Escapism: An activity or form of entertainment that allows people to forget about the real problems of life Merriam Webster Dictionary
When I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s there were musicians playing in the shopping street of my little home town. This continued into the the 90’s, but they are completely gone now. I think these were musicians that travelled from town to town, and possibly all over Europe. I remember some had some amazing skills as a one man band (harmonica, guitar and a drum). There were also artists doing pantomime. This wouldn’t amaze us today because we have perfect sound and picture on our various hand held devices. We can listen to music and audio books, and watch films, so why would we give a lousy street performer a chance? We don’t look up long enough to notice anything anyway.
I am following Popular Science on facebook and one of the stories that popped up today was about a smartphone app that can detect when you are bored. This is one of the major problems because thinking is considered to be a bad thing. We get bored so quickly and it’s driving us crazy. The remedy is of course more entertainment. I don’t watch TV at the moment as I cancelled my cable subscription six months ago, but there’s no escaping what happens there. Not if you read news and social media. I guess I could sum up the MTV Video Music Awards with this: Miley Cyrus and Kanye West are going to do whatever they want, and we want them to. There is something I am clearly not getting when people talk about Miley Cyrus’ best outfits of the show. What outfit?
There seems to be something very decadent about us today. It’s about more than forgetting. It’s about our own needs and the “face of the other”, as the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas put it, simply doesn’t exist. I think there are forces that would gladly encourage us to stop thinking about reality. Escapism isn’t new, however. Life magazine became very popular in the 1930’s, largely because the pictures “gave no indication that there was such a thing as a depression; most of the pictures are of bathing beauties and ship launchings and building projects and sports heroes.” Culture and Politics in the Great Depression, Alan Brinkley. It was the same story with radio and the film industry in the United States in the 1930’s. It was all about making people forget.
What strikes me about youth culture in recent years is that there’s been a lot of focus on vampire films/books, as well as Hunger Games and The Maze Runner. Maybe we fear the future more than ever and in order to forget many focus on the Kardashians and more disturbingly, Miley Cyrus. We may be living in difficult times, but at the same time we have never been better off. Some people may feel a need to forget, but stories like the ones you can hear on this podcast from the Guardian, makes me wonder how justified it is for Europeans and Americans to give up. Africa is doing better, but there is a growing inequality. Still, in some ways these very poor people are more responsible citizens than many of the rest of us.