Last Saturday night, I had dinner and watched SNL skits in bed until it was time to go to sleep. Around midnight, my roommate Trevor came in drunk and stumbled to the bathroom. As I watched him, I contemplated what I was doing. I was glad that I was comfortably sober in bed and not hunched over the toilet like my good pal in the bathroom, but I didn’t even really like SNL skits. So why had I just spent two hours engrossed in them?
As my roommate came out of the bathroom, I voiced my thoughts. “I don’t even think SNL skits are all that funny. Why have I been watching them on repeat for the past two hours?” Trevor turned towards me, sloppily knocking two cups off my table as he did so. His eyes swam, then focused on me. “It’s escapism,” he slurred. “God said to rest on the Sabbath.”
As I watched Trevor lurch off towards his bed, falling over his own feet in the process, I thought about his somewhat garbled response to my question. I had plenty of other things I could be doing. I could be addressing my real and pressing responsibilities by prepping for my job interview on Monday or facing my increasingly dire laundry situation. I could be engaging in meaningful recreation by reading an interesting book or watching a thought-provoking documentary. I could be making memories and building social ties by getting drunk with Trevor and Co. Instead, I was watching mediocre comedy in bed.
Despite embracing escapism last Saturday night, I recognize that the practice has a dark side. Our troubles and issues can lead us to seek an escape through mindless, mostly unproductive activities. This avoidance measure kick starts a cycle that, once begun, can be difficult to stop. Avoiding the problem at hand only makes it worse, which spurs even more escapism. The problem usually doesn’t go away on its own. Instead, it festers while we sink deeper into a miasma of stress and misery.
We have all practiced escapism to some extent in an attempt to find refuge from the thoughts of our prelims, breakups or existential crises. We do it in the library, when we encounter a daunting essay prompt and reach for our phones. We do it on Thursday nights at Hideaway after a prelim full of guesswork. After an argument with our significant other, we lose ourselves in a movie with a friend. In each case, we joke about escaping the pain and label our behavior as recreation. But when does this become an issue?
There’s a thin line between escapism and recreation. Should we self-regulate our behavior or point out the behavior of others when we perceive the behavior as an attempt to distract from the pressures of life? How do we parse our motivations for watching TV on a Tuesday night or drinking on a Wednesday? Do those behaviors only become damaging when they are practiced to such an extent that one can no longer meet school and work requirements?
There’s a case to be made that every act of recreation is in some way motivated by an attempt to escape from the stress of one’s daily life. Does that then label any recreational behavior as escapism? Maybe, and that’s when definitions get thrown out and common sense steps in.
Recreation and escapism can’t be separated from one another. Each concept includes bits and pieces of the other. So, it’s time to peel back the popular condescending conception of escapism and recognize that a little bit of it is essential for us to maintain our mental health.
When Trevor stumbled into our room on Saturday night and labelled my behavior as escapism, I felt shock, then confusion and a sense of failure and inadequacy. Were Lorne Michaels and Tina Fey helping me escape problems that I needed to be addressing?
Yes and no. I needed to escape that night, not because I’m facing insurmountable problems, but because my week was stressful, and my upcoming week promised to be the same. Could I have spent Saturday night preparing for the upcoming week? Certainly. But that waited until Sunday, with no consequences. I didn’t rest on the Sabbath, but I think God would be just as happy to know that I watched mediocre comedy in bed on Saturday night.
Christian Baran is a senior in the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Honestly runs alternate Fridays this semester.