The Generation of Escapists

A look at reasons behind the increasing popularity of the fantasy-adventure genre and the supernatural.

The 18th century enlightenment battled superstition and promoted science, which essentially means believing only what can be tested and proven. In the early stages of industrialization and imperialism in the 19th century, the creative community tried to capture the true nature of things through naturalistic and realistic works of art.

Whichever route society and the arts follow, sooner or later counter movements begin to emerge. Postmodernism’s reproach of objective knowledge of the real world bred some Kafkaesque tales such as Kazuo Ishiguro’s “When We Were Orphans”. Here it is never certain what comprises reality and what is in the character’s imagination. Likewise, Angela Carter’s “The Passion of New Eve” creates an absolutely abstruse dystopia filled with sadomasochism, about the involuntary gender transformation of an everyday chauvinist.

In recent times we have left realism behind and begun again to let our imagination run free. Futuristic dystopias imagining scenarios of humanity’s fate and novels set in the past have become ever more popular. We have stepped back to times of romanticism and fairytales. The literature of the 21st century is the epitome of surrealism and parallel worlds.

The Dystopias: Opportunities and Dangers

Kazuo Ishiguro’s sixth novel “Never Let Me Go” is set in the near past in England. It is a dystopia that explores what science, and humanity aided by science, is capable of. The story centers around clones, created to be eventually exploited for their organs.

It is scenarios like this that mirror many people’s fear of the scientific advancements of the last centuries. This progress has allowed us to do things we could  never have imagined a century or a decade ago. So the means are given. Now the question is: what are we actually willing to follow through with? Even if science grants us the possibility, maybe our conscience doesn’t.

Declaring whole ethnic groups as degenerate was not far from the forced sterilization of “degenerate” individuals in eugenics programs at the transition from the 19th to the 20th century. Cloning humans is just another ethic hurdle away from cloning animals for our daily consumption. Humankind has great skill in justifying its practical measures through philosophical theories. In “Never Let Me Go” the non-clones validate their behavior by declaring clones as the inferior race with no emotions. When considering history, this seems like a very likely scenario.

Another scientific prospect of the future is the production of a genetically superior race through selection and manipulation of embryonic genes. Medical problems could be omitted altogether and immortality could be in the range of likelihood. In the long run, populations would be far less diverse. The consequences for the world as we now know it are unimaginable.

Mysticism and the Supernatural

But science is not a remedy for everything. Humans are more than flesh; they need more than longevity. “The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold explores the idea of the “animal inside”; a part of themselves people can’t seem to shake no matter how advanced human kind is superficially. A teenage girl is lured into an underground den meticulously constructed by one of her neighbors. He rapes and murders her and dumps her dismembered remains in a sinkhole. Her mother seeks consolation in binge eating and an affair – satisfying two of the basic human needs. While humankind is developing further and further away from its original state, animalistic instincts cannot entirely be overcome. People need physical closeness, talking online and watching porn on the Internet will not satisfy all needs to all extents. And sometimes people resort to extreme measures to satisfy these basic instincts. Ian McEwan’s “The Comfort of Strangers” also shows this brutish side of humans.

People also need to either believe in higher powers or have some other form of hope that there is more life has to offer. That is the reason why the Republicans with their preaching of creationism are still so successful; people yearn for more than logical explanations, they want to challenge their imagination. In “The Lovely Bones” this is reflected by the murdered girl being able to watch her family from her heaven. That is also why over the last few years most of the hyped movies, novels and series contained mysticism and elements of the supernatural. It is a way of fleeing the cold, rational and mundane world to a parallel universe where adventures with vampire-toothed Prince Charmings, secret passageways in enchanted castles and flying broomsticks exist.

Secrets and Miracles

When civilization still largely consisted of small communities; everyone greeted each other, everyone knew of illicit affairs or how much money others earned. Now, many of us live in a very anonymous society in which we play online games and chat with people we have never met before. So sometimes it is hard to know what exactly is going on in other people’s lives, behind closed doors.

“The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger is a prime example of imagination wanting to experiment with the possibilities and limits of human kind. And again this kind of novel is a reflection of the fact that not everything can be explained. In today’s logically thinking world everything is endlessly discussed, digested into little bits, chewed up and spat out into diagrams and analyzed by models that are supposed to illuminate everything. But there still are miracles in everyday life that might be going on in the next door apartment without anyone knowing something like it even exists.

Fantasy novels, series and movies like “Twilight”, “Harry Potter”, “The Vampire Diaries” and “True Blood” have become extremely popular in recent years.  Urbanization has led to many young people leading extremely different lives than just a few decades prior. There is no more going outside in the afternoon spontaneously meeting up with friends, roaming through the nearby woods and cemeteries with cracked gravestones. There is no more imagining who or what could be living in that apparently empty, burnt out house overgrown with ivy, because there are no such houses anymore. Little crooked alleyways are now big six-lane roads, forests have become arboretums and what were once rolling hills are now skyscrapers and mountains of humans stacked on top of each other in drear concrete boxes. Everything is developed now, our surroundings don’t carry adventure and nothing out of the ordinary can be found. This is only magnified by the fact that everything is tried to be explained logically by science, therefore nothing in our world and present time is mysterious anymore – just the past and the future.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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