ON GIRLY ESCAPISM

May 3rd, 2020

Words by Nicole Stunwyck · Art by Humberto Cruz

Reconnecting with my childhood self during these harsh times is my way of coping with the panic

Quarantine in Peru has been mandatory for more than 30 days now, and as a middle-class, recently-out-of-high-school filmmaker whose only form of economic support in life has been my father, I have found the news of the pandemic and the unfair dismissals that have followed it particularly hard to swallow. In the beginning, the uncertainty of the future, combined with the fact that the number of patients infected with COVID-19 was growing every day, filled me with a profound sadness that I wasn’t able to shake off. I felt pressured to rethink my purpose in life now that humanity was possibly approaching its end; after all, what is the point of female-centric cinema in a world that’s having to reorient itself towards survival? 

When it first hit me that I’d have to cancel many of my career-oriented plans due to the pandemic, I rapidly gravitated toward the idea that quarantine would serve as the perfect time for me to work non-stop on my craft, even when I would have preferred to re-watch episodes of “Daria” (especially the one parodying Sassy Magazine’s founder, Jane Pratt). Only after a long burnout did I become fully aware of how essential it was for me to be gentle with myself during these times. I realized that for the sake of my own mental health, I needed to allow myself to exist just as a human being instead of working day and night on editing a script or planning my big break into Hollywood. 

After freeing myself from my own expectations, I began to experience what felt like an irrational desire to revisit all of the pop culture I had once loved as a former computer-loving and movie-obsessed child. In the beginning, I felt embarrassed to be up at 2 a.m., installing the 2005 CD-ROM video game, “Bratz: Rock Angelz.” I wasn’t sure why I was reveling in nostalgia while watching early 90s infomercials on how to use the internet, especially considering that I wasn't even been born until 2001. But after spending what was probably too much time navigating the internet alone at night, I found I was surprisingly at ease. Why was it that I was getting so much joy out of playing "The Sims," revisiting straight-to-DVD Barbie movies and learning how to design websites in the middle of a pandemic? 

I’ve since come to understand that this desire to reconnect with that younger version of myself was actually my way of coping with all the stress and panic I’d been experiencing. Subconsciously, I was drawn to these particular objects not because I was eager to peer back into the past, but because I didn’t want to remain absorbed in scary thoughts about the present-day. Although I know it’s more essential than ever for us to remain aware of our privilege and to support those who are struggling more than we are, my escapist tendencies, which are based on directing my energies into one specific thing in the hopes of forgetting everything else around me, have been at their strongest, and so childish activities have been a huge comfort to me. The reason behind this is simple: unlike “serious” and introspective art that’s made by adults and for adults, most movies, books and video games that cater to children tend to be overwhelmingly positive, colorful and heart-warming. They encourage the child (or in this case the 18-year-old) to fully embrace their daydreams, while feeling safe and having fun.

One night, after completing the Bratz PC game where Cloe, Sasha, Jade and Jasmin attempt to launch their own fashion magazine but end up participating in a rock ‘n’ roll charity concert instead, I was filled with inspiration. All of a sudden, I found myself jotting down ideas for the experimental one-woman magazine project I had left behind almost two years ago. Though the game seemed superficial, the way the Bratz were so in control of their fate really resonated with me. They wanted to have a magazine of their own? They made it happen. The characters set to work designing logos and layouts, went hunting for fabulous furniture (read: a red, lip-shaped sofa) for their new office, and even flew to London (the ultimate fashion capital, according to the Bratz). It sounds silly, but the feeling of being able to control my environment, even just within the context of a video game, was exhilarating. 

 

My childhood memories eventually made way to teenage ones, so after a few days of cheering myself up with “Barney Home Video Trailers,” the nostalgia-inducing entertainment I was watching evolved into more “mature,” teenage-oriented pursuits, like exploring the Rookie Mag archive and re-reading Daniel Clowes’ “Ghost World,” both of which I still haven’t outgrown. Despite being familiar with these works from over the years, revisiting them felt particularly rewarding within the context of quarantine. Relating to other women, whether they were fictional characters or real writers, made me feel less alone. 

Without the impetus of quarantine, my unquenchable thirst for productivity wouldn’t have allowed me the time to make peace with my younger self. Now I’ve had the chance to acknowledge that it was she who set the precedent for most of my current taste in art as well as many of my feminist principles. Though I know I’m only feeling this connected to my past because I’m overwhelmed and worried about the future, I’ve learned that deviating from the regular practices that make me feel oh-so-adult is not only natural, but also healthy. Sometimes a high dose of girly escapism will bring you back to your roots. 

Nicole Stunwyck is a writer and director from Peru. Inspired by classic Hollywood cinema, she explores feminist subjects in her movies while intending to create cathartic visual experiences for women moviegoers. You can find her work on Instagram @nn.icole

Humberto Cruz draws and makes collages on a daily basis, feeling that it helps with anxiety issues. He enjoys doing it for himself, but also to put a smile on someone's face.

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