Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pros and Cons of Escapism

Today's post relates to last week's post about the dichotomy of The Protagonist and deals more precisely on my views concerning escapism.  In a nutshell, my feelings are complicated.

Disclaimer: This my personal opinion. I mean no offense to anyone else's opinion.

On the one hand, it offends my sensibilities as a novelist. I don't like the idea that my novels (or the novels of others) are used as a disposable hiding place. It gives me a feeling of 'tissue paper', or worse, 'toliet paper'; covered with crunge to provide temporary relief. This practice equates the novel to a feel-good drug that ultimately does nothing but harm to the user.

On the other hand, I DO like the idea that my novels (or the novels of others) could provide such relief to someone in need of it.  Life can be very hard and a disposable hiding place could make it tolerable. This practice equates the novel to cough syrup which dampens pain while the user works to overcome the source of the pain.

Originally, only the first paragraph described my feelings about escapism. When I was younger my preception of the world was much narrower and so my feelings on most subjects in real life were informed by what I saw in real life (other people like me) and online (varied).  When I thought of escapism I thought of people whose only problem was boredom and laziness. I figured they played games, read stories, etc in which they could insert themselves to relieve this boredom. I thought of Audience Surrogates who were fawned over by many beautiful girls (because the audience was too shy to talk to any in real life) or defeated demons (because they couldn't handle 'demons' in real life) and other wish fullfilment that shadowed what they wanted in real life.

This idea stayed with me when I decided to become a novelist and the thought of pandering to this sort of audience to make a living made me ill.  Then I found the following quote on Tvtropes. Believe it or not, it was on the trope page for In-universe escapism, that is, esscapism for the characters in the story.

Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?
J. R. R. Tolkien, "On Fairy Stories" lecture, 1939

I didn't bother arguing with this point becaue I couldn't think of a valid point to argue. If I was imprisoned without hope of release or escape then I would certainly want to immerse myself in a more pleasant environment, even if it was imaginary. My problem with escapism comes from those that are not imprisoned or facing similarly harsh circumstances. The reason for my problem is summed up in this line from "The Oatmeal" website. I found it on the Tvtropes page for Escapist Character.

"By creating this "empty shell," the character becomes less of a person and more of something a female reader can put on and wear."
-The Oatmeal, 'How Twilight Works'

I don't want to write stuff like that and so Eric is not a pair of pants for the reader to wear. I think I offended a few people who started reading with this idea in mind. Instead they're introduced first to Tasio the Trickster and then to Eric; the former laughs at the latter. My goal for the book was for Eric to better himself and become a stronger person without leaning on magic or a flock of beautiful admirers. It was a self-imposed challenge at first, but if someone were to follow his journey and benefit in the same way then I would be thrilled.

If the world that the reader escapes to is one that empowers them when they leave, then I see nothing wrong with escapism. If the world that the reader escapes to is devoid of the tramua that otherwise plagues them, I see nothing wrong with escapism. If the world that the reader escapes to contains a pair of 'perfection pants' or some other wish fullfilment, then I do see something wrong with escapism.

No comments:

Post a Comment