Commentary – Choose escape and engagement

Pearl Lorentzen

Last week, Chris Clegg decried the invasion of serious causes within typical avenues of escapism. On the one hand, I agree. With COVID, social unrest, and economic uncertainty, it would be nice for former modes of escapism to still work.

However, this is not new, reruns might work, and sometimes escapism works better if it is tempered with chosen research on difficult topics.

Starting with the last point. I generally read novels. However, lately I’m drawn to heavy nonfiction. I recently read How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and Nature’s Best Hope by Douglas W. Tallamy. Both are nonfiction. The one on racism vs. antiracism. The other on grassroots ecological restoration.

There are several differences between this and imposed politics or social consciousness within sports or other arenas. I chose the books. I chose when to read. I choose if I want to continue or stop. These considerations move the information gleaned from an imposed realm of bombardment to a controlled space of choice.

There is a vast difference between information being blasted at one and choosing to pursue information on the same topic from a trusted source. Finding ways to control the flow of information helps me feel in control and with it more calm. This can be almost as rewarding as escapism, but in a different way.

While the lure of escapism is one of the reasons, I watch movies [and others watch sports]. Politics and social statements aren’t alien to either. Sports were important within the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Sports and the civil rights movement would have been very different if Jackie Robinson didn’t break the race barrier in baseball in 1947.

At the 1968 Olympics, two African American runners stood barefoot on the podium and raised one black gloved fist into the air in defense of civil rights [the Black Power salute].

The White Australian who won silver was also part of the protest. There are also many examples within film.

However, usually the audience has some warning when a film is serious, not geared toward escapism. At the moment, I find one of the best forms of escapism is entertainment which I have seen before.

No matter where they fall on the seriousness spectrum, the nostalgia of previous encounters colours the experience.

For example, Call the Midwife is a BBC drama which deals with heavy subjects. Since I connected with this show before COVID, it still works as escapism. Especially, if I want to cry.

It is also a period drama, which disconnects it from the current moment and helps with the illusion of escape.

Another form of escapism I’ve recently encountered is documentaries, especially ones made before COVID. The topic can be anything from food history to engineering, but there’s something restful and escapist about watching experts and enthusiasts discuss something that doesn’t relate to my life.

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