There’s been a lot going on in the world, and by that, I mean we’ve hit another point where everyone pays close attention to the suffering that they’ve been able to turn their backs on due to the immense privilege included with a western passport. The global north will do whatever it takes to hide itself away from the atrocities it’s complicit in. So, on the average day in the average month the internet, while rife with crimes at home, the western world forgets about the depth of the crimes committed abroad. Even though it is their interventions, their tax dollars, their companies, and their governments using the authority they have, to dig their teeth into anything with a pulse, or rather, a resource. Colonization is a tool the western world has been known for from the beginning, and unfortunately, it is a tool that many have learned from them either directly or from solo study. It is a well-worn playbook with more dog earned pages and annotations than my most loved book. And yet, until the evidence is shoved in front of our faces people find ways to escape the cruelty their home makes part of its regular fitness routine.
I know the metaphors are a lot but let me live. This is the only thing I can indulge in while talking about such a heavy topic. I’m doing my best y’all.
During this time of heightened awareness, we are seeing the usual surge in outrage and the condemnation of the bad thing that we currentlycan’t ignore. Currently. That one little word can summarize a major struggle when campaigning against atrocities. Currently, people are hyper aware, and doing everything they can to fight for a better tomorrow in larger numbers. Currently, people are actively talking about the treatment of several oppressed groups. Currently, people are giving money to organizations that can provide direct aid. Currently, people are asking their faves, their family, their politicians, their community to look at what’s happening and care.
But looking is uncomfortable. The truth doesn’t allow us to ignore how complicit we are in these complex systems. The truth does not leave space for us to ignore mass suffering. The truth makes you realize that even though you weren’t looking, people were in pain. The truth reminds you that you could have been helping instead of burying your head in the sand. And that, coupled with images of that pain and suffering is deeply uncomfortable. The longer you look the more uncomfortable you will become. Some accept that is a small price to pay to informed, to stay loud. While others wrestle with that discomfort unsuccessfully. I get it. Caring is hard. It is an active choice fraught with discomfort, but witnessing pain should be uncomfortable. Witnessing atrocities should make your stomach turn. Witnessing people, you love and care about refuse to care should be uncomfortable.
The problem comes from giving in to that discomfort and seeking escape. It’s simple enough: listen to the propaganda about how the issue isn’t really that bad. Scroll past the videos talking about it. Unplug from the internet. Focus on happier things. Eventually, the familiar comfort of ignorance and space will lift you away from the discomfort of awareness. The world will feel less painful again, and you will live your life feeling lighter. But this ruse does not stop the suffering we were all so aware of weeks or days ago. It’s just there- behind the closed door, locked in the attic, or a few clicks away. Silence will always be interpreted as acceptance. It is a vote for oppression while the oppressed scream for assistance.
Feels gross, doesn’t it? Maybe even uncomfortable to think about the real cost of silence and perpetual escapism? We need to sit in that discomfort. It has something to teach us. In instances of awareness, learning, and growth discomfort is part of the process.
Now escapism isn’t all bad. Sometimes you need a tiny break (I’m talking hours or a day here and they’re not weeks or months). The problem is when escapism is all you long for. This is the problem I see with the discourse around escapism in fantasy. Because it’s never that someone is trying to avoid just a certain type of struggle its that they are striving to avoid all of them. They want not only to avoid conversations about a single event or hardship to let them take time to recharge but to avoid anything about any group that reminds them there is or at one point was suffering in the world. But that’s not how writing works. There is always political commentary even if its completely in line with the status quo. The world we live in isn’t apolitical it’s just your normal. Like politicians that tell us it’s okay to disengage, healthcare needing to be expensive, rugged individualism, and hustle culture. These things are not part of the baseline for folks from other places. Hence the differences in word choice and themes in different works. Silence is a political statement. Sticking with the baseline you know is a political statement that this is okay and comfortable to everyone. Sticking with a world like our present one can help people escape, but if it’s just like our present reality than it isn’t going to help the people most affected by the cruelty of the world escape. Their pain, their suffering, their struggles are apart of that status quo so a book abiding by it will be far from the escape our privileged counterparts are rallying for. While the books deemed ‘more political’ that seek to address inequities and suggest solutions or alternative to rampant mistreatment are seen as too heavy. If escapism is meant to help you relax and show you a better world, a better future for the characters within. If it’s meant to help you escape today’s struggles. Doesn’t it follow that today’s struggles would need to be eradicated not swept under the rug? Wouldn’t it make more sense to address and solve these struggles for the world the author is creating? But maybe that’s just me.