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Many Singaporeans Have Found Ways to ‘Escape’ During Covid-19. This Is A Good Thing

Many Singaporeans Have Found Ways to ‘Escape’ During Covid-19. This Is A Good Thing

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We all know that one person who watched all 148 episodes of Hunter x Hunter in four days, or spends ten hours a day on Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Maybe that one person is you.

Loosely defined as a “tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy”, escapism isn’t something new. It is a very human thing, especially in the wake of something particularly unpleasant, like a global pandemic. But now that fantasy is just a click away, escapism is that much easier to indulge in. 

Escapism gets a bad reputation. It’s often dismissed as avoidance or flat-out refusal to confront reality. It comes in many forms: binge-drinking, abusing drugs, playing video games for hours on end, or even eating your children’s candy. Any activity that lends itself to distraction, it seems, can count as escapism, but it is usually the more destructive and less conventionally productive ones that come to mind. 

Experts tell us that escapism prevents us from confronting reality. It’s associated with depression, alienation, and addiction. Spending hours glued to Mobile Legends, clearly, is a sign that we are not willing to be responsible for our own lives. 

Spending hours in the rabbit hole of Netflix.
But this idea of escapism, one laden with negative connotations and disastrous consequences for yourself, your family and your friends, maybe even your pets, is one that props reality up on a pedestal. We must engage in Real World Problems all the time. How can we allow ourselves to escape? For the typical working adult, there is just no way to fit escapism into your week without sacrificing something, whether it’s a family dinner or a work assignment. 

When was the last time you took the entire weekend off and immersed yourself in the newest book? Can you remember the joy of discovering a new series and then spending the next six hours on fanmade Wiki pages?

If you’re spending seven days a week on your bed, to the point where you get dizzy when you get up, then you might be overdoing it. But that isn’t what escapism looks like for most people. 

Activities like binge-watching are labelled as temporary, unhealthy coping mechanisms, but they grant us pockets of relief when reality gets too much. Speedrunning through Tiger King in half a day was an invigorating experience as much as it was a proud accomplishment. I sat enraptured by the sheer insanity of it all, coming out of it as excited as a 12-year-old who just finished her PSLE. In a time when the news can get too much, too fast, diving deep into Joe Exotic’s world was a breath of fresh air.  

A pandemic skews with our idea of what is normal. Now, with most people staying at home, many of us have the privilege of having more time. We aren’t risking our lives as frontline healthcare workers or masking up for commutes because we are part of an essential service. But we are constantly reminded of the fact that we are confined to a physical space, literally limited by four walls. And, if you are the type of person who listens to the news, the non-stop barrage of information makes the world seem a whole lot more depressing than it already is.

Escapism gives that illusion of normality during times of abnormality. Under usual circumstances, escapism could look like heading to the club so you don’t have to think about the assignment that is due tomorrow. Escapism is not confined to situations of isolation. But, now, we have no choice: we have to engage in escapism while being isolated, and that makes it terribly easy to spiral.

"Season 3 Episode 61" is deceptive. Season 2 has something like 300 chapters on its own.
I would know. I read all 475 chapters of Tower of God in two days. My friends have been gaming more—up to eight hours a day. The number of Netflix subscribers has skyrocketed and mobile game downloads have accelerated. People are even indulging in sexual fantasies more, leading to a sharp rise in viewership on cam sites.

But, as I worry about my increasing screen time, I find that these long stretches of immersing myself in another world are what allow for breathing room. Asking around, I realise that others feel the same way. 

Now that she has more time on her hands, Ianna is starting to watch more streamers on YouTube. 

“It’s fun to see them interacting with the audience,” she tells me, “and I engage in the game without being worried about my score.” 

Her decision to go down a YouTube rabbit hole on any night is a conscious one. The fact that she is not obligated to watch any of them—she has full power over whether or not she wants to continue binge-watching—allows her to enjoy everything at her own pace.

Atharv has also noticed that his parents are watching television dramas more often. Television channels from India are rebroadcasting old shows, and there are series that get more than 100 million viewers—that’s more than the Game of Thrones finale. They are working fewer hours, now, and diving deep into these shows is a happy pastime that they have rediscovered.

The pandemic is helping us realise the value in what is framed in the narrative as “doing nothing”. We now have the space and time to indulge in the things we once enjoyed but might have shelved aside in favour of what we thought was more important.

Kerry Potter writes about how there has never been “a greater need for diversion and distraction”. In times like these, a little escapism goes a long way

A self-proclaimed workaholic, Audrey now finds herself watching Netflix more and rediscovering the joy of baking, things she couldn’t do before the circuit breaker. “Honestly, I hope that even when this pandemic is over, we don’t completely forget about these activities that gave us so much joy during CB and still set aside time for them occasionally.”  

A small harvest from Ianna's farm in Stardew Valley.
No one really knows when life will be back to normal, or if it will even go back to normal in the first place. Boredom and social distancing are both privileges that only some can afford to have, but those who do have these luxuries now find ourselves with the golden opportunity of rediscovering something that makes us happy. We have the chance to learn how to embrace what some might call ‘doing nothing’, but is really a reset of sorts, something that grants us some relief amidst a reality that can be overwhelming at times.

We don’t know what the new normal will be like. But we do know that escapism, as much as it gets criticised every so often, has value. And we could do with a little more of it. 

Jeremy Sherman argues that we need escapism: “We face way too much reality, more than a body can stand.”

We can afford ourselves that sliver of breathing space. We need that slice of fantasy, every once in a while, and the childlike joy that comes with it.

Do Singaporeans need to escape more often? Tell us what you think at community@ricemedia.co.

Author

Yin Lin Tan Staff writer