’ll allow you to escape the real world.
This is what I guess it all comes down to with the majority of genres associated with escapism. There are some that simply hold a promise to the reader.
Crime/Thrillers promise that some sort of mystery will be solved.
Romance promises that there will be some sort of happily ever after.
This promise is what allows readers to go into these books knowing that they can forget about the real world. They can simply sit back and relax.
Escapism, Mental Health and Lockdown
I think it’s impossible for people to be active and present in life all the time. Social media has made it ten times harder for people to switch off as it is. Mentally, it can be draining. Our minds tend to struggle to rest unless we’re sleeping.
I know personally I feel like my brain is always worrying about something. Sometimes, I feel like I have a million and one thoughts flying around my mind and I struggle to quieten then. It’s why I like keeping busy because it forces me to focus on one thing. Lockdown has made that incredibly difficult because I find I have more time on my hands.
This is where I truly feel like escapism isn’t a bad thing. Everyone has their own way of escaping life whether it’s video games, listening to music, the gym, watching a movie or reading. It manifests differently within people.
Some say that escapism doesn’t allow us to face our issues. We constantly seek escapism as way out of actually addressing anything that’s negative in our lives.
I believe Escapism allows us to recharge. It gives our minds time to relax and re-focus. Sometimes, those couple of hours that we escape can help us to finally figure out our next steps. Mentally, we’re given a new bout of strength to solve our issues head on.
I won’t ever apologise for something that makes me happy.
And neither should you.