In de­fense of es­capism: Why it’s OK to flip away from news

The Denver Post - - FEATURES - By Emily Yahr

The line to ask Con­nie Brit­ton a ques­tion stretched down the aisle at the the­ater in the Na­tional Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory, where the “Nashville” and “Fri­day Night Lights” star was on­stage for a Smith­so­nian As­so­ciates event. It was Jan­uary, 10 days af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion. Sarah Leav­itt of Sil­ver Spring, Md., ap­proached the mi­cro­phone: “I just wanted a lit­tle life ad­vice tonight.”

Leav­itt, 46, ex­plained that she felt over­whelmed by a bar­rage of news since Trump took of­fice, in­clud­ing the vol­ume of op­por­tu­nity for ac­tivism. A few days ear­lier, she bailed on plans with friends to see “Dirty Danc­ing” on the big screen — it didn’t feel right on the same night that peo­ple were storm­ing air­ports to protest Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der for a Mus­lim travel ban.

“I can’t un­der­stand how to talk about pop cul­ture and how to be a ci­ti­zen in this world that we’re in at the same time,” Leav­itt said.

Brit­ton re­sponded, “I’ve been think­ing about the ex­act same thing … I think we’re all fig­ur­ing it out.”

Six months later, the Wash­ing­ton, D.C., news cy­cle rages on both sides of the aisle, with con­stant head­lines about health care and Don­ald Trump Jr.’s emails.

And some still wres­tle with the idea that it’s OK to step away. Binge-watch a show. See a movie. Lis­ten to a pod­cast. Deep down, it’s easy to feel as though you’re do­ing some­thing wrong for not fo­cus­ing enough at­ten­tion on se­ri­ous is­sues.

Af­ter Brit­ton’s re­sponse, the Q&A mod­er­a­tor, NPR writer and “Pop Cul­ture Happy Hour” host Linda Holmes, had a metaphor to share:

“Did you see ‘The Mar­tian’ with Matt Da­mon? He’s got a big thing he’s try­ing to solve, which is that he’s stuck on Mars and he has to get back to Earth. And they spent a lot of time in the movie on the fact that he has to fig­ure out how to grow pota­toes on Mars. The pota­toes on Mars do not ac­tu­ally get him back to Earth. He’s not ac­tu­ally solv­ing the prob­lem. But if he doesn’t have pota­toes, he’s not go­ing to live long enough to solve the prob­lem and get back to Earth.”

She con­tin­ued: “So, to me, my hope is, the songs that you love, the books that you love, the TV that you love, the con­ver­sa­tions that you have about peo­ple that are kind of nour­ish­ing to you, help you — those are your pota­toes … and you have to have that stuff in or­der to make it long enough to get back to Earth.”

Judg­ing by the ap­plause from the au­di­ence, Holmes’ words struck a chord. It was retweeted thou­sands of times and re­sponses poured in, with sen­ti­ments along the lines of, “This made me cry” and “I re­ally needed to hear this right now.”

When pol­i­tics has seem­ingly taken over the cul­ture, the in­stinct is for ev­ery­thing — even in en­ter­tain­ment — to have a po­lit­i­cal an­gle. Broad­cast TV net­works courted pi­lots for the fall that might con­nect to “Trump’s Amer­ica.” “Satur­day Night Live” and “The Late Show With Stephen Col­bert” are see­ing record rat­ings as they zero in on the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But many yearn for es­capism more than ever. Even if some peo­ple are wor­ried they’ll be judged if they ad­mit they missed a ma­jor story to watch a “House Hun­ters” marathon, or turned off ca­ble news in fa­vor of read­ing the “Harry Pot­ter” book they’ve al­ready read 10 times.

Ex­perts also em­pha­size the im­por­tance of let­ting your mind take a break. Mark Rei­necke, chief psy­chol­o­gist at North­west­ern Memo­rial Hos­pi­tal, rec­om­mends not only seek­ing out en­ter­tain­ment that brings you joy, but do­ing things that give you a sense of ac­com­plish­ment.

“If you sit and dwell and ru­mi­nate about trou­bling things in the world, your mood will de­cline, you’ll feel ter­ri­ble, you’ll feel over­whelmed,” Rei­necke said.

“We need pop cul­ture. We need ‘The Bach­e­lor,’ ” Thomas said. “The coun­try’s sep­a­rated right now, it’s split. There are peo­ple on both sides, and so there has to be a nice place for peo­ple to talk about things and read about things, and that is where pop cul­ture and lighter fare comes in.”

“There are a lot of things to worry about right now,” Ni­cola Has­s­apis of Bos­ton tweeted. “But tak­ing 45 min­utes to watch an episode of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ on Net­flix shouldn’t be one of them.”

Will Heath, NBC

From left: Beck Ben­nett as Vice Pres­i­dent Pence, Alec Bald­win as Pres­i­dent Trump, Kate McK­in­non as Kellyanne Con­way, Alex Mof­fat as Eric Trump and Mikey Day as Don­ald Trump Jr., on “Satur­day Night Live.”

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