I have often wondered why I enjoy a lot of things that I do. Computer games, roleplaying games, books, films; all of these things offer me endless hours of entertainment and delight. I can’t say that I haven’t noticed the pattern of escapism that runs deeply through a large part of my hobbies and also the immediate lack of usefulness that these hobbies present. I don’t teach myself anything immediately applicable by playing games or watching films, I’m not unlocking some hithereto undiscovered talents or honing my vocational skills. Sure, there are many secondary things you might pick up; roleplaying games are all about creative and social problem solving, computer games sharpen the mind and hand-eye coordination and I’m sure there’s tons of knowledge you pick up through osmosis from films and books. (Who doesn’t know how to reload a 9mm nowadays when Hollywood has been such a source of education.) I’m not saying there aren’t benefits but equally, there are more immediate things I could be spending my time on, like redoing the bathroom, work or more direct education. I don’t. It’s exactly my point not to.
It’s my romantic urge that drives me to do these things. Not the popular definition of romance, but the literary definition of it; an escape from the confines of the mundane to explore the exotic, the unusual and the fantastic. To harness the power of the imagination to envision things outside of the immediate, the now and the pragmatic. To want something more than what is practical and instead to focus on what is best. I’m not a perfectionist by any stretch of the imagination, and most people would consider me more practical than an idealist, but I do have dreams and often fantasise about what I could be given different circumstances.
As a semi-related aside; I’ve noticed a trend among many of my friends in which people are drawn to apocalyptic films, television, books and other sorts of entertainment. The focus always lies in some earth shattering event that unravels the normal social order and thrusts the survivors in unusual and remarkable situations where survival counts on spectacular and heroic feats. Whether it a global zombie infestation, a mysterious illness that wipes out whole civilisations, or a gigantic undersea earthquake that sends a massive tsunami to wipe out large parts of the coast, throwing the world into anarchy, chaos and disarray, it always leads to the same premise; the mundane will perish, the resourceful and unusual will remain. I think a lot of my friends think they have more to offer than their lives are currently making use of. I think a lot of them, including myself, have been feeding on the American paradigm that we are all beautiful and unique snowflakes, or that we are the ugly duckling; that we will all one day be reborn as a beautiful swan, given the right circumstances. That we are misunderstood, underappreciated and that one day something will happen that will allow ourselves to reach our full potential. I’m just not entirely sure why this particular something should be a complete collapse of modern day society, but it seems to be the key.
I am having a hard time imagining this to be anything but a first world fantasy. I can’t imagine anyone who has to wake up every day to a war-torn country, or who lives under the yoke of a dictatorial oppression to fantasise about his life being overwhelmed by zombies. Perhaps they would dream of a great flood that would wipe away the ruling order that oppresses them. Perhaps it’s not much different than what we dream of after all.
We’d all like to believe we’re special and that we’re currently not because the circumstances aren’t right for us to really shine. I wonder why so many of us think that we’ll do better under the pressure of a zombie horde while we can’t even get our shit together when our lives are relatively meek and normal.
I believe that we think the trappings of a normal life — a nine-to-five, a mortgage, the materialist rat-race, raising a family and paying taxes — is standing in the way of greatness. It’s preventing us from being who we really are. The escapist in us longs for a life without these trivialities, without these diversions, so we can focus on what is best, what is right, instead of what is comfortable and practical.
I think it’s an unfulfilled desire to be free from the mediocre existence most of us live in. We want to be freed from mediocrity and be launched into excellence and exception. We want this vehicle to be bigger than ourselves, because we’re lazy. We want it to be an act of God (or Lucifer) because then it’s out of our hands and we’re not to responsible. All that because it’s easier than changing our lives from what they are today to what we really, truly want them to be. We’re too cowardly to take up the charge to change our lives now instead of sit here and wait for a biblical plague to change it for us. We believe there’s greatness inside of us, but we don’t want to be responsible for unlocking that greatness, for setting it free.
We don’t really want to achieve greatness. We’re comfortably numb in our mediocrity and we’d rather dream and talk about this perceived greatness we think we can achieve under the right circumstances. It makes us feel special without having to be special.
It’s like wearing black clothing because it’s easier than exercising.