On Monday, March 6, I will be giving a conference presentation on escapism’s role in dystopias. While my focus will be on sci-fi dystopias or dystopias that have advanced technology, this is really something you’ll want to hear even if you aren’t a fan of sci-if.
Escapism is seeking relief or comfort from unpleasant realities. My main argument is that Escapism needs two things to be present. First there needs to be a push factor. This is the thing that will make a character want to seek a distraction for comfort or relief. In other words, what is unpleasant in their life. Dystopias are perfect for this. Dystopias are setting that are, by definition, unpleasant.
The second factor for Escapism is the pull factor. This is the thing that our character does or uses to escape their problems. Since my focus is on sci-fi’s and advanced technology dystopias, the pull factor tends to be based on technology. Part of my research supports that we prefer electronic communication over face-to-face. Especially when it would be an awkward or unpleasant conversation. This is evident in dystopian novels such as Ready Player One and the Hunger Games. It is also evident in TV shows such Black Mirror.
Of course these electronic escapes only allow the characters to find safe haven for a very limited amount of time compared to their time spent in misery. They can’t get enough in both the literal and figurative sense of the phrase. Furthermore, the connection between the unpleasant realities and the escapes isn’t just advanced technology. It can become an addiction that fuels the dystopian. Think of it like a Chinese finger-trap. When you try to escape, its grip gets stronger. The more a character gets captivated in their escape, the further they are from reality and the dystopia gets a tighter grip of control over the character. A good example of this is in an episode of Black Mirror. A new technology captures everything you see and hear and you can go back and relive memories or even share them with friends and family. The main character in the episode is constantly looking over past situations and becomes hyper-analytic and loses trust in his girlfriend. He becomes disconnected with reality and goes into a downward spiral and ends up alone. The technology had a total grip over his life.
While this is just one example, you can find similar trends among a large majority of dystopias feature advanced technology’s. I wouldn’t call them cliches though. They are more of new and developing archetypes, and that is exciting.