Why Do We Place so Much Value on Entertainment and Escapism?
Entertainment is a booming business. Its appeal continues to grow as it adapts to different formats to keep up with technology. Television has exploded in the past decade or so. There are more channels and specialty channels than ever before—on TV screens, tablets, and computers.
We have DIY videos (thanks to YouTube and what followed). Netflix is responsible for roughly a third of the Internet bandwidth usage. Social media has become a fertile ground for entertainers and entertainment promotion. And let’s not forget the massive video game industry.
Thanks to globalization, the insatiable appetite for entertainment knows no bounds. More people are willing to pay for entertainment with their time and money.
Why do we value entertainment so much?
Passive entertainment is a form of escapism. It takes us away from our reality and transports us to another world—not our own.
I’m in no way placing blame or judgment on entertainers or consumers. The purpose of this article is to explore the inner workings of my own mind and desire to escape and share that with you.
I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with entertainment. It’s the passiveness and escapism part that need further examination.
Why do we want to escape?
These are the three reasons that I feel cover most areas.
Boredom or loneliness: We don’t know what to do with ourselves. The monotony of daily life gets to us and we feel we need some excitement and variety to change things up a bit.
A TV constantly running in the background, and maybe catching our attention every now and then, keeps us company.
Fear and avoidance: We don’t want to face something we fear, or can’t bring ourselves to move past the fear and do something about it. We’re scared to pursue what we want, so we choose the most familiar path—turning on the TV.
Struggle: Life sometimes feels like a battle—traffic, work and family demands, taking care of ourselves and keeping up with what’s going on. At the end of the day all we want to do is forget about all of it and sit mindlessly in front of the screen.
Escaping has never been easier than today. We have unprecedented access to all forms of distraction at our fingertips. And the most favored escape is entertainment.
Why is entertainment in such high demand?
Most of us live stressful lives at an ever-accelerating pace. The desire to take a break and unwind passively makes entertainment the best option to escape.
Some of the reasons entertainment has mass appeal are below.
Easily accessible and affordable: You can stay at home and watch TV, stream Netflix or surf online all day long.
Social connection: One can line up for a movie’s release and socialize with other people or go to a ballgame and cheer for his or her favorite team. Or talk about last night’s episode of XYZ show with coworkers. Entertainment has become something people have in common and can talk about.
Living vicariously through others: Entertainers are not only admired for their talent, but how they look, what they do, and how they live. Their lives continue to unfold enticing us to seek more—even if the fairytale turns to a nightmare—we still want to know what they’re up to.
We also live through our superheroes and their adventures. We become the masters of our domain and have all the adventure our heart desires—on screen.
All forms of entertainment are okay if we know what we’re doing. And more importantly, we can stop when we want to. In other words, we don’t use entertainment as a drug to escape and avoid.
Let’s take a look at what happens when we passively escape through entertainment.
What happens when we escape through passive entertainment?
There is nothing wrong with using our imagination or borrowing someone else’s imagination to escape, if we want to. But we need to address the following concerns first.
Depleting attention (mental energy)
When we escape, we give our attention and energy away without anything in return other than escaping.
Nothing in our lives changes because we passively watched hours of TV or went to every ballgame for an entire season.
Just like physical energy, our mental energy (attention) is a depleting resource. The more we spend it, the less we have at the end of the day. Which brings me to the next point.
Lower brain waves and suggestibility
Watching TV can numb the mind and induce lower alpha waves that are associated with suggestibility.
Product placement and advertising have become an art and science that is geared towards one thing only—to convince you to buy what you see.
Even when you don’t buy into the commercials, the message of the show that you’re watching can seep into your subconscious.
Guilt and pain
Escaping as an aversion technique comes with a high cost—guilt. If I’m watching TV instead of writing, I won’t enjoy the show because a nagging thought that I should be writing will continue to pester me.
Guilt is an absolute waste of energy. Add to it depleted mental energy and I won’t stand a chance of writing anything.
I would’ve wasted my energy watching TV and feeling guilty about it. I don’t think we need to eliminate entertainment; that would be extreme and uncalled for. But we can do things differently to reduce the negative side effects.
How can we actively enjoy entertainment?
I’m working with these steps and I hope they work for you too.
Priorities and choice
We always have a choice: face our fears and reality or escape.
If you tried escaping before and it didn’t help, it’s time to deal with the real issues.
Before watching a TV show, playing a video game, or surfing the net, make sure that the important stuff is taken care off. For me I would finish my writing before I start watching.
With DVRs and constant online streaming, there is no rush to watch something right at this moment.
Leave your favorite show to the end of the day, after you’ve taken care of what matters to you. This will eliminate the guilt and allow you to indulge and enjoy every minute.
If you feel tired after work and want to rest, do that. Take a nap or meditate, or go for a short walk. Such activities are relaxing but they renew rather than deplete your energy.
When you stop using entertainment as an escape, you can use it to inspire and motivate. Entertainment can be a wonderful medium of creative and artistic expression that elevates and educates.
Watch with intention and immerse yourself in the show. Be selective about what you want to watch. And it’s better to do it commercial free. Record the show and skip the ads if you can.
Reflect after you watch a show and think about its message and how it affects you.
Don’t be afraid to drop something. I used to feel if I invested time (misleading thought) in watching a show, I should watch it to the end. If something is not grasping your attention, cut your losses and stop now.
Any form of escaping can be a massive time suck. Before you know it, you wasted three hours with nothing to show for. So set a time limit for each activity to reduce the risk of slipping back into passive mode.
Take a break
Whatever form of entertainment you enjoy, take a break every now and then. A break will give you a different perspective. If you enjoy something, you’ll miss it. And if you don’t, you’ll feel relieved. Then you can make a different choice.
There is nothing wrong with entertainment, if we don’t place a higher value on it than our own reality and what matters to us.
When we entertain ourselves mindfully, we won’t need to escape. We turn entertainment into the reality of the moment. We do it with clarity and intent, and when we’re done, we move on—with no attachment or regret. And that can be a lot of fun.