Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Phintastic and Ferbalicious

Escapism and the Disney Channel

Ray Bradbury painted a picture of our world, in "The Pedestrian," one of glowing windows, blue and flickering, with televisions on and running, far into the night. The street lights in the neighborhoods illuminate nothing, for no one is out, even in the evenings, sitting on rocking chairs as they did before the invention of the picture box. I will admit it freely, the television plays a key role in my getting to sleep at night. There's nothing like the inane ramblings of Sportscenter to erase all pesky thoughts from your mind, resulting in the descent into the dream world.

But during the day...ah...that is when the television truly shines as a vehicle of escape. Tolkien once called the need for escapism heroic. Using the metaphor of the prisoner, he states, "Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?" ("On Fairy Stories" from The Tolkien Reader) In such a time as this, when the flood of information both depressing and horrifying, there is a great need for escapism, for books and television shows that bring us out of the world of adult responsibility and into the blissful innocence of Blake's "Lamb".

I can honestly say that I love the Disney Channel. While the movies they've produced, both animated and live, haven't really done anything for me (the last Disney Movie I really liked was The Thirteenth Year, which was made in 97.), their recent sitcom series have been absolutely amazing. Yes, the characters are stereotyped and flawed (the intelligent poor character, the rich stupid character, the idiotic parent...), and the episode plots so predictable that you can see the ending for miles. But there's something about the world that they have created that makes it very appealing. In each episode, life's problems are solved within 22 minutes (11 for Phineas and Ferb). If only real life were like that. And while sit-coms have been doing this for years (watch an episode or two of Full House, if you can stomach it), Disney has perfected the style and made it applicable not only for children, but for adults as well.

Phineas and Ferb deserves more discussion. It's the best show on television, and it could last as long as The Simpsons because it's animated, and summer can last much longer than the 104 days the title sequence talks about. The writers also worked on Family Guy, and so P&F contains quick glimpses of adult culture while remaining accessible for children of any age. I could, and have, just left that show, along with Suite Life, Hannah Montana, and Wizards of Waverly Place, on all afternoon, while doing chores, taking a nap, or whatever, and it wiles the hours away. Now if they could only switch Nickelodeon's ICarly with Disney's deplorable Sonny with a Chance, I would have all the good shows on one station.

Each show is entirely livable. As if in a dream. I could live on the S.S. Tipton forever, or aside the beach near Hannah Montana's house.... great stuff. It's why they are all escapist television shows. Assuredly, most of the shows on nowadays are just that, but none that looks back quite as well into the world of naivete and innocence as those on the Disney Channel. Reality shows show people conniving and primitive, fighting amongst themselves for food, power, love, money. It is the wost type of sport. Leave "Reality" TV to find a pastime worse than the Ancient Romans could have ever dreamed. Or, as in American Idol, they show people whose dreams are crushed, evaluated, and eliminated, all by "celebrity" judges. Dramas and other sitcoms on network TV show the vilest of human creatures, and they point out that even the good guys have their flaws. It is rare and unexpected when Law & Order leaves you with and ending with everything tied up. It mostly leaves you hanging, wondering, questioning the justice of the world that it portrays. I can barely watch these shows.

Rather, if I have to choose the television shows to watch, I would switch between Disney Channel and Star Trek, as that show looks forward into the future of what man can become, even if it is unrealistic. The fantasy world Roddenberry created is one of potential, of the success and preservation of the best of mankind. There is very little positivity in the shows anymore, and it is a gem to actually find a show that does.

When philosophers and historians look back at the time following WWII, they'll label this period The Age of Escapism.... Brief history esson:

Reason: ~1650-1776 (Man is capable of knowing anything)

Romanticism 1776-1865 (Man lives in a world with Physical and Supernatural realms, and we must strive for the unknown, knowing it is a futile task.)

Realism 1865-WW1 (Man lives in reality only, and Nature is cold and uncaring)

Modernism WW1-WW2 (Man must question whether he exists at all, nothing really matters, communication is impossible, all history has failed us, and we must struggle to find something new.)

This is, of course, a brief and probably very simplistic look at how mankind has looked at his world. To this, I would add, from 1945 to now, the Age of Escapism. Man can live in this world, but as so much information floods his mind, it becomes impossible to grasp a hold of anything. Therefore, we should live in worlds of fantasy, letting that which we cannot understand go unacknowledged.

I could actually write a book detailing how our world has convinced us that living in worlds of fantasy is the best action to take. From Brave New World (Huxley) to the ideas of Communism and Socialism, to the Youth Revolution of the 1960's, it all can point back to the idea that mankind can live in fantasy worlds while those who want the power (who also are living in fantasy worlds) take care of us.

As soon as the world had the ability to create the material goods that it does now, thanks mostly to capitalists like Henry Ford and his mass production of goods on assembly lines, people started to advertise that this or that item could change the world. And I don't just mean television, although that invention opened up people's minds to worlds far beyond what mere books could contrive. Capitalism in America created the wealth necessary to allow people to chase after their own fantasy worlds. To pursue their addictions, from food (now available in microwaveable, artificial goodness), to drugs and sex, to the endless halls of the Internet, where any fantasy can become real, as long as it's made of HTML language.

The mass production of books also allowed authors to write more and more books, letting their minds wander as far as they could perceive, and the great boom of science fiction and fantasy genre fiction was born. It is odd that the creation of Epic Fantasy, mostly thanks to Tolkien, only happened in the 20th century, instead of centuries before. And now dragons, vampires, wizards, amongst the other space aliens, etc... now pervade our books and our imaginations. For every mind that exists, there is an ideal world to escape to, when the labors of everyday life get too taxing.

So I shall go home this afternoon, turn on the Disney Channel, and forget about the things I should be doing, about the world around me, and tread water. It's not the most productive thing to do with my life. It's not going to get me further in life, but it reminds me, amongst all the tragedy and "reality" of this world, that things could be, or might be better. In this way, I'll get the best of both worlds.

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