[Escapism vs. Realism] Where does one end and the other begin?
by Guest Beanie
While You Were Sleeping
In the context of dramas, I think realism and escapism are circular concepts—it’s impossible to know where one ends and the other begins. First and foremost, I turn to dramas as a form of escape. In my room, facing my laptop, I’ve traveled to an alternate dimension where the dead are given a second chance to right their wrongs and to live their lives how they should have. I’ve traveled to centuries-past Joseon, I’ve been in gibangs, I’ve cross-dressed as a eunuch, and I’ve been privy to the innermost secrets of the crown prince. I’ve been in that tiny rooftop apartment, living off instant ramyun and trying to ignore the banging on the door from my shrill landlady. I’ve been that student with the awful grades, wishing she could do something she truly loved instead.
For me, it does not matter whether the drama aims for realism or escapism. Real life is difficult, and it is easy to switch on a drama and bask in someone else’s life, a life where I know I don’t have to make any of the choices, or suffer any of the consequences. I get to live the adrenaline-filled moments, the heart-wrenching scenes of grief, and experience the swoony lines of the handsome male hero—things that I know I wouldn’t be able to go through in my normal, mundane, everyday life. I get to live vicariously through the main character’s plotline, and revel in the more-often-than-not picturesque happy ending that I didn’t work hard for. It lets me escape from the downs of reality, if only for an hour.
Strong Woman Do Bong-soon
So where does realism come in?
I think we all know that dramas contain an undeniable slice of unrealism. After all, how often is it that we meet a genius, self-made chaebol who’s funny, sweet, handsome, accepting, and even supportive of our our biggest flaws? (Though if any of you know any real life chaebols like that, hit me up, please.) How often can we be as bright and cheerful as the typical Candy, living in her tiny rooftop apartment? How many of us are brides of water gods, time-traveling doctors who shift through centuries via death, and God forbid, prosecutors who see the future in their dreams?
It’s escapism at its finest, and I love it. And yet the irony is that it is the realism in the drama that pulls me in and keeps me rooted to the plot. Without the realism, escaping wouldn’t feel quite as right.
I say that because no matter how unrealistic a drama plotline is, there exists some form of realism that captures the viewer’s hearts and pulls them in. I don’t think any of us have ever experienced a love that spanned centuries like The Lonely Shining Goblin did, nor have we ever met someone an alien who came from the stars. I’d assume that few of us have ever experienced being the scapegoat for a delinquent-turned-vigilante Student X when we were in high school. But what I am sure of is that many of us have loved with all our hearts, forged true and strong friendships in school, and experienced the crippling pressures of real life and the daily struggle to fight for our futures and dreams. We watch their struggles, their happy and sad moments, their triumphs, and we understand them. We escape to dramas because the characters and the feelings they portray hit close to home. Those feelings are very much real.
In a sense, perhaps watching the characters struggle in the same ways as we do emotionally and cheering them on as they break through their barriers to reach their happy endings gives us a certain hope that we, too, will get our own happy endings. Or perhaps it is just as simple as reveling in watching the underdog fight and triumph. Whatever it is, escaping to this alternate form of reality gives us a refuge from having to deal with our own problems.
The Lonely Shining Goblin
But beyond that refuge, dramas also teach us some very real life lessons. Dramas teach us that holding true to your values are important even when you’re afraid. They teach us that friendship is precious. They teach us that staying strong and not giving up pays off. I personally feel like escaping to the world of dramas has made me a better person in some aspects. The most significant life lesson that I can recall was a line from the Grim Reaper in The Lonely Shining Goblin: “That when we long for life desperately, our punishment may be over… What god would want for us is to forgive ourselves and discover an ardent desire for life.” A reminder that life is difficult but worth living and fighting for. It was a beautiful and poignant line, and one that has stuck with me ever since. Watching the show had been a form of escape, but the messages I took away from it were very much realistic and applicable to my life.
It’s a symbiotic relationship to me—escapism builds itself on realism, and realism relies on escapism to attract the audience and reel them in. Neither one of them would be anywhere without the other, and it is quite impossible for me to separate the two concepts.
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