[Escapism vs. Realism] Don’t pull my head out of the clouds
Splish Splash Love
You could call drama-watching as a whole a form of escapism, which I’m sure needs no explanation to anyone who’s spent sixteen hours marathoning a drama to avoid writing that term paper, updating that resume, or filing your taxes. The procrastination monkey is very real and mine likes to be fed tasty dramas. But since I have no plans to cut back on my addiction (what am I, crazy?), I thought about this month’s theme in relation to my drama tastes and my level of addiction to particular genres.
If you asked me what my favorite all-time dramas are, they’re pretty evenly split between realistic, slice-of-life dramas like Misaeng and Answer Me 1997, and supernatural fantasy dramas like My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho and I Hear Your Voice, but I would still tell you that my overall taste is for fantasy. The reason, I think, is mostly immersion—how much I get immersed in a fictional world has a lot to do with how addicted I get to any particular drama, and how much time I’ll spend thinking about it even when I’m not watching it.
Fantasy dramas trigger the addict in me because I get excited thinking about a whole new fictional universe that operates differently from my own, with its own rules and mythology that are waiting to be explored. It doesn’t matter that I may have seen a hundred time-travel dramas; each time I start a new one, I’m hungrily gathering clues about this drama’s particular wormhole, its rules, and its price (because as we know, there’s always a price). Good fantasy dramas make this a natural part of the setup and a crucial building block in the narrative, where the protagonist is learning the rules and testing them at every turn—whether they’re quick on the uptake (Queen In-hyun’s Man) or slow (Tunnel)—and I feel a jolt of satisfaction every time a new discovery is made.
The Lonely Shining Goblin
Worldbuilding is crucial to my immersion, and by that I don’t necessarily mean the CG budget that the director gets (even though you really can’t discount the importance of that in this genre), but the level of intricacy in the rules and the way the fantasy world is written that makes it possible for us to believe that a manhwa character could step out of fiction into reality if he became self-aware enough (W–Two Worlds), or that mistakes in your past life mean you could spend the next one as an amnesiac reaper (The Lonely Shining Goblin). I willfully want to keep my head in the clouds when it comes to dramaland, because escape is what I came for, and dense, intricate fantasy worlds help keep me there.
When worldbuilding is done right, one question feeds into the next and down the rabbit hole I go, working out theories like I’m trying out different puzzle pieces to see if they fit into the overall picture. Sometimes you realize that you asked more questions than the drama ever planned to answer, which is a bummer when you get to the end and are left hanging. But I enjoy the game aspect of puzzling things out in and of itself, which is why I like mysteries and fantasy worlds.
Above all though, I’m drawn to fantasy because I’m an idealist at heart. Fantasy fiction defies the limits of our universe, and we get to explore what could happen if people weren’t hampered by time or death, if regret could lead to second chances, or if love were strong enough to endure reincarnation, true enough to recognize you in the body of someone else, or everlasting in the absolute sense of the word.
You From Another Star
It’s not that love stories have to conquer death or last nine hundred years in order to move me, but a supernatural element adds another layer of conflict to explore, often with heightened stakes. Boy meets girl can make my heart flutter, but there’s no denying that alien meets girl exponentially raises the stakes. In real life, even the best of relationships can end for boring, mundane reasons; in supernatural romances, people cross dimensions and galaxies and centuries to be together, which just speaks to the romantic in me.
Ironically, sometimes the fantasy elements that I love most are the ones that are simple metaphors for realistic, everyday problems. A girl who doesn’t listen to the people she’s supposed to help meets a boy who hears everyone’s thoughts (I Hear Your Voice). A girl feels worthless as a high school student with no prospects in the real world, but in Joseon she’s a math whiz and a genius inventor (Splish Splash Love). A girl feels like a freak for having superhuman strength, but she meets a boy who finds it hot that she can protect him (Strong Woman Do Bong-soon).
Because no matter how otherworldly the fictional premise, it’s really how it relates to the things we universally fear or desire that makes a fantasy drama land with us emotionally. Does that mean I actually like escapism that’s really realism in disguise? Beats me.
Strong Woman Do Bong-soon
Tags: Theme of the Month