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Escapism through TV and Media

By Hannah Bohn

When we think of the movies and television shows that allow us to revisit the old days through the flick of a switch, we’re hit with a wave of nostalgia and comfort. We can all resonate with this shared experience: the pure enjoyment of immersing ourselves in another’s story.

An emblem of American public sentiment since the 1950s, TV shows and movies undeniably hold a special place in our society. The art of storytelling, from books, to plays and onto the big screen, is a timeless form of expression.

Now more than ever, we are able to connect with storytelling in the most accessible, infinite way through today’s endless output of networks and streaming services. On top of that, the link between us and our screens intensified beyond what we could have ever anticipated in the wake of the pandemic.

Many of us developed a deeper relationship with shows and movies over the past year due to the intense bout of alone time we spent indoors. We leaned on platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Max to relieve our grave boredom and pass the time, but what initiated as a filler activity quickly evolved into a steady habit.

The characters on our screens didn’t need to wear a mask, socially isolate, or feel anxious about their pending futures; they moved through life freely, falling in love, solving mysteries, and diving into all that life has to give.

Movies and TV started to symbolize something even bigger and even more meaningful than ever before: they offered us a gateway to the lives we wished we were living, inviting us into alternate realities that allowed for a perceived reconnection with the society we used to know. It’s easy to build an emotional attachment to what we’re consuming when it provides us with everything we’re missing.

Our favorite shows and movies began to genuinely fill a void.

Although this all appears relatively harmless, there is considerable danger in turning to worlds that only exist through our screens as a reliable source of comfort in lonely times. When we lean on imaginary stories, welcoming fabricated versions of what fulfillment, grief, or desire should look like, we may subconsciously internalize these completely unrealistic displays of life.

We then find ourselves reverting to the realm of film as a default mechanism to relax, to turn off, to go somewhere other than “here”— escaping the stressors of daily life and ultimately disconnecting with what’s around us.

Why does this matter? After time, we can get so consumed in the enchanting narratives baked into everything we watch that we lose touch with the value and meaning within our own reality. We may begin to passively equate our own relationships, careers, and success with what we so often absorb from TV without even recognizing it. The standard of living reflected in film can subconsciously function as a metric to assess our individual worth and significance.

We’ve all heard the warnings about things like excessive social-media-use prompting unattainable expectations or time spent on our phones leading to discontent with our surroundings. The same kind of concerning message about technology’s relationship to comparison has circulated through the public’s dialogue about mental health and wellbeing for years.

However, our growing dependence on streaming services— and all the series and movies they continually launch— has created a new sense of worry for our ability to truly connect with reality and find contentment in our immediate state of being. Consequently, we risk distancing further, and even detaching, from the present while gradually adopting a dissatisfied perspective toward our current selves.

As much as we relish our regular binge-worthy favorites, there is something to be said about the effect they may have on tainting the perception of our own lives. As society returns to normal social conditions, bear in mind how easy it can be to escape through our screens and instead take a moment to acknowledge the very real, tangible charm of the life existing all around us.

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