When it comes to discussing which is more relevant to humanity and the continuous evolution of human self-awareness and understanding---escapist or realist fiction---I believe there is no real, meaningful distinction between them, since they are both fiction and thus not real life, but a subjective account of someone's perception thereof.
All types of fiction are escapist, since they are all experienced through submersion into someone else, thus lifting the reader out of his own skin. It's what makes all of them so enjoyable, and the only exception are cases where author, character and reader are the same, like in diaries and autobiographies read by their own writers. Other than that, everything's essentially escapist, and that's awesome! :)
Exactly my point, but put much more clearly. :) I've had a few debates with folks I like to call "purists" over the essential purpose of realist fiction. They disagree that escapism is there no matter how realistic you make it. While they usually make good, solid arguments, the bottom line is that it is fiction, not reality, so there is always some degree of escapism involved for the reader. That doesn't make it better or worse. It just is what it is. The writing is what makes a "quality" book. I thought it would make a good article to discuss.