Paths to Boredom
Boredom hits us all. There are lots of ways that can cause the onset of ennui. Here are a few.
You are trying as hard as you can to stifle a yawn because social convention says you have to be polite even though your brain is silently screaming “Will this never end?” You try masking the yawn as a cough or throat clearing.
“No. No. Seriously I love seeing the fifth disc of photos of your grandchildren.”
John Cage’s 4:33
“Hey Honey. Want to go to the symphony tonight?”
“Sure. What are they playing?”
“John Cage’s 4:33.”
“I’ve never heard that before.”
That’s okay sweetheart, neither has anybody else. You see Mr. Cage’s opus is four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. No notes are played. No music is heard. The only sounds in the auditorium are the obligatory coughs of audience members and, if you’re really lucky, someone’s cell phone will go off. But, more likely, there's likely to be loud snoring from the cheaper seats.
Questions abound. Is there are score? What key is 4:33 not played in? Is there a tempo? How many rehearsals are there? Do the musicians get paid? Does Mr. Cage’s estate receive a royalty every time his masterpiece is not played?
Our fictional couple might feel a bit bored and let down after not hearing music for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. But, cheer up there are other experiences to, um, experience.
Perhaps, they could catch a screening of Andy Warhol’s 1964 movie Sleep. It’s five hours and twenty minutes long so a very large bucket of popcorn is advised.
The plot? Oh, it doesn’t really have a plot. Action? Not much. Dialogue? None. It’s long-take footage of Warhol’s close friend John Giorno sleeping.
It’s said that Warhol wanted Brigitte Bardot to be the subject of his “movie.” That might have made the epic infinitely more interesting but she declined to take part. Probably, because she only slept in French and this was an American production.
Whenever the words “boring” and “sport” crop up in the same sentence a third word, “cricket,” is usually attached. Just try telling that to someone from India where the sport is treated with the veneration usually accorded to religion.
In fairness, to the uninitiated the long-form of cricket, which lasts up to five days and might end in a draw, can drag on a bit. But, shorter matches are dealt with in a couple of hours and involve a lot of smashing and cracking of the ball, and some spectacular fielding (see below).
Note that all of these catches are made bare handed rather than wearing a glove the size of a snow shovel. (Is the writer's bias showing?)
Brits and other cricket-playing people think it’s a bit rich for Americans to call cricket boring. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) put the stopwatch on major league baseball in July 2013. The average nine-inning major league game that takes three hours to play involves less than 18 minutes of action. As the WSJ puts it: “90% of the game is spent standing around.”
And, at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, they charge you upwards of $12 for a tall can of beer to watch this spectacle. That's just not right.
But, there is even less activity on the grid-iron. The average NFL game takes three hours and 12 minutes to play and of that three hours and one minute is not actual play. The typical play lasts four seconds and when it’s all stitched together that adds up to 11 minutes of action. On television, the viewer sees 100 commercials (although they are good for bathroom breaks and fetching a $2 beer from the fridge) that take up about one third of the broadcast.
The Allure of Roundabouts
Redditch in England is an unremarkable place south of Birmingham. One of its listed attractions is the Kingfisher Shopping Centre. You get the picture.
However, Redditch was chosen in 2013 to feature in a calendar produced by the Roundabout Appreciation Society (You didn’t know there was such a group did you?). There were 12 gripping photographs of a dozen roundabouts in Redditch. Amazingly, the thing sold 100,000 copies.
That success prompted the society to go big. The 2016 calendar was The Roundabouts of the World.
The cognoscenti of traffic circles gather to discuss their architecture and safety features. There might be a presentation about the wildlife that inhabits roundabouts. Sounds awesome.
We’ve all been trapped by bores:
- The man who drones on and on about some obscure skirmish in the Civil War;
- The fellow with the collection of different patterns of barbed wire;
- The person who knows exactly how many times rhinoceros is mentioned in the Complete Works of Shakespeare (Hint: it’s once, in Macbeth).
Escape is nearly impossible without being rude although there is one strategy that works. You need a wing man or wing woman. At an agreed signal your accomplice finds a quiet place and calls your cellphone. You announce an emergency; a childcare crisis is a good one.
“Sorry. I have to rush. The eight-year-old put the three-year-old in the tumble dryer. But we must continue that fascinating chat about moluscs some other time.”
Association for Dullards
Who better to set up a club for dull people than a retired tax attorney? So that’s what Leland Carlson of Washington, D.C. did in order to “Celebrate the ordinary.”
The Dull Men’s Club (although gender specific in its title it's gender neutral in its membership) is a loose online collection of folks who seem to enjoy a bit of self-deprecating humour.
The group’s event calendar lists such riveting activities as the Antique Doorknob Collectors of America Convention (Indianapolis, July 2017), The Duct Tape Festival (the organizers call it the Duck Tape Festival) held just outside Cleveland, and World Pencil Day (March 30). They've established the day after the clocks go back as Fill Your Staplers Day. They even have a web page devoted to roundabouts.
The club’s Facebook page has more than 2,800 members, who post “dullities.” Stewart says he’s 43 and wants to know if he’s too young to start wearing tweed. Mal announces “Nearly noon. Time for a nap.” And, Rob asks “I need to assemble my mop, does anybody have any tips?”
Social psychologist Mark Leary and colleagues carried out a study to determine what behaviours people find the most boring. And the winner (loser) is? The researchers found people are most likely to be bored by folks who are “negative and complaining, talking about one’s problems, displaying disinterest in others.”
Oscar Wilde, who was far from boring, wrote a book entitled Only Dull People Are Brilliant at Breakfast. As befits its subject, perhaps, it’s a slim volume of 64 pages.
- “In America’s Pastime, Baseball Players Pass A Lot of Time.” Steve Moyer, Wall Street Journal, July 16, 2013.
- “The 9 Ways Boring People Can Bore You.” Bella DePaulo, Psychology Today, September 28, 2014.
- The Dull Men’s Club.