The Art of Escapism
Written by Kristina Markulin // Illustrated by Asha McClendon
Escapism is a popular pastime, but it’s becoming increasingly harder — especially in 2020.
2020 has been a year of tensions. The United States is dealing with the biggest racial protests since the civil rights movement of the 1960s amidst an out-of-control global pandemic — which is causing massive economic collapse and a homelessness crisis. Naturally, more and more people are seeking an escape from reality. But much like the rest of 2020, doing that this year is a bit different.
Rising Stars and Returning Heroes
This summer, both the new and nostalgic were at the forefront of popular escapist media. New releases and the rediscovery of old favorites fostered an unique online space.
The nostalgia market has always been big, but quarantine made nostalgia even more appealing. The feeling of wanting to return to a simpler time before the world seemed to be on fire is a powerful draw. And although quarantine didn’t create the massive market for consuming old material made new (see the Disney live-action remakes for an example), the re-releasing of older media on new platforms or the remixing of old media for new audiences became increasingly lucrative, on both a business and a personal level. When life seems completely insane, going back to the devil you know can be incredibly comforting.
Despite being new and exciting, mainstream content offers a certain comfort. If content is mainstream, that means that there are many people who consume it, and you will be able to engage in that discussion — especially if that show is a beloved classic or that game is simple and accessible. It means it’s innocuous — that it’ll still feel like comfort, even if it’s unfamiliar.
Video game companies and streaming services were the real winners during quarantine. Nintendo’s Animal Crossing New Horizons and indie game Fall Guys launched into the mainstream thanks to the near perfect time of releases for each game. Animal Crossing came out mid-March just as lockdown began; and Fall Guys released a month earlier in February but became widespread in August, thanks to its status as the PlayStation Plus free game of the month (unless you forgot to download it like one Vindicator writer did). Both games are fun, colorful and addicting, which forecasts success under normal circumstances. However, quarantine was an unique landscape that allowed these titles to absolutely dominate, both in downloads and discussions.
As for streaming services, Netflix’s “Tiger King” kicked off quarantine with a strong start for the company. However, the release of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “The Legend of Korra” brought Netflix and both series into the limelight once again. Similarly, Disney+ saw accelerated releases of films like “Onward”, the multi-camera filming of the smash hit musical “Hamilton,” and the completion of the Star Wars Skywalker Saga. With everyone locked up inside, what else are they going to do?
An honorable mention in this category goes out to Midnight Sun, the new book that retells Twilight from Edward Cullen’s perspective. This book didn’t dominate social media the same way these other re-releases have, but it is notable within the context of the Twilight fandom and its slow resurgence since 2019. Twihards rejoice, your 15-year-long wait is over (author’s note: I have never read “Twilight”).
Fallen Titans and the Ruins of a Media Empire
But just as much as 2020 has been about escapism, it is also a time of reexamination. Sometimes we look back at what we watched when we were younger and recognize the flaws within it. Other times, the creators show us themselves.
Harry Potter is one of the largest franchises on the planet. Seven books, eight movies, two spin-off films, a theme park, countless pieces of merchandise, and an expansive online community make it the juggernaut that it is today. However, people have begun to leave Harry Potter behind due to J.K. Rowling’s tweets. Rowling’s brand of “gender critical” feminism made many Potterheads leave Hogwarts in a mass exodus. Some are sticking around, claiming Death of the Author. Many are trying to reclaim the work and distance it from Rowling since she declared herself as a trans-exclusionary radical feminist. Fans and critics are still sorting through whether this is even technically possible.
Rowling is just one titan who fell during quarantine. “The Ellen Show” is being investigated by Warner Brothers for workplace harassment after employees accused the show and its producers of racism, a toxic work environment and sexual harassment and assault. Shane Dawson, one of YouTube’s largest and most recognizable creators, has been exposed for racist sketches, inappropriate acts with animals and the sexualization of his young teenage audience (for more on this story, check out D’angelo Wallace’s video; viewer discretion advised). Celebrities are even being held accountable for not only past actions, but more notably, inaction. For example, Twenty One Pilots frontman Tyler Joseph received criticism on Twitter for joking about not using his platform to publicly support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Many of the celebrities being called out have had controversy and criticism in the past, but 2020 has been a year of education and exposure. People don’t want to support those who harm others, whether that be through abuse of any kind: racism, transphobia, supporting movements that hurt people, or refusing to support those that help. 2020 has become a time when we as consumers demand more from media starlets, but that “more” is arguably the bare minimum. Quarantine has kept us inside, giving us ample opportunity to reflect.
"The internet may be forever, but the trending page is fickle."
Where Do We Go From Here?
As much as media gives us comfort, sometimes we have to let go of the old and bring in the new. Consider Marie Kondo’s principle: If something no longer brings you joy, thank it and let it go. It is hard to let go of media, especially aspects of media that were influential to you as you were growing up. But it’s important to reexamine what you loved as a kid and ask yourself, “Is this what I want to keep supporting?”
Letting go is sad, and it’s hard — but it makes room for other things. If you can’t look at Harry Potter the same way, the Percy Jackson fandom will welcome you with open arms. If Shane Dawson doesn’t make you laugh anymore, it might be time to discover a new YouTube comedian. Making room means making new discoveries and giving recognition to those that deserve it.
The internet may be forever, but the trending page is fickle. Memes grow stale, jokes get old, and the public moves on from one thing to the next. Individuals hold onto memories more tightly. We like to keep what makes us happy close to us — to bring us light in dark times. But sometimes those lights burn out, and that’s okay. We should thank it for what it’s done in the past, let it go, and move something newer in its stead. After all, it’s hard to escape when what you’re going into may be problematic.