I was an escapist child growing up.
The term applied to me literally — sometimes my mom couldn’t find me at department stores because I was that kid who would hide in the circular clothing racks. (This was quickly stopped one day when my mom pointed to a girl with a child leash on and said I would be next.)
But I was also escapist because I lived in my own worlds. At meals, I alternated between pretending to be part of a group of orphans living in an abandoned train car (this was a blatant rip-off of “The Boxcar Children”) and pretending to be living in a covered wagon with my family heading west (this was a blatant rip-off of “Little House on the Prairie”). When showering, I pretended that my bar of soap was a magic dragon scale (a blatant rip-off of “Dragon Tales”). Once, after learning about Clara Barton, I turned all my stuffed animals into injured soldiers and bandaged all of them with toilet paper, complete with red marker “blood.” (Were my parents a little worried about their macabre 6-year-old? Maybe. But I called it imagination.)
I revisited these worlds for years, adding on to my versions of the stories every time. As I grew, so did the characters. I loved being a part of other people’s stories and living in these make-believe realms.
Once I reached middle school and hit that tender age when being into anything other than sports or pop music or vaping is suddenly uncool, I slowly traded my imaginary worlds for Hollister clothes and feigned interest in the San Jose Sharks. But instead of disappearing into a vape cloud like some of my peers, I disappeared into the world of television to experience other people’s stories and satisfy my escapist tendencies.
Out of all the arts and media I love, television has shaped me the most. A movie is a world you visit once or, if it’s from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, 23 times. But television is full of worlds that develop and change — you can grow up with the characters as you watch them week by week. (Or, in today’s age of Netflix, as you watch 10 years of their lives in a week.) For me, TV was where I could drop in to be a resident at Seattle Grace Hospital or a glee club kid at a high school with an oddly well-funded arts program.
Growing up, Arthur and his gang were like the classic “Goonies” childhood group of friends that I never had — they rode their bikes around town and always had the coolest after-school hangout spots. (To this day, I would give up my future firstborn child to go to the Sugar Bowl.) Meanwhile, the “it” place to go to in my childhood suburbs was Safeway. Even though I didn’t have the childhood of Arthur and his buddies, they were my group of friends on-screen. Every day, their adventures were mine for half an hour.
“Lost” was my first “adult” show, even though I only started watching it because my sister did and I wanted to be more like her. Was I too young to watch this show? Probably. But it has a special place in my heart for two reasons: It was filmed in Hawaii when I lived there as a child, and when I moved away, watching it made me reminisce about the times when I wore flip-flops to school. It was also the first show I watched that had Korean people speaking Korean in it, which was mind-blowing for a girl who was watching mostly “Lizzie McGuire.” I was always so proud of being able to know what Jin and Sun were saying without subtitles.
I watched all of “How I Met Your Mother” in a two-week winter break binge in high school when my sister and I first made a Netflix account and got our free trial. Although Barney taught me some questionable things and the show made it seem like New York City was as diverse as a small town in Sweden, it was the first and only sitcom with a laugh track that I loved. Robin Scherbatsky is still who I want to be when I grow up, even though I know deep down that I am and always will be a Marshall.
“Community” was the show that got me through that weird transitional period between high school and college. Granted, the show was nothing like actual college, but there was something comforting about watching it during my summer before starting at UC Berkeley. Every day there’s a miniscule part of me that wishes Donald Glover never pursued a music career, because then he might have never left “Community.” And maybe the show could have had a better ending than having its final season on Yahoo.
These shows are the worlds I escaped to when I didn’t want to deal with real life. When I missed Hawaii, I turned to Jack and Kate and everyone stranded on the picturesque beaches. When I was scared about what college was going to bring, I went to Greendale Community College to reassure myself that nothing could be worse than the wacky dumpster fires Jeff and the gang got themselves into. Even though I turn to them less now (because tragically, none of them are on Netflix), it’s comforting to know that these worlds are always there for me, ready to let me in again.
Julie Lim writes the Thursday column on how media shapes our perceptions of the world. Contact her at [email protected].