Although not always the case, anthology TV shows like The Twilight Zone, Amazing Stories, Black Mirror, and Electric Dreams often feature characters who live in different worlds with different laws. No matter how diverse these worlds are, countless episodes make it pretty damn clear that no one wants to be where they are — in our own ways, we’re all trying to escape something.
In the pilot episode of The Twilight Zone (2019), Samir Wassan (Kumail Nanjiani) dreams of being a successful comedian. While the episode is enticing and led to me devouring the rest of the season, Samir continues to repeat the same boring political jokes every time he steps on stage. He’s laser-focused on becoming someone else; an admired and successful comedian who can make people laugh.
In episode 4 of Amazing Stories (2020), Alia Jordan (Sasha Lane) religiously saves money so that she can one day move to Los Angeles to chase her star-filled dreams. Although L.A. might seem to be the land of opportunities for aspiring entertainers, most people’s problems aren’t going to disappear by simply changing their geography. Of course, everyone’s situation is unique; sometimes a change of scenery is exactly what is needed for a fresh start.
While each series has its own premise, the episodes depict offbeat situations that we can imagine happening in the future. “If the world was like this, what would you do?” Since our society and way of life seems to be coming apart at the seams, who knows when we’ll see a new season of Black Mirror. We’re already living a twisted nightmare we can’t seem to wake up from.
This isn’t a ‘grass is greener on the other side’ message, which isn’t even in the realm of what many of the dystopian world episodes are depicting. The point is that these characters, whether because of their environment or the society they live in, don’t want to be where they are. It’s not necessarily about wanting more — it’s about wanting an entirely new life. Like you and I, they crave something different; they might want more money, fame, success, love, happiness — most likely a combination of all of the above.
The entire world can relate to wanting a different reality during a pandemic, but that’s not what this essay is about. For the sake of this piece, let’s move away from dystopian lands and turn the clock back to a few months before the world was burning.
In the real world, many people working in offices 40 or more hours a week dream of being on the other side of the window they stare out of during the workweek — I know because I used to be one of those people. We imagine ourselves at coffee shops, hitting the beach, or hiking a trail by 3 p.m. We daydream about being outside while the sun is still shining. In many cases, the idea of escaping the parameters of our current world makes us happy.
“If I land this job, I’ll start making more money and my life will change overnight,” I constantly tell people who are willing to listen. Since turning 18, I’ve lived in eight different cities across two different countries and two states. I can’t seem to escape the notion that a new environment is the solution to my problems. I get what I want, even if it’s only for a day, but then revert to my previous feelings by the next morning; empty, lonely, wishing that I was more successful.
We frequently want to be someplace else.
People wanting what they don’t have isn’t a provocative or groundbreaking statement. It’s been the common problem of people since the beginning of time. Many of us want more money and the freedom to travel. We want to be around people who make us happy. One of the reasons why we like movies so much is because the lives portrayed on the big screen almost always work out in the end, no matter how muddied the plot is.
People dream of backpacking through Europe or moving to NYC, L.A., or whatever their form of those places might be. We believe we’d all be so much happier if we could change one small aspect of our lives. If we could tweak our schedules, shift our mindsets, alter one small part of what makes us … well, us.
Countless sci-fi flicks show the main characters trying to escape their planets which could be a metaphor for blowing up their lives and changing who they are. After all, it’s easier to run away from our messy problems than to try to solve them. Even if it’s just momentarily through the use of alcohol, drugs, or eating a pint of ice cream. While our surroundings and upbringings play considerable roles, in many cases, real change needs to start within. Although, our brains have a funny way of adapting to any situation we find ourselves in.
Most privileged people want one aspect to change and believe this will lead to the skies opening and their dreams pouring down, with the forecast calling for their lives being forever changed for the better (and mostly clear skies).
We live in a world where we’ve all been plagued by injustices big and small alike. No matter how we grew up or who our parents are, wishing to be somewhere else is all some of us have — these ‘outrageous’ dreams keep us going.
When our lives are less than desirable, or even terrible, we wish to be someplace we’re not. This is why we can relate to TV shows about dystopian worlds featuring characters who also desire freedom or a change of scenery. Despite the advanced technology or the difference in time, we all have similar problems. We all have moments when we long to be somewhere else.