A billboard prominently displayed on Sunset Boulevard, in Hollywood, urges consumers to “Escape reality…live the fantasy.” In this case, the fantasy is a “Renaissance Faire,” one of those period-costume amusement park re-creations featuring bawdy lasses, brave knights and drunken fools — “’twas too much meade, I doth declare!” — which appeal to those who find Medieval England, with its plagues and feudal serfdom, strangely compelling.
All sorts of marketing campaigns play the escape card. Countless tropical tourism authorities, cruise ship lines, and even dining outlets — “escape the ordinary; try our four-alarm Cajun chicken” — appeal to the tired and beaten-down (but not quite defeated) American who bravely plods on towards his pension, all the while dreaming of something spicier, or with fewer clothes, or more like Robin Hood and his merry gang. Indeed, urging buyers to escape whatever presently imprisons them is one of the safest strategies a clever advertiser can employ, seeing as the most effective ads prey on our insecurities and dissatisfactions. We’re meant to gaze upon the white sand beach or endless blue sea (or rogues engaged in swordplay) with a wistful sigh, realizing, yes, we really ought to flee from whatever penitentiary incarcerates us. In this regard, “escape reality” is a culturally accepted norm. It’s what any decent person is supposed to do.
Why is it then that we — meaning the majority of our society — disapprove so strenuously of people who, in the privacy of their homes (and without operating heavy machinery or impressing their outlook on others), use recreational drugs?
Why is it acceptable to escape reality by purchasing a ticket to St. Maarten or Ye Olde Brew Pub and Inn but unacceptable to ingest peyote? Perhaps because exposing oneself to hallucinogenics genuinely alters one’s perception of reality, whereas exposing oneself to guys wearing armor on horseback isn’t really an escape at all, just popular culture repackaged in bodkins and codpieces.
Computer-generated special effects at the movies, the Harry Potter books, marijuana — they all aid us in “escaping reality” to various degrees. Eventually we should accept that each avenue is a legitimate egress. Or we could do the impossible thing: create a quotidian reality from which no one wishes to escape.