In My View: Escapism? Don’t we all need a break sometimes?

“A lot of people don’t like their job Peter. What is important is finding something that does make you happy.” – Roughly quoted from Office Space

First before I write this post, I want to apologize to the women for butting into their conversation. But I think
they’ve offered a fascinating range of views on the idea of escapism and how people use anime as both a social tool and a personal tool for dealing with life. In fact, they provided so much material that it’s had me thinking about it for two days. (Oh and Paul too.)

That said, I find it strange how people use the word escapism. It’s not that I totally disagree that entertainment by its very nature provides an out to the harsh realities that surround us every day. Hell, I’m a 31-year-old phone sales rep. After a day of dealing with people the last thing I want to do is deal with more people. But it seems like we’ve developed a language that divides “real life” into things that are unpleasant and “escapist” life into things that are fun.

There’s got to be a middle ground there. There’s got to be room where a hobby is a healthy outlet or at the very least as Gia seems to hint at a way for those people who are less socially adept to interact with other people in a fashion that doesn’t involve taking people’s orders or working on code (I’m not saying that computer programmers are not socially adept, just that there are computer programmers that are not socially adept.)

This is where I’m stuck. Because escapist implies that we use entertainment to get away from our lives.

And yes, I do think there’s a level where we enter into the world the creators have developed and I agree that there’s a sense of relief when everything works out (or doesn’t work out) in the end. But I don’t think that we solely use entertainment (or any hobby for that matter) to get away from our lives, but rather so we can have a life.

Before people start freaking out at me, let me explain my thinking on this. Lelangir was quite right when he pointed out a while back that the Otakusphere has a social structure. Now I’m not sure quite how I’d define it or how it works or what affects it has, but there’s definitely a social structure there. For there to be a social structure, that would imply that people are socializing. In fact, again as Gia pointed out, there are various different social structures. You have conventions, fanfic, fanart, podcasts, blogs, forums, clubs, etc. What anime gives people in a lot of ways is a common interest and a common language that we can talk about these things.

And like any community there are going to be some people who don’t really fit in, but are they any stranger than the guys who slap on body paint and go to the (American) football game? Are they any less socially proficient than the writers in a critique group who say to the people reviewing them that they just don’t get it? Are they any more obsessed than the Chris Crockers of the world? And are there really that many more of them in these circles than in those circles? From my experience, I’d say no.

Now certainly this isn’t all encompassing. There are definitely those fans that’d rather spend time with their body pillows than with real people. And there are people for whom anime is a habit rather than a hobby. And I certainly don’t want to drift into the territory of whether they’re the majority or the minority.

But I will risk saying that they’re really not using the hobby to its full extent. So while I’ll agree that escapism may play a part in the hobby, it’s certainly not the end-all-be-all of it.

16 thoughts on “In My View: Escapism? Don’t we all need a break sometimes?

  1. Err…can anyone be said to be “using the hobby to its full extent” even if they’re not solely using it for escaping? What does that even mean? I can’t imagine a single person understanding everything there is to understand about otaku-ing or anime, so there must be some things that every given person is missing out on.

    With that in mind, I’d think escapism is about as significant a part of the hobby as you could define. Going for the “there is other stuff” angle feels a lot like grasping at straws to me.

    Thinking charitably I would guess the argument is coming from a desire to get out from the label of escapism because in some schools of thought escapism is all fairly immature. This is reasonable in a sense because there is a certain amount of anime that it is not fair to dismiss like that even on the premise that it’s fair to dismiss “escapism” in general (which I don’t buy, but then I may be biased as I do a hell of a lot of it and always have.)

    Disclaimer: have only read most of those posts, not all of them, since I really ought to be doing my philosophy paper right now, so I might be repeating someone else – just consider me to be talking only about your post here.

  2. Is blogging about escapism in this manner escapist?

    I think so. Good job to BOOB for one-upping the rest of us silly pontificating types. And it’s a good topic; I’m just not sure if the approach is the best.

    I choose to comment on this blog for a few reasons, though, because I think unlike BOOB folks you actually couch the issue with the right context. I think different people obviously will look at it differently but it’s not really escapist if you decide to go on vacation two or three times a year. In fact, it’s healthy and necessary if you live and work where I am. Perhaps a retreat away from the everyday grind is an escapist act, but I think it is too much to call it that.

    The same applies to any kind of enjoyment of life, use of “free time”, beyond what you absolutely must do to survive and fulfill your obligations as a human being in human society. Where do we draw the line?

  3. I think it’s kind of silly how people seem to assume that calling anime and manga (or anything) “escapism” makes it a bad thing. I maintain that all entertainment is escapism to some extent or another, and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that @_@

  4. @Gia:Yeah, that’s what I was trying to get at. I think you’d find a lot more people willing to label anime as escapist and not make these statements about how they’re not using the hobby to its full extent if they weren’t bound down by this stigma certain people (I don’t know who) have managed to attach to escapism.

  5. @Shiri – I didn’t intend that last statement as a value judgment. What I was trying to do was avoid the inevitable, “Well what if they aren’t involved in any of the social activities outside of the pure entertainment” argument. I apologize that it seemed that way. What I am trying to say is that there has to be a middle ground where escapism is a healthy (and arguably necessary) activity, and a point where it’s not. That there has to be a middle ground there. That’s what I’m trying to argue.

    What my argument came out of a desire to find a middle ground, because according to current thought ANYTHING is escapism (i.e. religion, entertainment, going to the museum, going on vacation, walking through the park, talking with friends, drinking, smoking, taking a piss break.) And the idea that escapism is somehow less important than doing unpleseant stuff (i.e. work.) What I’m arguing is that people use hobbies in more than just a “Oh hey, I don’t want to deal with real life right now” kind of way. That they use them so they can interact with people with similar interests (kind of like you’re doing.) I don’t know how that’s grasping at straws.

  6. @Shiri – And I said, not once but twice that there is an escapist quality to entertainment. Just that it isn’t the SOLE portion.

    But if you can tell me that you haven’t talked to anyone about something that isn’t just related to work or current events (that aren’t entertainment or sports based) then I will rescind my entire argument.

  7. @omo – I’m not sure where that dividing line is. I’m wondering if it’s when it becomes maladaptive, as if there’s harmful escapism and necessary escapism. I think where my problem on this topic is coming from is that anything can be escapist. I mean going to church, or watching the ball game or blogging or reading a novel.

    @Gia – Despite what Shiri said, I do agree. I’m just trying to define various benefits outside of the classic entertainment as escapism model. I don’t believe I said escapism was bad.

  8. No offence taken for you to apologise for, and certainly no offence meant.

    I guess we’re talking about different kinds of “escapism” to start with. At least, your opinion of “current thought” on it is different to mine. Using the definition I’m familiar with, a bunch of hobbies like football, rugby and so on do not necessarily qualify as escapism, but a huge swathe of anime does because it presents you with some part of life you’d like emphasised more than it already is for you (or something; that’s a pretty blurry sentence but hopefully you see what I mean.)

  9. @Shiri – I think I understand what you mean. You’re saying that it’s a fantasy re-enactment? Or on some level a wish-fufillment?

    See when I hear the word escapist it’s usually implied that people are using something to get away from dealing with their problems. Or that they’re using something as a crutch. What I’m disagreing with is that idea of escapism. That it’s a kind of mental disorder.

    Now, I’ll agree that they’re are a lot of uses for a hobby in general. There’s a entertainment use (which is where escapism seems to come in). There’s a social use (which is my argument.) There’s an intellectual use (which someone else argued). There’s a self-reflection use (again someone else argued this, I think the same person). What I’m saying is that people can have all of these uses, and that they might be missing somehting if they didn’t. Not that they have to.

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