Escape is on my mind.
This week the UK government are trying to push through a disgusting Brexit deal, while the British music industry simultaneously wheels out The Spice Girls for a bit of Christmas ‘girl-power’ nostalgia. The perfect distraction.
I’m thinking instead about affirmative modes of escape; escape from reality, work and leisure as it is factored through late capitalism as opposed to escape as nostalgic distraction. In fact, I’m not just thinking about escape in this moment, my body is craving it: escape from the raising of borders which will inevitably keep us all in like an overused bowel full of baked fucking beans.
and so i’m thinking about the potentials of:
Daydreaming, joining a cult, wasting time, engaging in collective craft, surfing the web, reading romance novels in public, writing fanfiction, imagining how things might be different in a far away AU (Alternate Universe).
And I’m asking: How might we conjure ‘something different’ to the present? What tools, forms and languages might we need to survive?
“we need radically new counter-fictions to the artistic and political impasses of the present, but with non-straight people”
While escape has a bad-reputation (it too often reads as an “escape from the political”), I am interested in the necessity and need for modes and practices of escape in order to not only cope with the present (a respite!), but to also imagine something different to the current social and political mood. Of huge importance in this moment is the need for abandoning old methods and tricks of 21st century artists and avant-gardes, which have now been fully tested and incorporated into capitalism’s oppressive regime (Angela Nagle). Anti-Tory conceptualism or symbolic theatre is not enough! What we need now are new tactics, “new fictions” which privilege care and singularity and expansion and non-ironic humour. It’s time to abandon the gatekeepers of knowledge, of individualism, of top-down tactics and Escape en mass!
I see this happening, like in any good novel, on the streets in spring and to great suspicion by authorities: women, mothers and queer people leave their homes and jobs armed with a book or reading devise: a deep romance novela; a scifi trilogy, a One Direction fanfic; they leave in order to occupy their town squares and community run cafes across the UK: they leave in order to read in silence, to read in silence in public, to disappear, to escape, but in great visibility and for all to see. Escape en vis!
Some of the ways i’ve been addressing escapism in my own life is through the study of and living with alternative communities and fandoms (online and offline) and the future affirmations that performance, fantasy and fiction provide.
I came to fandom by “wasting time” on tumblr as I was finishing writing my PhD thesis. I always say that in 2013 tumblr was the equivalent to New York city in the 1960s in that it was the ‘hey day’ of bohemian escapism and participatory cultural productions that were really fucking new and exciting. Instead of concentrating on writing my thesis, the erotic and domestic fanfictions of boybands written by fangirls in their bedrooms became a very generative escape and distraction. In fanfictions fans create their own version of the world. Major narratives get remolded like ‘silly putty’ (Henry Jenkins): men get pregnant, characters bodyswap or transform into objects and animals, people travel through time or across borders, and as its fanfiction — a lot of sex happens! Fanfiction becomes for me an important feminist, queer and de-colonising tactic, and one that is necessary for the rebuilding of the social or public imaginary. Especially in times like Brexit!
Fans and artists have for so long been pathologised for being “escapists” – daydreamers instead of doing “real work”. The backlash to this is evidenced through art’s “Social Turn” (Claire Bishop) and the engagement activities of artists with vulnerable communities. A top down approach, than needed re-evaluating a long time ago and yet still informs and shapes the practices of the UKs most successful ‘Arts Council artists’, making them individual successes.
As an alternative, and as a space of unproductivity (but not leisure) and escape (but not nostalgic vacation) I’m interested in how ‘fandom’ as opposed to ‘community’ opens up a counter time and counter narrative to work and leisure under neoliberal capitalism, and how the reading and writing fanfiction (or performances like this) might call into the present some of its most radical challenges to fascism and cultural hegemony.
Brexscapism is not only a respite from the dreary dreary watching of our government run the country into the ground; Brexscapism is the turning away from the horrid spectacle of cruel Tory intentions in order to choose our own escape roots, to occupy a different mode or mood, and to imagine alternate narratives and image worlds.
It’s been said before and i’ll say it again (but with a difference): “In order to find a way out (there is no way out?); first we need to imagine a way out.”