Jan 5, 2010

Escape Plan

James Cameron’s latest bonanza, the sci-fi epic “Avatar”, has sailed past the $1B mark for global box office ticket sales and now rests at fourth for all-time highest grossing movie ever. This feat of financial fortitude is a tell-tale sign of the power that “escapism” has on the human psyche.

Escapism is a psychological term used to describe a mental retreat from the reality of daily life, or a willing “immersion” into a fictional existence. A brief list of the various forms that escapism could take include: television, movies, art, literature, music, videogames, and simply browsing the Internet. Even activities that are completely natural, such as eating or sleeping, can be a form of escapism. While the term usually arouses a negative connotation, escapism is quite common and can be one component of a normal, healthy life. However, it is important to mention that some individuals could become addicted to their specific form of escapism , usually resulting in a refusal to acknowledge the real aspects of life, such as personal relationships, work, and health.

In a fascinating multi-blog series from Psychology Today, Norman Holland, Ph. D., explains escapism: “1) with literary works, even the humble comic book, we suspend disbelief; that is, 2) in order to comprehend, we believe; we have poetic faith; 3) we believing humans detect lies poorly, no better than by chance, and literature is a form of lying”, and finally, “we believe because we don't act on narratives we are perceiving.”

This final component is particularly interesting because, as Dr. Holland points out, “the primary business of any brain is to move its body-to act in relation to what that body and brain perceive.” We don’t, for example, duck and cover when we see a bomb falling to the ground and explode during a movie. We permit our brains to involve the self in the “unreality”, but only to a point.

Dr. Holland points out that the importance of this belief to the human psyche is similar to play- it is a simulation, rather than the full-blown experience, permitting some of the associated benefits (for example, the exhilaration of riding a giant dinosaur-like bird amongst floating mountains in “Avatar”) without the negative consequences (crashing).

There are a few things that can throw off this belief, with unrealistic effects being one of the most common diversions. This might, in part, explain the huge success of “Avatar”, which is presented in a new 3-D digital format that puts the audience even deeper into the story by making the images seem more real.

The next time you feel like sitting down with a good book or flipping on the TV, take a minute to analyze what’s going on in your head. You may be surprised by what you permit yourself to believe in, even if it’s for just a little while.

No comments: