Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"Escapism: the latest hook, line and sinker," by Aimee.

Escapism: A growing trend?
Last week, during our spring break vacation from school, I found that I’d spent much of my time off from work completely engrossed in alternative universes: from movies, to books, and television shows, vacation retreats, and meditation, and prayer. I spent a lot of time disconnected from society with friends and family who, like me, are also escaping. Which poses the question to me: What exactly are we escaping from? Personally, I think it's a reaction to the over-stimulation of media, electronics and information, frankly. So I asked myself: What are the statistics and trends of current employee work performance with special correlation to information overload? Is there causation between information overload and the need to "check out" more frequently? Or is this startling trend universal- regardless of the amount of work- a result of a generational laziness? What happens if we all "check out" of life? Is this an American trend? A global trend? (I’d really like to hear from my readers around the world on your thoughts about this topic: please comment on your observations below!)
An ad for Tommy Bahama
There are lots of famous people and brands that have made their fortunes selling "the leisurely lifestyle": Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Chesney and Tommy Bahama, to mention a few. I feel like this trend is (to use an appropriate fishing analogy) hooking us, dragging us and sinking our mentalities, energies and passions about working.
There are so many ways of escaping that it’s impossible to go through a day without being assaulted with a barrage of advertisements and products and activities and trips to help you “escape.” From cigarettes and their 2-4 minute escape, to a coffee break, to a lunch experience, cars, the daily Groupon e-mail deal for an unusual activity, etc… there’s something for everyone! I find that my favorite way to escape is to see movies. I have always enjoyed watching movies. I find that because my short term memory is nonexistent that I can enjoy many of my favorites over and over again as if seeing them for the first time in a long time.

Escapism seems to be, like so many things, a 'in moderation' stimulation necessary for success... but lately, I've come to look at it more and more as a caffeine-like degenerative addiction: one that our country needs to break...
The issue of Escapism came to me after viewing the recent remake of Tron Legacy over Christmas break. In the darkness of the movie theater we can forget about reality and submerge ourselves into the world which is presented to us. This was especially true for the video game world of Tron. While the plot and dialogue were mediocre at best, the viewer did get the feeling of being “inside” the video game, even more so when watching it in 3-D. Leaving the neon, pristine, white sanitized world of Tron made me instantly crave trees and green. I wanted to escape the movie in which I had tried to escape life in. This denouement spurred the larger issue of the escapism dilemma for me.
Escapism: Microcosm or macrocosm?: Is escapism only for the uber-wealthy? The stats say no.

To get an idea of the global health and wealth situation: check out this movie I share with my eighth graders during our global studies and literature unit:

This video gives us a basis about the general growth of health and wealth in the world from the past 200 years, and raises the question: what exactly is the wealth distribution in America?

If I'm understanding this chart correctly: the bottoms 80% of Americans only have 7% of the financial wealth (red zone, right pie)...and this is a four year old chart. However: back to the question, of escapism: micro or macrocosm, I must infer that if I am able to successfully "escape" with smaller and cheaper diversions than even the most affluent Americans, than it is possible for anyone in our country to afford to be able to do so. (As I represent the bottom 80%.) So, the next question is: who is actually working and who is 'escaping'? What is the work/escape ratio in all types of Americans? 

More than half of the companies in this survey have banned facebook and twitter from their businesses, which you would think would raise productivity, but until they ban smartphones, that's not going to stop people who can still access the sites on their personal cell phones. In the U.K, (in 2009) there was the impressive statistic that social media is causing a loss of $2.25B per year. Although, another statistic from that same article states that merely web surfing costs the U.S $63B each year. It seems we are becoming more and more distracted and losing more and more productivity as we more through the first part of the 21st century...

The Past and Present Escapism Trends:
My colleague Jay brought up the point that trends in escapism growth usually revolve around depressions and recessions. Nicole agreed using the example of the original "Silver Shoes" in the Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum was about some people pushing for the silver standard, and the yellow brick road was adopted to represent the gold standard. (Check out the money and politics behind The Wizard of Oz here...). The movie version of the Wizard of Oz took the original piece of literature and created the world of Oz, providing an enormously successful escapism for the Depression-era (1939) world. In 2009, amidst the crux of the Great Recession in America, Avatar provided the same type of escape: into a lush futuristic world. This week, viewers can "check out" with Battle: Los Angeles. (Which made $36M this past weekend.)

But, before we start drowning in cultural laziness and withdrawal from society, I do have some suggestions on how to maintain connections to humanity: (because that is what my blog is all about). Start a dialogue with someone today, read the news, call someone you haven't talked to in a while, call a parent, call a grandparent, share a meal with someone, share an activity. Take a break from your comfortable routine and do something radically different. Challenge your own lifestyle.

Lisa Kennedy in the Denver Post two days ago talked about the paltry American psyche when it comes to global crises: "Watch. Get anxious. Ignore. Get anxious. Repeat." (source) She states that escapism is overrated: and I agree with her. I think it's an easy way out. I think it's actually more challenging to begin a dialogue with people, especially strangers on the blogosphere for example, where you cannot control the comments, and it creates a healthy transaction and communication of critical thoughts and ideas- a dialogue which connects us to each other, AND challenges our brains at the levels of previous post or secondary educations did long ago. It's too easy to get lost in the social media outlets and the narcissistic "profiles" of self-identity and to waste countless hours this way. I like Lisa's article in that she suggests films that help us understand the current issues and conflicts in the Middle East: using the usual 'escape medium' of film to educate. The important segway from film back into humanity being: what you decide to do with the information that is provided to you, how you share it, how you help educate others about these issues. What have you done after experiencing something that 'moves' you lately? Tweeted about it? Liked it? These are the superficial triggers of connection. I challenge you do do something more, to take a stand for something. To get up on your soap box and holler out your feelings to the world. But like the church sign says on my street: It's easier to preach ten sermons than to follow one- so I've got to work on this too.