Escapism: A Luxury We Can’t Afford

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By Olivia Jordan

 In a world measured by the increasingly short amount of time between Presidential gaffes (think covfefe), accusations of collusion, and general GOP “mean-ness,” it seems impossible to escape the news. With reality feeling more like dystopian fiction every day, several television shows seem to be struggling to maintain their responsibility to their audience. Is lighthearted entertainment a luxury we can no longer afford, or is it something we need now more than ever? How can we suspend our disbelief enough to enjoy fiction when we must do exactly that each time we hear that the President tweeted?

Many of us heard a narrative that art is a form of resistance in such uncertain and precarious times. Art can empower audiences, catalyze social change, and serve as a form of protest. As a viewer—and pretentious millennial—myself, I deem any piece of media that doesn’t take a stance unworthy of my time. In such desperate times, lighthearted entertainment might just save us all from the weight of our crumbling democracy.

Following Trump’s inauguration, a trend of politicization swept various forms of entertainment. The backlash against Jimmy Fallon faced after he ruffled Trump’s head feathers weeks before the elections set a precedent: If you don’t criticize, then you normalize. I submit the following in evidence: Fallon’s Tonight Show failed to rack up an Emmy nomination for Variety Talk Series for the first time since he took over as host in 2014.  The nominations went to more overtly political late-night shows like Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and Real Time with Bill Maher. Saturday Night Live, a show that penetrated Trump’s tissue-paper thin skin, earned 22 nominations—a record for the long-running cultural yardstick.

Comedians outside the late-night talk sphere seem to be heeding the same warning that came as a result of the Tonight backlash. Broad City, a show that has mostly steered away from politics—except for an endorsement of Hillary Clinton in its previous season—made news for the creators’ decision to bleep Donald Trump’s name in the upcoming fourth season of the show. Amy Schumer, in a recent appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers, prefaced her new stand-up special by almost apologetically explaining that it was filmed before the Presidential election, saying, “I was still feeling some joy and had this thing ‘hope’ in my body.” Comedians opt to use humor as resistance instead of escapism.

Political dramas also seem to be feeling a pressure to adapt to a reality where truth is stranger than fiction. House of Cards, a show that began under President Obama’s administration, explores governmental closed-door corruption. Imagine a world in which a tyrannical, corrupt politician who rose to power by destroying his enemies and mastering the art of distraction was escapism! In the fifth season of Cards, Frank Underwood uttered the now-haunting words, Welcome to the death of the age of reason,” a phrase that hits too close to home now that we are living under a regime that calls straight-up lies “alternative facts.”

How will political dramas adapt to a presidency in which fantasy becomes normalcy and remain relevant without repeating what happens in the news?

The question remains: Do we, as citizens, retain our right not to think about our muddied political climate? For many people, politics isn’t everything. In fact, the contempt that many Americans feel for the world of politics can be tied to Donald Trump’s appeal. We must examine the role that the politicization of art plays in sowing discord.

While some Trump supporters—the alt-right trolls—who don’t deserve the right to find comfort in escapism, there is something to be said for art that is not politicized. Some Americans might be as turned off by liberal political satire as they are by conservative talk radio. While art gets under the President’s skin, it can bring people together.

Trump’s victory symbolizes many things, including the general lack of understanding and communication between different groups of people. Perhaps art can serve as a channel to communication as well as an act of resistance. Maybe there’s no way to bridge the gap between those who look towards the future and those who look to the past, but at the very least I think we all deserve a break from the lunacy.