When I say ‘fantasy’, I don’t mean ‘Fantasy’ with a capital ‘F’, as in the speculative genre. I mean ‘fantasy’ as in the imaginative possibilities that exist outside of reality.
…No, I will not inscribe the word ‘escapism’ to fantasy because I’m not escaping from anything (well, no more than anyone else, anyway).
There are cultural ideologies at work wherever fantasy is present. Dungeons and Dragons transcribe fantasy as ‘role playing’, living the fantasy through imagination, bringing fantasy into reality through narrative, and given depth through the real world factor of ‘chance’. This depiction of fantasy provides a strong argument towards escapism, and perpetuates the cultural stereotype that fantasy is for nerds. Men who aren’t ‘real’ men. Guys who see the world a little differently and are therefore more feminine because of it. And that right there is a signifier of cultural anxiety. Anything that’s different, there’s a need to distinguish it by how abnormal it is. Kids sitting around making up stories about fantasy creatures when they should be out playing sport or something stupid. At the same time I both hate people that think like that and I understand why they do it. It’s the same thing I love fantasy. Comfort.
Reading is for women, and reading fantasy is especially for women, yet nerds aren’t real men, so they read fantasy too. But writing is a profession, and therefore most writers are men. I think a lot of people can take comfort in the world when it translates to the cultural ideologies they have in their heads. Normal is only normal because we bring those ideas forth through our understanding of our culture. Some people find comfort in the idea that, like the kids playing D&D, real life can be constructed and narrated and plotted out to an extent. If they adhere to the narrative of ‘normal’, no one will question them, no one will challenge what they believe in. There’s a security in thinking that you can control the direction of your life, but really, it’s only constructed around cultural ideologies that have since been normalised. And the problem people have with fantasy is that it is not normal, and it is only in the presence of the abnormal that the normal ceases to become invisible. When people start behaving in ways that defy patriarchy or capitalism, that’s when the people that rely on those structures become anxious and vulnerable.
Fantasy, in its very essence, displays a sort of anti-reality. Fantasy, as the non-normal, reflects on the constructedness of ‘reality’ (as a cultural construction), which encourages those living within the dominant culture to reinforce their definition of reality to obscure the fact that they are living according to a set of codes and conventions ascribed to them by their culture. They are hiding from the real reality that is void of all meaning or purpose. We work to earn money to buy food, clothes, housing, commodities, to recieve some sort of material wealth that places us higher in the social ladder. We desire to start a family and perform roles that are culturally assigned to us by patriarchy. In a way, fantasy is more honest about its removal from the real reality than cultural reality because it is not trying to hide its true form as a way of ascribing meaning to our otherwise bleak and meaningless lives. ‘Reality’ is just as much a form of escapism as fantasy.
Now, coming back to this notion of comfort. Cultures always surround dominant ideologies, and will always be met with resistant ideologies. Without patriarchy, we wouldn’t have feminism. Capitalism/communism. Fantasy/reality. It goes without saying that ideology is something that differs from culture to culture, place to place. With the popularity of patriarchy, most family structures that don’t resemble that 1950s postwar America are instantly placed on the fringe, and in their abnormality their meaning comes under threat. The power of the dominant culture is such that it can sometimes bend the abnormal to its will. Because it’s not common that people challenge something that’s been taken for granted for so long. But when things do change, the world can become a very scary place for people trying so desperately to live in that comfort space of normalcy. What do we do now if our lives up until this point has been a lie? The obvious thing to do would be to seek out new comforts, to establish a new normal. I don’t see patriarchy disappearing any time soon, but as feminist ‘waves’ come through, the definition of normal is renegotiated.
But the problem with this, the problem with ALL of this, is that things are never quite so black and white. Back when the industrial revolution came around and people are moving to the city and putting their faith in science they’re seeking completely different comforts to the people before them devoting their lives to religion and keeping up their farms, or whatever. Sure, it’s easy enough to say “I don’t believe in god because there’s no proof” or “I believe in science because there is proof”. If you go with the masses, chances are high that you’ll be safer that way. I think it’s easy enough to think one way or another, to instill some sort of meaning in your life, to believe in something, but I don’t think it necessarily has to be what everyone else believes in, or that it has to be ONLY what everyone else believes in.
Lately I seem to be going through an existential crisis every other week. I’m a man, but I’m not masculine in certain aspects of my life, and in other aspects of my life I act a certain way because I’m desperately seeking approval which is superficial and I’m only doing it because I’m hailed by my culture to do it, and by being aware of it I’m recognising that this superficial me is how I project myself to appear normal, which is different to the me when I’m alone or when I’m actively critiquing culture for being the way it is and essentially reducing people to a reified set of normalised behaviours. What’s the meaning to that? This reality is a joke. And as we’re living in postmodernity, we’re well beyond the point where science is taken for granted and religion in western culture is just about dead. I’ve believed for quite a long time now that my existence isn’t just a test for some divine judgement for god. I’ve believed for a while that there is no point to life other than for my own personal wellbeing and the wellbeing of the people around me. I used to label myself agnostic, but I hated the misconception that I had chosen the label because I wasn’t sure, that I hadn’t made my mind up yet, when really I had already decided that god doesn’t exist in the sense that he is portrayed in the bible and that I should commit my life to this non-entity. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that absolutely no other life exists in this universe and there is absolutely no point in time where other life forms impact this world, past or future. The fact is, there’s no reason to show that any higher being is influencing my life right now. I’ve come to find more comfort in the term ‘atheist’ rather than ‘agnostic’.
But for some strange reason, I find comfort in fantasy, too. I think the comfort stems from ideas that, considering how constructed reality is, fantasy is just another reality, just another construct. However, unlike reality, fantasy can take on any shape or form. It can take on the form of ideologies that I conform to, regardless of whether they’re part of the dominant culture or not. They can take the ideas I like and pitch them against the things I hate about reality. They can access plot, narrative and characters and represent issues and themes relevant to constructed reality, while offering alternatives or resistant readings to culture. I think a lot of things suck, and I like that other things are out there that can transcribe those ideas into narratives and give them meaning (meanings that aren’t so superficial). I find comfort in fantasy because it represents the other, a balance to the real. There is comfort in knowing that when the illusion of reality is shattered and the morbid meaninglessness and purposelessness of life is exposed, fantasy can provide an alternative narrative that gives me purpose and reason to think things over. When I hate myself for following trends that automatically brand me as a bland, unoriginal product of society, and when I reject those ideologies, it’s good to know that I’ve got a more flexible set of beliefs to fall back on.