Erwin Panofsky once observed that film is the dynamization of space and the spatialization of time. His so-called “point of triviality” helps elucidate an ongoing confusion about the nature and politics of escapism. To the extent that escapism has been theorized at all, scholars tend to conceive it through geographic metaphors—as the desire to get away to another world or utopia. Yet the respite that escapism offers is fundamentally temporal; it opens a reparative interval for the subject to gather emotional resources and persevere in their world. Nowhere is this clearer than The Wizard of Oz, Victor Fleming’s 1939 paean to escapism. The film’s mythical realm spatializes Dorothy’s escape from Kansas, but divergence between the film’s narrative arc and its emotional trajectory emphasize Oz as an interlude that provides Dorothy—and her spectator—with respite to survive environments organized against their flourishing. Rewatching Dorothy’s sojourn on video further emphasizes escapism as fundamentally temporal, since the material conditions of video exhibition grant viewers further control over their narrative and emotional experience.
Caetlin Benson-Allott is Professor of English and Film & Media Studies at Georgetown University. She is the author of The Stuff of Spectatorship: Material Cultures of Film and Television (University of California Press, 2021), Remote Control (Bloomsbury, 2015), and Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens: Video Spectatorship from VHS to File Sharing (University of California Press, 2013). Her research has appeared in multiple academic journals, anthologies and popular publications; she also writes a regular column for Film Quarterly on contemporary media platforms and politics. Her current book project historicizes the concept of escapism to reframe it as a spectatorial mode with regenerative political potential.