The Merits of Escapism

By Keith Kloor | October 8, 2011 6:44 am

Via social media,  I’ve just come across this 2007 cartoon by Clay Bennett. As a commentary on the human tendency to avoid unpleasant realities, it works. But the cartoon also seems to misunderstand why we go to the movies.

For that, let’s go to the legendary Pauline Kael:

Movie audiences will take a lot of garbage, but it’s pretty hard to make us queue up for pedagogy. At the movies we want a different kind of truth, something that surprises us and registers with us as funny or accurate or maybe amazing, maybe even amazingly beautiful…Maybe you just want to look at people on the screen and know they’re not looking back at you, that they’re not going to turn on you and criticise you…Perhaps the single most intense pleasure of moviegoing is this non-aesthetic one of escaping from the responsibilities of having the proper responses required of us in our official (school) culture.

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  • Pascvaks

    Both the cartoon and the comment say a lot about the psychology of human movie goers, and –in a rather issolated microscopic way– a lot about the psychology of humans in general with respect to their ‘druthers’ about all the little (and BIG) facts of life that daily collide with tender little bodies and simple minds.  And, stranger still, so many in the ‘Save The World’ business still wonder why people act the way they do.  Why would anyone be surprised that the world is a glorious mess and that it always has been? (Well, at least as far back as we the breathing can remember.)   Academics and zealots tend to get a lot about people wrong, I guess, since they often watch the 2D human comedy through 3D glasses.

  • kdk33

    For a second there, I thought you were talking about a certain jobs bill. :-)

  • Mary

    Wow, that strikes me as very apt for all of the anti- and pseudo-science fronts I find myself battling. People want simple answers, and a defined bogey-man, because the complexity of the reality is too overwhelming.

  • harrywr2

    #3,
    People want simple answers, and a defined bogey-man, because the complexity of the reality is too overwhelming.
    If I took seriously every doom and gloom group on the planet I would just wrap a rope around my neck and finish myself off.
    Let me look out the window…ohh there is Mt Rainier in all it’s Majestic Glory…when Mt Rainier blows whoever is sitting where I am sitting now will end up deader then a door nail in no time flat.
    Let me look at some geological maps…great..I’m living on top of the Cascadia subduction zone…it’s matter of historical record that a Magnitude 9  earthquake occurs every 400 or 500 years.
    How about that problem with Yellowstone?
    Here is a Yellowstone ‘doom and gloom site’.
    http://endoftheamericandream.com/archives/could-an-eruption-of-the-yellowstone-supervolcano-destroy-the-united-states-as-we-know-it
    Supposedly when Yellowstone erupts everyone within 100 miles will be killed instantly and the entire Northwest will be wiped out ,2/3rds of the US could be rendered uninhabitable and global temperatures could drop 20 degrees.
    At some point I have to draw a line between ‘ living in the present’ and ‘worrying about dieing in the future’ otherwise I will end up paralyzed like a deer in headlights.
    The number of groups peddling the ‘end of times’ is  what’s overwhelming.
    I’m certainly not going to pay $10 to go to a movie and get more ‘doom and gloom’.

  • Jarmo

    One genre of films is the “end of the world” movies – plagues, lab experiments that go haywire, biological weapons, robots etc. cause the destruction of the world as we know it:

    http://www.apocalypticmovies.com/movie-index/nature.html 

    So, there is a large audience that finds contemplating the end of the world quite fascinating. But that’s how far it goes for them.

    However, there are people whose appetite for destruction is not satisfied by Hollywood and who see humanity coming to an end. They call for us to redeem our ways  or face annihilation. And no, I am not referring to Jehova’s Witnesses ;)

     

  • kim

    I live in a special world.  I only know one person who is a climate skeptic.  Where they are I don’t know.  They are outside my ken.  But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.
    =====================
    [That you live in a special world of your own is all too clear.//KK]

  • hunter

    The irony, of course is that doom and gloom has sold as a story plot since Noah and the Ark. And the apocalypse stories are ALWAYS sold as ‘inconvenient truth’.
    Then, of course, one can point to the amazing financial success Gore and his pals made from AIT. And please show me the runaway movie success of the latest skeptical movie?
    Oh, that’s right: there is no greatly successful skeptical movie to see.
    Perhaps the real point is that one of the great comforting lies we tell ourselves is that we are going to be punished in a great global apocalypse that will reconcile all things and punish the wicked.


     

  • Nullius in Verba

    The disaster scenarios make a popular plot line because they act as background to hero/survivor fantasies. Doom and destruction looms, abetted by the shortsightedness, incompetence, greed or wickedness of others, but the heroic few, by means of selected virtues like doggedness, bravery, cleverness, altruism and sacrifice, save the day, or survive the calamity where the less virtuous don’t. The act that saves the world is usually small, but it’s the deeply personal struggle to get there that inspires. People want to fit themselves into the fantasy of being one of those saving the world from a cataclysmic catastrophe, preferably by means of a few relatively easy measures like turning the TV off standby at night and changing the lightbulbs. (Or that you can be saved from demonic hellfire and burning brimstone – eternal, unescapable torment inflicted by an omnipotent, omniscient, undefeatable deity bent on destroying the entire world in blood and fire – by means of a few easy prayers, regular church attendance, and a few small donations to charity.) The reason people want to believe in doom is purely as a background against which to be heroic/virtuous.
    It’s a very old tendency, that can be seen in many mythic archetypes and stories. Very human.

  • http://www.thecoralinememe.net w.w.wygart

    Nullius, well put!
    I would only add that the apocalyptic hero/survivor plot line also allows the viewers to sanitize their repressed personal desire to see dead in the real world the people who their paranoia paints as villian.
    Unpleasant, but needs to be mentioned, for almost every positive psychological trigger there is a negative one.
    W^3
     

  • EdG

    Re #3 “People want simple answers, and a defined bogey-man, because the complexity of the reality is too overwhelming.”

    That’s why we are religious – spiritual and now secular – animals.

    Satan, Big Oil, bin Laden are all fine bogeymen for different people and, speaking of simple answers, there’s the CO2 story.

  • EdG

    Speaking of simple answers:

    “The deletions carried out by Cook don’t make sense as an exercise in moderation. They seem driven by an ardent need to present a clean and neat view of global warming. Of a need to reassure that no intelligent discussions exist, and all possible questions have (long) been answered.”

    http://nigguraths.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/skepticalscience-rewriting-history/

    That is from a brutal must-read analysis of the Orwellian censorship and revision at SkS.

    It is worse than we thought.

  • hunter

    EdG,
    If the AGW social movement had actual evidence of their prohphsized apocalypse, they would not have to re-write the history.
    But look at the reality: Present site excepted, nearly every leading AGW promotion site, from SkS to RC to Romm’s, etc. indulges in censorship and deception.
    Tellers of the truth do not need to deceive.
    But AGW spends an amazing amount of effort in shaping the message, as well as indulging in demonization and dehumanizaztion of skeptics.
    Many good people have been caught up in this vile social movement. Australia’s government, as they did about 100 years ago with eugenics, is poised to hurt Australians with legislation based on the latest social mania. Australians will suffer, the climate will not be changed, and the perpatrators will seek to write their roles in this debacle out of history. 

  • http://www.adamant.typepad.com Russell

    When one side indulges in hype , it may beget an equally unattractive response. Combine the two and you end up too close to political reality for comfort :


    http://tinypic.com/r/2crsu8k/7
     

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Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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