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Psychology of Pop Culture: Escapism

This post is the beginning of a set of blogs that focus on one particular topic, analyzing the psychology behind pop culture. It will be divided into three sections, the first which will be the role of escapism in pop culture. Escapism is defined as a “mental diversion by means of entertainment or recreation, as an escape from the perceived unpleasant aspects of daily stress”.

Escapism is a way to mentally and emotionally escape from the reality when it hands you a shitty hand.  This can include everyday stresses of life, work, school, relationships, but it can also include more traumatic stresses like cancer, death, or any type of grief or distress, this can be seen in people who bury themselves in their work, indulge in their unusual behaviour, or take their usual behavior and take it to the extreme to avoid their stress and divert their attention to something more controllable. An example of this which we seen in pop culture is in the 90’s TV show Full House, in the episode of “Trouble with Danny, Danny tanner alters his behavior to the extreme where he goes from an ultimate neat freak to dirty mess after he overhears his family say terrible things and call him terrible names like “psycho with a dust mop” based on his over obsessed neat freak behaviors, this causes Danny to alter his behavior to the extreme and become very messy to combat his hurt emotions.

This is one way to escape, but the more popular form of escapism is with pop culture. People divert their focus away from their problems and focus more on happy or fulfilling pleasures to cope. By consuming pop culture to escape from our stressful reality, it can be seen by some as a survival mechanism, we spend so many hours a day be stimulating by our jobs, school, and life, that by the end of the day we are both mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted, so by consuming stupid YouTube videos, playing video games for hours, watching Netflix or catching up on our TV shows it becomes a way to survive the rest of the day or recharge our batteries. Not only is pop culture a way to survive and recharge, but with some elements of pop culture, some movies like Perks of Being a wallflower, Eat Pray Love, and pretty much any Disney Pixar movie ever made can give you a glimmer of hope, can change the way you think about life. With movies like Harry Potter, or superhero/ villain movies, they tend to create a whole universe within the movie that allows you to transport into a fantasy world and leave your reality at the door.

From this point of view escapism and transportation to fantasy realms by indulging in pop culture are seen in a positive light as a coping mechanism, and entertaining, but is there a dark side of escapism in pop culture? One article that I looked “Escaping or Coping” (Knobloch-Westerwick, Hastall and Rossmann, 2009) looks at just that: the difference between the two terms. there are few types of coping, the first is Approach Coping which is defined as “an engaged coping strategies in which the goal is to reduce, eliminate, or manage the internal or external demands of a stressor”. The second type is Avoidance Coping referring to disengagement in which “the goal is to ignore, avoid, or withdraw away from the stressor or its emotional consequences”. The third type is problem focused coping which is defined as “seeking to change or eliminate the stressor itself”. So with this being said, do we use pop culture to disengage temporarily and avoid our reality and life stressors?  I believe that when faced not just with everyday life, but with more stressful events and problems we tend to escape and avoid coping rather than approach coping and dealing with your problems, but I think this leads to a larger issue at hand, has pop culture become an addiction?

With the technology that is available today, we have the ability to escape our reality at any time of the day by using our devices to watch Netflix or play games in order to escape our struggles, does this give us the opportunity to consume pop culture more than ever before, that we are more consumed with the trivial facts and information that is available about our guilty pleasures. I know that I am guilty of knowing more about my favorite actors, actresses personal and professional lives like the name of Channing Tatum’s first-born  daughter: Everly, or Ashton and Mila’s first born daughter: Wyatt, than about the material that is taught in class.  One movie that I think emulates this addiction perfectly is Fever Pitch, starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore, it about Ben who is a Boston Red Sox fan meets Lindsay, she soon discovers how his fandom is more of an obsession to which he life  revolves around the Boston Red Sox, which causes friction with their relationship, as he chooses the Red Sox over her, to which he regrets it when its to late. This is a good example of how addicting pop culture can be where it can affect our real life interactions.


With the extreme consumption of pop culture, the reality of how the world works and the stories and interactions that we see in film and TV shows tend to blur. this can occur when similar events happen both in real life and in pop culture, we expect that the outcome will resemble the events that take place in pop culture. an example of this would be that when I was younger I watched Sabrina the teenage witch, which is about a teenage witch who lives in the mortal world, but the magical realm and her mortal realm collide, where she uses her magical powers to make her life easier, from bringing in celebrities to meet her, to transporting herself to mystical places or to school when she is running late. Because I watched so much of this show, I would sometimes catch myself thinking what would happen if I could use my magical powers, thinking that the idea of having magical powers was actually plausible, Leading to the idea that fiction from film, TV, video games, characters and their stories can become fact and occur in real life.

Based on this more negative view of Escapism, one article called “Expressions of Fandom: Findings from a Psychological Survey of Cosplay and Costume Wear” looks at the cosplay and the psychology behind representing a particular character. By dressing up as a particular character where it be Sailor Moon, Hello Kitty, Disney or Marvel characters, it is a way to further connect to that fantasy universe, giving you the opportunity to temporarily become that character and live their fantasy driven life. Within the realm of Escapism, participating in Cosplay and dressing up as your favourite fictional character is one reason why Comic cons  and cosplay are so popular.

I believe that from an escapist perspective dressing up in cosplay, looking into the lives of you favorite celebrity is a way to further connect to a character and their universe, in order to further bridge the gap between pop culture and real life.

In sum, by watching hours of tv and movies trying to live the lives of our favourite characters and celebrities and being a part of pop culture although is a way to recharge one’s batteries, and retreat from life’s stresses by transporting to a fictional world. It can also negatively lead to blurred lines between fact and fiction, in which when we return from our fantasy, our troubles will still be at the door waiting for us.

This week’s photo is of my cousin Elisabeth who participated in Comic Con in Calgary Alberta, in may,2016. She is standing next to the human version of Ariel from the little mermaid, holding a Flounder.  Ariel really played the part of Ariel, not only the costume but the attitude and behaviour to fully become Ariel, she spoke in a high-pitched voice and used many sea terms, and was very endearing, so she transformed into Ariel from the little mermaid, minus the tail.


Addis, M. & Holbrook, M. (2010). Consumers’ identification and beyond: Attraction, reverence, and escapism in the evaluation of films. Psychology And Marketing27(9), 821-845.

Escapism – The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia. (2017). Retrieved 9 March 2017, from

Green, M. (2004). Transportation Into Narrative Worlds: The Role of Prior Knowledge and Perceived Realism. Discourse Processes38(2), 247-266.

Henning, B. (2001). Psychological escapism: predicting the amount of television viewing by need for cognition. Journal Of Communication51(1), 100-120.

Knobloch-Westerwick, S., Hastall, M., & Rossmann, M. (2009). Coping or Escaping?. Communication Research36(2), 207-228.

McCain, J., Gentile, B., & Campbell, W. (2015). A Psychological Exploration of Engagement in Geek Culture. PLOS ONE10(11), e0142200.

Rosenberg, R. & Letamendi, A. (2013). Expressions of Fandom: Findings from a Psychological Survey of Cosplay and Costume Wear. Intensities: The Journal Of Cult Media5, 9-18.

Shrink Tank,. (2017). episode 70Guilty Pleasures & Pop Culture Escapism. Retrieved 9 March 2017, from

Sonnentag, S. (2012). Psychological Detachment From Work During Leisure Time. Current Directions In Psychological Science21(2), 114-118.



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