Redefining Escapism

“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” 

-Haper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.”

-Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

The flat fields remain untouched by industrialization. No Wal Marts or parking lots have destroyed the jaw dropping beauty of unadulterated nature. Within the forest lives a group of people with their own unique way of life foreign to most Americans. Who are these people? And more importantly who are the men who come to colonize the once quiet land? How do both react to the grandeur, the death, and the love around them?

She stares at the mirror in her underwear. Her ruffled hair is cut short. She turns to her bed picking up medical wrap and begins to wrap it around her chest. Tightly. Next she picks up a dildo from her bed and fits it into her underwear. She looks at herself, mid-transformation, numb.

A boy alone in a bed quietly listening to a conversation happening in the next room between his friend and his friend’s father. His friend is a Tutsi. This orphaned boy is a Hutu. He can hear his friend’s father referring to him as a cockroach. Alone in the darkness he dares not breathe. Pain, sorrow, and division are emerging.

In his article from a couple years ago film/culture critic Brett McCracken does something fantastic. It is surprising how little has been written about what he does. He redefines escapism:

            “We all agree movies allow us to escape—and there’s value in that—but it’s more than simple escapism. Movies take us to places we’ve never been and inside the skin of people quite different from ourselves. They offer us a window onto the wider  world, broadening our perspective and opening our eyes to new wonders.”

As defined by McCracken Escapism should not be merely understood as turning the brain off and forgetting about reality. Instead escapism brings the viewer into a reality unlike ones own. Going to the movies, reading a book, looking at art is no longer isolating oneself from humanity, but actually drawing one closer to it.  In film (and other art) people who once seemed inhuman become human. The “other” is no longer looked down upon.

This redefined and refined description of escapism helps the viewer to truly see.

In 1849 Gustave Corbet presented his groundbreaking painting The Stone Breakers to the public. The painting is a raw and gritty portrait of two peasants breaking gravel. Their cloths are torn and their muscles are strained.  When released cries of obscenity  rang through social circles. Who did Corbet think he was painting a picture so authentically? Even more offensive was that this wasn’t a painting of the Divine nor of royalty, this was a painting of lowly people. But it puts the viewer, both then and now, in the world of the least of these. They are two humans striving to survive in a harsh and lonely world.

I’m currently reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. The controversial novel is an uncomfortable challenging read. It is about Humpert Humpert a man in his thirties who lusts after a girl by the name of Lolita. The problem? Lolita is twelve years old. Written in first person the reader is thrust into the mind of this very damaged and sick individual. The reader sees the world through his eyes. Nabokov creates a three-dimensional character and avoids shock tactics. H.H. is neither a soulless pervert, but he is far from healthy or good.

While exploring nature and culture with John Smith and Pocahontas in The New World

While witnessing the broken world of Brandon Tina in Boys Don’t Cry

While glimpsing moments of reconciliation in a broken post genocide Rwanda in Munyurangabo

While gazing at Gustave Corbet’s realist painting

While reading the disturbing Lolita

One is transported out of their own reality and into another’s own complicated, beautiful, and tragic world. This is why art is so important, especially in our current culture. Talk Show Radio dehumanizes and in return people dehumanize those who host Talk Show Radio. The media reduces people to ideas. Religion reduces people to doctrine. That is why honest art is important. It confronts one with the human, in doing so it tears down the walls that separate society. I will never know what it feels like to be transgender, but like Brandon Tina, I know what it feels like to want to belong and feel love. I escape into his world and come out of it two hours later enlightened and more grace filled.

Escapism can be turning off the brain and watching John McClain defeat European terrorists, but it can be much more. “There is a time for everything” and as such society should not limit film to fulfilling just one purpose.


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