“You pay ridiculous amounts of money to people who entertain you because your lives are so mundane. You throw your money at celebrities because they give your boring life some vicarious excitement.”
A friend related that rather smug quote to me today, something one of his college professors said.
Just a few minutes later I saw an Onion piece in which images of war are juxtaposed with captions from the Golden Globes red carpet ceremony, implying that people who enjoy the latter have little capacity for understanding the fomer.
The Onion article, though not its intention, blows the idea that we look to celebrities to fill in the holes in our mundane lives out of the water.
It is not the mundane we wish to escape by watching sports or going to the movies. It is the hardships. It is the stress of our jobs, the weight of the economy, the perils of war, the barrage of bad news that comes at us every day. We look to entertainment not to fill a space in our lives, but to smooth over the parts where our lives are full of bumps.
The fact that we involve ourselves in the accomplishments of our favorite athletes does not mean we don’t have accomplishments of our own. And the fact that we watch awards shows does not mean we are vapid beings, staring at our TV while not being cognizant of the fact that there is strife going on in the world.
Escapism is a beautiful thing. It allows us for a little while to forget what’s going on outside our own little cocoon. It doesn’t mean we forget long term. It doesn’t mean when we turn off the game or the awards show that we’re not concerned with war and famine and the environment. It doesn’t mean we don’t switch the channel at the close of our escapist programming to a news channel, where we digest what new tragedy the world brought us today.
Our lives are not mundane. We work. We have families. We take vacations. We go out to dinner, take in museums, play soccer in the park and attend community functions. We work forty or more hours a week and squeeze our social activities between our jobs and household chores. That may sound mundane, but only to one looking at our lives from the vantage point of far away. If you take a closer view, you’d see our lives are for the most part made up of small moments of pleasure mixed with larger moments of pushing to move forward. At the end of the day, when the work is as close to done as possible and our minds want to wind down, there’s escape right in front of us, whether it comes from a television set, a book or inside an arena, it’s waiting for us.
For a few hours we are not workers or homemakers. We are not thinking about war or taxes or guns. We are escaping. It’s a brief escape, and one we always deserve.
To imply that we are somehow shallow or lacking in a larger knowledge of the world because we cocoon ourselves inside a different world — one where problems are either unreal or superficial — is to seriously underestimate and insult a good portion of the population. And to posture that we look to others for entertainment because our lives are empty is to not understand human nature. It’s when our lives are too full that we tend to shut down and turn off reality for a little while.
Compartmentalization is a way of coping with the bombardment of information thrown at us each day in an ever-changing, constantly in battle with itself world. We’ll stick today’s news in a little corner in our brain, just tuck it away for a while, while we watch a comedy or cheer on a football team or, yes, even gawk at the clothing choice of a celebrity. Most of us don’t keep the news and matters of the world at large hidden in that compartment. We take it out, discuss it, are acutely aware of it. How does being aware of what Jennifer Garner wore to the Golden Globes at the same time diminish that knowledge?
We escape because our lives are the opposite of mundane. We pay actors and athletes ridiculous amounts of money to entertain us because the daily events of the world – which are a part of our lives – are not boring. The programs we watch and the sports we enjoy are not filling holes in our tiny little lives, they are making the worries of the day more tolerable, for a moment , anyway.
Sometimes that moment is all we need to keep from being overwhelmed.
Instead of discouraging escapism, we should embrace it. In a world that seems to have gone mad sometimes, a little escape goes a long way.