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Escapism is mental diversion by means of entertainment or recreation, as an "escape" from the perceived unpleasant or banal aspects of daily life. It can also be used as a term to define the actions people take to help relieve persisting feelings of depression or general sadness.
Entire industries have sprung up to foster a growing tendency of people to remove themselves from the rigors of daily life. Many activities that are normal parts of a healthy existence (e.g., eating, sleeping, exercise, sexual activity) can also become avenues of escapism when taken to extremes or out of proper context. In the context of being taken to an extreme, the word "escapism" carries a negative connotation, suggesting that escapists are unhappy, with an inability or unwillingness to connect meaningfully with the world.
However, there are some who challenge the idea that escapism is fundamentally and exclusively negative. For instance, J. R. R. Tolkien, responding to the Anglo-Saxon academic debate on escapism in the 1930s, wrote in his essay "On Fairy-Stories" that escapism had an element of emancipation in its attempt to figure a different reality. C. S. Lewis was also fond of humorously remarking that the usual enemies of escape were jailers. Some social critics warn of attempts by the powers that control society to provide means of escapism instead of actually bettering the condition of the people. (see Juvenal). Escapist societies appear often in literature. The Time Machine depicts the Eloi, a lackadaisical, insouciant race of the future, and the horror their happy lifestyle belies. The novel subtly criticizes capitalism, or at least classism, as a means of escape. Escapist societies are common in dystopian novels; for example, in Fahrenheit 451 society uses television and "seashell radios" to escape a life with strict regulations and the threat of the forthcoming war. In science fiction media escapism is often depicted as an extension of social evolution, as society becomes detached from physical reality and processing into a virtual one, examples include the virtual world of OZ in 2009 Japanese animated science fiction Summer Wars and the game "Society" in the 2009 American science fiction film Gamer. Drugs cause some forms of escapism which can occur when certain mind-altering drugs are taken which make the participant forget the reality of where they are or what they are meant to be doing.
German social philosopher Ernst Bloch wrote that utopias and images of fulfilment, however regressive they might be, also included an impetus for a radical social change. According to Bloch, social justice could not be realized without seeing things fundamentally differently. Something that is mere "daydreaming" or "escapism" from the viewpoint of a technological-rational society might be a seed for a new and more humane social order, as it can be seen as an "immature, but honest substitute for revolution".
The Norwegian psychologist Frode Stenseng has presented a dualistic model of escapism in relation to different types of activity engagements. He discusses the paradox that the flow state (Csikszentmihalyi) resembles psychological states obtainable through actions such as drug abuse, sexual masochism, and suicide ideation (Baumeister). Accordingly, he deduces that the state of escape can have both positive and negative meanings and outcomes. Stenseng argues that there exists two forms of escapism with different affective outcomes dependent on the motivational focus that lays behind the immersion in the activity. Escapism in the form of self-suppression stems from motives to run away from unpleasant thoughts, self-perceptions, and emotions, whereas self-expansion stems from motives to gain positive experiences through the activity and to discover new aspects of self. Stenseng has developed the Escape scale to measure self-suppression and self-expansion in people´s favorite activities, such as sports, arts, and gaming. Empirical investigations of the model have shown that:
- the two dimensions are distinctively different with regards to affective outcomes,
- that some individuals are more prone to engage through one type of escapism, and
- that situational levels of well-being affects the type of escapism that becomes dominant at a specific time.
- Workman, Leslie J. (1994). Medievalism in Europe. Boydell & Brewer. p. 241. ISBN 9780859914000.
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