There is often an underlying thought where consumption of fiction, be it in the form of watching TV, reading books, or playing video games, is thought of as something that distract us from reality or that they are an escape from reality.
Taking this further, there are also those who believe that fiction consumption can even be detrimental to a person’s wellbeing or become a crutch for them to really grow up. This idea is, perhaps best, exemplified during the end of Evangelion: 3.0 + 1.0 Thrice Upon a Time (SPOILER ALERT: SKIP THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT) in which the protagonist Shinji decided to remake the world free of Evangelions. After which, he ended up in more or less the real world with all of the teenage pilot characters in an adult form. The message is clear: Break free from fiction and you can finally become an adult.
I always find myself disagreeing with that notion, but could not quite articulate why at least until now (somewhat). It is not just because there are works of fiction that can have real social impact or the fact that people generally emotionally displace themselves using whatever indulgence that they prefer, not just fiction, to get away from what it is that troubles them about life (food, sex, drugs, alcohol, etc.).
It’s probably because I’ve always seen consumption of fiction as a part of experiencing reality itself, rather than something that deviates from it.
Fiction, the Gateway to Another World
It’s very easy to think why we consider consuming fiction as a way of escapism. After all, watching it can often feel like we are transported into another world.
While consuming fiction, we see parts of life that we never get to see in our life. We experience many things that we never knew exist. Love, despair, hope, horror, and lots of others.
While we are within that state of mind, our thoughts and minds regarding the current life that we inhabit can fall into the wayside in the process. We don’t think about how annoying next Monday will be, we’re thinking whether or not Shinji will get into the robot.
But, while we are experiencing phenomenon that don’t directly happen to us, we still do experience the emotion with our real-life body. The event we are seeing may be artificial, but the catharsis and the dopamine that we get isn’t. Shinji’s horror of getting into a robot does not happen within our world, but the anxiety that the audience feel in seeing Shinji’s fretting over his decision is still very much real.
In this way, consuming fiction is no less an escape from reality then eating a good pizza, or indulging in creative endeavors or getting that perfect mark during a difficult exam.
By the end, it’s all about the catharsis that we get from those things, no matter if its something that’s actually present in our day-to-day lives.
Our Productivity-driven Society
I feel like it’s not controversial to say that our current society is obsessed with productivity.
We all know the song and dance by now. Eat healthy food, exercised a lot, get a good school, get a good university, graduate with honor, find a decent job, move up in the world, lick your bosses’ boots, and then repeat.
All of these stems from understandable instinct. Going to work and getting salary ensures that you don’t have to live in poverty in the future. Exercising also ensure that you’re not going to die early.
But ultimately, for what end do we want to live longer or gain money for?
At what point does doing all of these things becomes an end, in and of itself?
Granted, there are people who do derive pleasures from productive activities and feel like that’s their purpose of living and that is totally valid!
But, if you feel like reality is really all about indulging all the experiences and the stimuli that the world can offer you, then I feel like wanting to consume fiction is just one part of living out the purpose of existence.
Like what the Pixar movie Soul had espoused, simply being present and indulging on the things that you like can be the point of life in and of itself.
So I guess I don’t really see the tension between consuming fiction vs productive activities as this war of escaping to fiction vs living out reality.
I really more see it as balancing between short term want vs long term need.
Anyway that’s what I think. What about you?
- I think It’s important to note that this productivity-driven mindset also exist within the social justice sphere. From my observation, there are plenty of activists or social justice advocates out there who feel like “society” haven’t done enough for those who are under oppression or those who cried out for justice. Heck, within some circle, being privileged in any way means that you’ve been branded with the original sin of your ancestors must spend the rest of your lives atoning for them, and as long as there is oppression out in the world, to become woke for 24/7 is basically a moral obligation. I do believe helping people is important, but I feel like letting people have fun is also a valuable right in its own.
- Heck, even for people experiencing adversary, such as oppression and poverty, they not only valued fun, they also consider them a necessity. Like the titular character in Sullivan’s Travels once said, “There’s a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that’s all some people have? It isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan.”
- Somewhat related to the quote above, as a result of our obsession with productivity, the things that we like can’t just be fun. It has to have certain pragmatic or deeper purposes in its construction. Oh this show’s isn’t your typical escapist fantasy, this is dark reflection humanity and stuff! (Cue Evangelion)