Investigative Poetry. Essays. Articles. Poems? Sure.

Escapism, Entertainment, Society

Against the consumerist ideology

Image from Adbusters.

By delaying the confrontation with something, the power of anxiety in that object grows. This seems to be a loop or vicious cycle seen in escapism, and essentially addiction. The escapism, or the addiction, is a way of disconnecting from the world, and the problems of the world. These problems, we have been conditioned to believe, are unsolvable. We have been conditioned to believe there is nothing we can do about them. However, by disconnecting like this, it actually makes that object of fear and anxiety, even more powerful. Perhaps on one level, this is why the corporate media stresses escapism so much. It isn’t simply that it sells so well. Although that is part of it. It does sell well. But it strikes me that it sells so well, because people want to escape. And the system as such also wants that. The system does want passive obedient consumers. The more one is a passive obedient consumer, the less one wants to grapple with the difficulty of the world; the more they want the escapism. 

Struggle as an alternative to escapism

Happiness comes from a feeling of thriving, and not at all from escape. 

How I would describe the desire for escape, is a particular desire in a historical and cultural context. It is one in a political and economic context, in which the modern subject is powerless over their social and environmental conditions; to the degree that their participation in a larger system, has been reduced to the role of a mere worker-consumer. 

These two back to back functions, worker and consumer, mutually reinforce each other. The role of worker is one of drudgery, it is compulsive. It is mandatory. It is exhausting, to the degree that the mutually reinforcing role of consumer, becomes the relief of that burden; it becomes the justification. It is the motivation in a way, or at least a kind of negative motivation; insofar as the role of worker is compelled, the reward of consumption becomes the basic means of “escape” from this compelled necessity. 

Entertainment in the domain of media and art, is the general correlate of escape in this idea. Escapism is a product in this view. By product I suppose I mean commodity, created as all products are within a capitalist system, through exploitation and alienated labor. When one consumes the product, they are expecting a certain experience. Usually this is to feel good; and often that will take the form of a fantasy, which could be anything provided it takes one’s mind off of the reality at hand. The main point is that one is occupied with something that excludes considerations of certain problems at hand, and often for being in service of taking one’s mind off of the burdens one is submitted to during their compulsive work hours. What I would argue is that this desire, for escape, is conditioned on the social structure in which a worker-consumer finds themselves and is removed from a more natural desire in humans in which we find a more enduring happiness. The enjoyment of escapism is fleeting, and the happiness it provides is gone, the moment the escaping situation is over. This I would contrast with the more enduring sense of happiness one achieves through activities of overcoming, that is to say, through experiences in which one confronts a source of anxiety, an obstacle let’s say, and one is able to resolve it. This I would call an experience of thriving. 

Why this thriving experience creates a happiness which is more enduring, is because for the escape experience, one can only anticipate more of the same. Since the problem which is being escaped from, is never confronted, there are never any alternative experiences to look forward to, or better horizons to imagine. There is only always the anticipation that once an undesired emotion or experience of displeasure arises that one will want to escape from it, and will more and more center their desires around spending an increased amount of time in that experience, and a decreased amount of time in anything that serves as a reminder of those unpleasant emotions or experiences. 

Voluntary consumption as an escape from compulsory production

This seems to describe well the amount of emphasis placed in our society on consumerism. It becomes a form of identity. It becomes essentially the main thing that we care about, because it is to a certain extent, the only thing we are really permitted to care about, outside of what is almost the schizophrenic separation and alienation from that other part of one’s life, where one spends most of their time, compelled to work, whether they enjoy what they are doing or not. So especially under conditions where people don’t enjoy what they are doing—which probably constitutes the majority experience; because the idea that someone would like what they do, is conceived of as a kind of rare dream in out society, reserved for only the luckiest—no wonder people escape into the pleasurable hobby of consumerism, the main domain in which one can construct a form of identity that they feel is at least in some degree voluntary.