An unprecedented fantasy boom has hit the film industry in recent times, which explains why such genres have been topping the charts of the grossing movies in the last three consecutive years. The once ubiquitous romance genre has been replaced at the top by fantasy and science fiction. Ironically, fantasy films lack practical meaning, but this aspect does not affect their popularity in modern times.
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Consumers are obsessed with unrealistic or impossible situations. It appears that the more rational the world becomes, the more people yearn for irrationality. Escapism has been noted as one of the reasons why people are fascinated with fantasy films, but questions abound as to why consumers would want to escape their reality in the first place. Fantasy is hinged on irrationality and it starts where science ends. Perhaps, people are tired and bored of the limited palette that has been around in literary fiction for a long. Similarly, consumers might be attracted to the impossibilities that fantasy offers, because anything is possible with this kind of genre. The only limitation becomes one’s creative ability.
Once people escape into this irrational world of fantasy, they are allowed to wander and question conventions that have been accepted as truths. On the contrary, people may use fantasy, not for escapism, but to address genuine problems facing humanity in contemporary times.
Great religious teachers and philosophers are known to use parables and allegories to express their points. As such, creators of fantasy may be using the same approach to connect with an audience seeking answers to life’s pressing issues. This paper explores the ever-rising popularity of fantasy films in pop culture by highlighting the underlying reasons as to why consumers tend to gravitate towards such a fictional genre.
The reasons behind the popularity of fantasy films are many and varied depending on the audience and cultural context. However, some themes cut across the genre of fantasy in films to highlight some of the major underlying reasons for the ever-rising popularity of these films. This paper discusses four reasons for such popularity including morality, escapism, consumerism, and spirituality.
Escapism comes out as one of the major reasons explaining the unprecedented popularity of fantasy films in modern times. The narratives in such movies allow viewers to immerse themselves and escape from their real world. This aspect is one of the explanations of why the theme of impossible situations forms an appealing part of pop culture. Escapism can be approached from two perspectives. People may want to escape their reality due to boredom or to avoid dealing with difficult life situations.
As life becomes predictable and routine, boredom is likely to set in because people feel disenchanted. Max Weber, a German sociologist from the nineteenth century explained how boredom is tied with the concept of disenchantment (Zisook 180). The current world is organized in predictable structures and people are expected to act in a certain manner.
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Modern science has given rise to secularism, which makes people question their rationality and lose their sense of wonder or magic. As such, religion is no longer fascinating as it used to be, and thus people turn to fantasy to re-enchant the world. Conventionally, children love mystery, but this sense of wonder is lost as people grow under predictable environments with routine and mundane life experiences. Besides, as people grow, the idea of God becomes questionable given the many ills that plague the world. Therefore, fantasy becomes a surrogate for the traditional religion because people normally yearn for spiritual growth and fulfillment.
Fantasy offers a framework of almost the same ideas as Christianity, without requiring viewers to understand and keep complicated theological ideas. For instance, Christianity is rooted in the idea that the world needs a savior ultimately to escape from the suffering that has been experienced since the first sin. Additionally, the world is seen as a place where evil competes with good. Similarly, fantasy offers the same ideas.
For instance, in the film, Avengers: Infinity War, evil and good are in a constant battle and a savior is needed in the form of a superhero to save the world from dark forces. Thanos is planning to decimate half of the world’s population, and he has to be stopped. Hulk crash-lands on earth from Asgard and he has to come up with a plan to stop Thanos, even if it means sacrificing himself.
The storyline of this movie mimics the Biblical story where Satan was thrown from heaven and he wanders across the world to devour humanity through deception and other tricks. However, Jesus offered the much-needed antidote by dying on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice to save humanity from the bondage of the devil. Therefore, Jesus is the superhero whose sole mission is to save humanity. Muslims have Prophet Mohamed, Buddhists have Buddha, and Jews have Messiah and every other religion has a figure to identify with.
In Avengers: Infinity War, Hulk represents Jesus, as he has to fight Thanos and thwart his plans to eliminate half of the universe’s inhabitants. In most cases, religion lacks practical meaning, just like fantasy films, but believers tend to gravitate towards it by holding dear its teachings and principles. Over 95 percent of people in the world identify with at least one religion. Each religious sect has a central figure that can be termed as a superhero to redeem its believers from suffering and pain. Consequently, believers have faith that one day they would be saved from the troubles and woes of this world.
The popularity of fantasy movies could be likened to that of religion. Once they slid into escapism, consumers of such content enter a secondary world that has projected chaos with villains and heroes. In that simulated environment, viewers of fantasy movies are entrapped in this chaotic world and the only way to escape is to have the superhero come through, crush the villain, and save humanity. Every time this anticipated end is achieved, viewers come out refreshed and reinvigorated to face the realities of their world. Nevertheless, the experience of fantasy re-enchants the world, and this aspect hooks viewers as they look forward to another thrilling episode where the superhero saves the day.
Escapism can also be used to avoid confronting difficult life situations. To some extent, fantasy addresses real-life experiences, such as the loss of a loved one or terminal sicknesses that have become common in modern times. However, despite the complexity of the problem, the superhero overcomes it. People love to identify with such superheroes because they face the same problems in their real life, and it would be exhilarating to overcome them.
Using proxies with superpowers and abilities to face complex life issues can make tragic, abhorrent, or bleak realities more acceptable to human beings. For instance, the movie, A Monster Calls, is a fantasy story about a boy that has to live with the harsh reality of his dying mother due to cancer, and bullying in school, and thus he has to face the life ahead on his own. However, the boy cannot accept the reality of what he has to face in the future until he meets a monster.
Interacting with the monster allows the boy to accept the inevitability of life and that his mother will die (A Monster Calls). This acceptance allows him to move on with life albeit with difficulties. Such a story carries a comforting and informing message to people going through the same situations in life. Therefore, viewers may gravitate towards fictional content that addresses their real-life problems, hence the popularity of such genres.
Humanity has been struggling with the issue of morality because it has become a relative topic based on the context. The definition of good and evil has become blurred in modern times. For instance, pro-life adherents claim that it is evil to abort regardless of the stage of pregnancy. However, the pro-choice proponents argue differently, and thus the morality of evil becomes relative in this context. One of the controversial moral topics that people rarely talk about is the issue of war.
In any war, collateral damage in the form of losing human lives is expected, which complicates the morality of such decisions. Perhaps this aspect explains why audiences are obsessed with fantasy movies where fighting takes place like in the Avengers: Infinity Wars. The moral question that arises from this film is whether people’s lives should be traded to achieve certain goals. In real life, people battle with these questions and they do not seem to get satisfying answers, and thus they turn to fantasy movies to find answers to their complex moral questions.
In the movie, Avengers: Infinity Wars, Thanos possesses several Infinity Stones, and he wants to use them in his mission to wipe out half of the world’s population. However, one of the stones is in Vision’s head and the only way to prevent Thanos from having it is by destroying it and probably kill Vision in the process. However, Captain America disagrees with the proposal by saying, “We don’t trade lives” (Avengers: Infinity Wars).
This stand raises the moral question of whether one person should be sacrificed for the benefit of many. This scenario resonates well with occurrences in modern times. For instance, when the United States and its allies invaded Iraq to capture and probably kill Saddam Hussein for allegedly having weapons of mass destruction, a decision had to be made to eliminate one person and save millions. Deontological and utilitarian philosophical arguments emerge under such circumstances. In this case, Captain America uses the deontological perspective, which says a person cannot be sacrificed for another because everyone would be sacrificed at the end (Roberts).
Similarly, those that opposed the war on Iraq argued from the same deontological perspective. On the other hand, Thanos wants to reduce the world’s population for the ultimate good of everyone, which underscores the utilitarianism philosophical perspective (Roberts). The proponents of the war on Iraq used this perspective to argue that capturing or eliminating Saddam Hussein would lead to the well-being of many people around the world because they would not face the threat of weapons of mass destruction. These positions appeal to human intuition and people are placed in moral controversies, and they have to decide on the best way out.
The movie highlights one of the morally complicated decisions that people have to make in their day-to-day lives. With the advancement of technology, moral and ethical issues have emerged, especially in the field of medicine. For instance, if an unborn baby were diagnosed with a gene that causes a health condition, such as autism, would it be ethical to edit and delete that gene to have a healthy child. Additionally, in an era where gene editing becoming popular, would one allow his or her child to be genetically engineered to have superior genes.
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Ultimately, people have to make these decisions, and this aspect may explain why audiences love fantasy films addressing these problems because ultimately a solution is found, even though it might not be applicable in real life. In the movie Avengers: Infinity Wars, Vision ultimately dies, but after Thanos has taken the Infinity Stone from him.
The question that arises from this scenario is whether Captain America made the right decision not to trade Vision for billions of lives that Thanos is about to destroy. Therefore, people may be drawn to these fictional genres as a way of finding answers to their moral questions or at least get a reprieve when a moral problem that they associate with is solved.
The contemporary American society is characterized by consumerism, where people are driven by the unquenched desire to have and consume more as a sign of happiness and satisfaction. After the agrarian revolution, the American culture changed from production to consumption, and fantasy in pop culture is being used as a moneymaking machine. The industrial revolution created stressful working environments.
Individuals are forced to take jobs that they do not like for the sake of making money and paying bills. Consequently, life has lost meaning, and happiness levels have dropped drastically. Therefore, to fill their unsatisfied lives, people turned to leisure and consumption, which has created a vicious cycle because lasting satisfaction cannot be found in materials things. There will always be a better product, which triggers the urge to buy more.
Coincidentally, the manufacturing boom of the industrial revolution meant that companies had excess goods to sell. Additionally, business owners in the creative industry had to think of ways to improve their revenues. Therefore, they hired talented artists to create appealing content, hook Americans to their televisions, and commoditize the desire to be fulfilled. At the same time, Americans have undergone what is commonly known as consumer revolution and lost inter-subjectivity, and thus they define themselves by material possessions as opposed to being good citizens. As such, people continue to consume fantasy content as a way of belonging to a certain social class.
The technological revolution of the 21st century has also promoted the consumerism culture in media content. Social media and the Internet offer multiple ways through which companies can create hype concerning a certain fantasy film. Therefore, because everyone is talking about an upcoming movie, some people are convinced to consume the content, not because they believe in what is being said or enjoy it, but because their peers are talking about it, and thus they do not want to be the odd one out.
However, the issue of consumerism and the popularity of fantasy films could be looked at from a different perspective. Through fictitious mental projections, people seek to explain or understand the world around them. These mental projections determine how people behave, and capitalists use this aspect to promote consumerism (Zipes 1). As noted earlier in this paper, escapism drives people to consume fantasy film content. However, this need has been commoditized to escalate the need to continue consuming such contents by producing them continuously.
Companies are using artificial intelligence and other technological advancements to monitor the way people think by studying their behaviors everywhere they go. Under escapism, it was noted that people would take refuge in it due to disenchantment or to seek answers to complex life questions. Therefore, given that people are looking for answers, they get hooked and every time they watch these movies, more dopamine is released into their brains for their satisfaction. The companies behind these movies continue to release more content into the market, which causes more people to remain hooked.
In essence, society has become obsessed with fantasy films due to the capitalistic and consumerism culture that drives most organizations. As a result, people start reproducing and reconstructing mental images that belong to film companies. Ultimately, the cooperate world and media houses occupy the consumers’ psyche by manipulating their fantasies. Unfortunately, these manipulated fantasies influence the way people view their reality.
Instead of dealing with their realities, consumers of fantasy content become outsiders by living in escapism. This explains why most individuals are concerned with global warming and climate change after watching dystopian movies of what may happen to the earth if humanity continues depleting natural resources. However, the same people will comfortably drive big cars that contribute to the global warming problem through air pollution. The reality of such people does not exist, because they find solace in escapism and thus they lack the will or time to address the realities of their lives.
Fantasy films dominate pop culture in the contemporary world. The popularity of such movies has been increasing at an unprecedented speed over the last few years. This trend could be addressed from different perspectives. As noted in this paper, some of the compelling reasons that explain the popularity of fantasy films in pop culture include escapism, morality, and consumerism. Escapism tendencies could be caused by disenchantment or the need to confront complex life situations. The movie, Avengers: Infinity Wars, allows consumers to re-enchant their lives by providing answers and ideologies embedded in religion.
On the other hand, A Monster Calls provides the audience with the hope that no matter what happens in life, the future is promising, and thus they should not give up. The popularity of fantasy movies is tied to the fact that they address issues that people face in their daily lives. Such movies also offer answers to moral questions that people have been struggling with for a long time. Consumerism plays an important role in advancing the popularity of fantasy films. Ultimately, despite the lack of practical application of fantasy films in real-life situations, people love such genres because they carry subtle themes that address human suffering in a chaotic world.
A Monster Calls. Directed by Juan Bayona, performance by Lewis MacDougall, Apaches Entertainment, 2017.
Avengers: Infinity Wars. Directed by Antony Russo and Joe Russo, performances by Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, and Mark Ruffalo, Marvel Studios, 2018.
Roberts, David. “The Irresolvable Moral Dilemma at the Heart of Avengers: Infinity War.” Vox, 2018. Web.
Zipes, Jack. “Why Fantasy Matters Too Much.” Comparative Literature and Culture, vol. 10, no. 4, 2008, pp. 1-13.
Zisook, Jonathan. “Disenchantment of the World: Weber, Judaism, and Maimonides.” Journal of Classical Sociology, vol. 17, no. 3, 2017, pp. 173-190.