[Escapism vs. Realism] Escaping to find a deeper reality
by Guest Beanie
I’ve always been a fairytale/fantasy kind of girl, which I can trace back to my early childhood, when my grandmother used to make up stories for me and my siblings about a magical place called The Misty Isles (sound familiar?) that was home to talking, flying horses and other mystical creatures. I grew up reading (and re-reading, and re-reading) Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, Redwall, and others. I admired the 2003 live-action Peter Pan’s Wendy for re-imagining Cinderella and other stories, not as mere romances, but as “Adventures—in which good triumphs over evil!” When I started branching out and finding television shows on my own, I was naturally drawn to things like Once Upon a Time, Merlin, Doctor Who, and Sherlock. For me, stories have been a wardrobe of sorts into other lands and lives and ideas. Enter K-Dramas.
My gateway show was Playful Kiss, but while I found it cute and wholly different from what I had seen before, I didn’t consider myself hooked until my second show—what else—Boys Before Flowers, which for me was less about the love triangle and more about Jun-pyo’s inner struggle between his heart and his responsibilities, and the endurance of friendship.
Naturally, when I finished it I needed MORE Lee Min-ho NOW, and that led me to The Show. City Hunter. It owned my heart and soul, to the point that it remains in my mind on a pedestal probably far higher than it deserves, and nothing can ever topple it. City Hunter was the first K-Drama I found on my own, and it showed me a side of dramas I hadn’t known existed: a darker, more complex side.
It’s been roughly five and a half years since I watched Playful Kiss, and since then I’ve consumed a lot of dramas, and I’ve learned some things about myself. A fantasy or adventure premise alone, while a surefire interest-grab, isn’t actually what makes a story my favorite. (I can never get into vampire shows, for example, unless they involve Lee Soo-hyuk.) Sometimes shows based in the real world with average-person characters move me in unique and deep ways. I have a huge soft spot for young ensemble casts like those of Shut Up: Flower Boy Band and Solomon’s Perjury, with characters who wrestle through uncertainty and tragedy in order to create a hopeful future for themselves. Occasionally, I even enjoy kicking back with a breezy rom-com or slice-of-life story about people I could see myself knowing in reality. But, that said, given the choice between walking through the everyday lives and struggles of people I can easily relate to or having my heart broken over a surprisingly sympathetic serial killer, you can bet I’ll choose the serial killer.
My grandmother used her stories to impress in us deeper truths about life, and I think that’s what I still look for in dramas: to find the common humanity in uncommon people and situations. You could call it escapism—because yeah, sometimes I’d rather get wrapped up in someone else’s much bigger, fictional problems than address my own—but I think it goes beyond escaping. I want stories that change me, that burrow into my soul and leave a piece of themselves inside me that alters the way I see the world. I love to examine different mythologies and beliefs and find out how they align (or disagree) with my own. Sure, there are times when I just want to relax with something light and entertaining (especially in between having my heart repeatedly crushed, because change comes through pain), but the dramas that get a special place in my heart do so because they made me invest thoughts and emotions. And probably lots of tears.
Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People
From shows that actually feel like fairytales such as Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People, Arang and the Magistrate, and Mirror of the Witch; to dark, heart-pounding thrillers like Rescue Me, My Beautiful Bride, and Duel; I watch dramas to see people confront darkness and find out if they can emerge into light. To see real, human love (romantic, platonic, familial, what have you) conquer everything from death and loss to betrayal to separation. To one or all persons involved not being human at all but instead a mythical creature, a ghost, an alien, or a clone. Circle, while fascinating, would mean little to me without two brothers desperately trying to find one another at all costs, past, present, and future. Moonlight Drawn by Clouds, while having the advantage of Park Bo-gum, would fade in my mind as simply adorable and fun (and gorgeous!) if the crown prince hadn’t fought so hard against history itself to make a better world for his loved ones, with the help of his best friends and their oh-so-angst-ridden divided loyalties. Likewise, I can overlook a multitude of unrealistic details or situations so long as the relationships and emotions resonate.
So I watch for escapism—to be whisked away into other worlds and find there echoes of my own. And I watch for realism—not so much in detail but in essence. Because I’ll never be the Mighty Child’s lady love, but I can be an encouragement to the people around me. And I don’t have to fight my way out of a cult, but I can listen to people calling out for help and stand up for the truth when I hear someone lying to hurt others. And I definitely don’t need a magic tablet or prophetic dreams (or, I suppose, Lee Jong-seok) to decide to take charge of my own future.
Moonlight Drawn By Clouds
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Tags: Theme of the Month