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Nov. 24th, 2008

Another quote from RTD's book —

To be honest, I have trouble with 'escapism' full stop. It's usually a derogatory term. Or condescending. At best, cute. [...] It makes the pastime, whether it's a hobby or a job, seem tiny and silly, when it's a vital part of your life. [...] Writing is actually my way of engaging with the world, not escaping from it.


Now admittedly unlike him I'm not making a living out of my (not-)escapism, so maybe I have something less of an argument there, but I do agree with this on several levels.

For one thing that definition of 'escapism' implies that life is one thing, and only one thing, gritty harsh tangible reality. Whose existence of course shouldn't be ignored (but mostly can't be ignored in any case, because unless you're philosophically self-sufficient to the point of sainthood, most of the usual 'escapist' activities aren't free), but where does that leave the whole realm of imagination, thoughts, ideas, art, all those not immediately tangible things? Is dusting the shelves at work for the nth time more 'real' than reading a book or watching an episode of some tv show that I enjoy, and thinking and writing about that? And admittedly part of me is still inclined to answer that question with 'yes', even if that'd make me feel even more pathetic about the dusting and myself, but on the other hand— why? It seems a tad masochistic. Who decides these priorities? If we love it, enjoy it, think about it, write about it, it is real. Not necessarily good; quality is another cup of tea, and maybe we could spend our time more profitably (but then again it's probably not the worst way to spend it either) but real.

Interestingly/ironically something very similar also happens in academia. Speaking from personal experience, if you're studying/working in Arts, Humanities or Social Sciences you're also being accused of living in the proverbial ivory tower and your right to existence (or at least your right to tax money) is constantly called into question by people who insist on a very similar 'reality' vs. .... they don't call it escapism, but it amounts to much the same thing - dichotomy, unless you happen to produce something deemed useful, effectively putting you in the - slightly fancier - boat next to that of the sci-fi fans and writers, when IMO all those academic disciplines can - although not necessarily always do - teach something that isn't corporeal or immediately marketable, but that most people could use, namely a sense of proportion and perspective in which to see ourselves and our society, and better understanding of humanity.

So obviously there are more intellectual and complex areas there than sci-fi TV shows and of course people could read profound philosophical books in an effort to discover the meaning of life, but realistically, how many will? In the interest of self-disclosure, I don't. I'm as shallow as the next fangirl, only with less squeeing about pretty men. But at the same time those questions are still there in, I would hazard a guess, most people's minds, even if it's only in a vague and not clearly defined way, and this, IMO is where art and literature, and, yes, also TV shows, come in, because like science, like religion, IMO all art is a way of trying to explain and define life, to bring a little order into the chaos inside and around us. Fandom often claims that fanfiction picks up the tradition of story-telling, but copyright and intellectual property issues aside, I'd argue that the TV shows themselves, especially sci-fi shows, already do the same. On a more popular level they often explore all those ideas that are rarely touched upon today in public discourse outside of religion, good and evil, right and wrong, a bit of metaphysics, life, death, defining what makes us human... It might be escaping, or appearing to escape, on one level, but on another - maybe higher, or deeper - level they certainly do engage with life, and using vampires and monsters and aliens gives them more freedom to do so, not less.

In fact I'd argue that these days TV shows tap into the collective subconsciousness more immediately than any other field of writing or art, simply because of their nature. Capital-A-art (and IMO there are way too many artificial and unnecessary boxes and categories there today, but that's for a different rant... and maybe that's also very much a German thing, this division, and harmful both to the 'Hochkultur' as well as the 'Populärkultur'?) is almost always highly individualistic, and writing a book still a rather solitary effort and much more hit or miss. On the other hand, a TV show doesn't exist in a void or only a single writer's brain, and can't ever allow itself to pretend it does since its success and continued existence depend on its reception; it can't ignore that it's done for an audience, and that that audience should like the product, which art and literature usually aren't supposed to care about, or at least that's the lofty ideal; even in fandom people are supposed to write for themselves, and not for feedback. Quality is, once again, a different cup of tea, because of course it can be done in different ways, writers can dumb it down and pander to the lowest common denominator, or the can challenge the audience (and can fail either way), but the interaction with the audience, especially in the age of the internet, whether it manifests itself in conscious decisions and happens on a more subconscious, emotional level is there, and especially with multi-season shows is an ongoing process.

You could probably write a rather interesting essay about Andromeda and the early G.W.Bush years, democracy vs. the need for leadership and heroism, the belief in a destiny and (divine) mission and the religious element, the temptation and danger of absolute power that rejects all moral constraints personified by the Nietzscheans and especially Tyr, and how after 9/11 and the start of the war in Iraq all the ambiguity of Dylan Hunts character, all the canon criticism of his more irrational actions and decisions disappeared at the expense of a much more straight-forward characterisation and 'heroic' story-line - that is, unless on a more subtextual and subversive level the producers wanted the audience to notice that this man isn't exactly a hero [*], but with American politics as they were I could never be sure of that. Smallville uses a similar element of destiny, because while Clark might fight against his father's plans of world domination and so appear to exercise his free will, on a higher level decades of Superman canon already destined him to become the wholesome all-American hero. And much like in Andromeda, Smallville's characterisation often remained strangely unclear, consciously or unconscicously making Clark a sometimes rather unlikeable hero and doomed Lex a much too sympathetic villain in the making.

OTOH you only have to watch Firefly episodes like Jaynestown or Heart Of Gold to know why that show was so short-lived. I'd be hard pressed to think of any show more at odds with the domineering zeitgeist of the society that produced it.

Or all those forensics tv shows. Crime shows aren't new, but I wonder if shows like Bones and CSI with their grisly decomposed and mutilated bodies shown in almost... - the word 'pornographic' comes to mind - detail don't function as a sort of memento mori in a society obsessed with youth and appearances where death is increasingly taboo and invisible.


Writing, art... in a way of course it is distancing, or more precisely implies an already existing distance, because you need distance to observe. There's an argument that landscape painting became only popular - or indeed possible - when people stopped living in so close contact with nature that it was something self-understood and never thought about except as far as it was important for survival. Is that a negative thing? Is reflection? Now of course there is no single answer to that question either, cf. the Don't-Harsh-My-Squee-&-Acafen-Are-Evil school of thought, but it's part of being human... —


Possibly TBC eventually, but I'm more likely to start arguing myself out of everything I've written, before I'd come to any kind of intelligent conclusion, so... *mouseclick*



[*]'If those are the gods, then the gods are not', Mary Renault paraphrasing Euripdes' (supposed? I'm not going to start doing research here...) atheist message in The Mask of Apollo.


Also... The Surinam toad and its reproductive habits. The things you learn on the internetz...
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Half an hour later. Um. Note to self. Don't start watching animal videos on YouTube.

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