IT'S HIP TO BE REALLY QUITE DULL: Are Boring Things Becoming Cool?

Because if so, I'm having a party to watch Ken Burns' The Civil War and you're all invited. Bring tissues.

May 28, 2014 at 5:00pm | Leave a comment

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Here, there, and everywhere!

I get a lot of press releases every day. Most of them -- for example, those hawking cheap multi-compartment handbags, or the weird “foot jewelry” that is supposed to look like sandals without the benefit of actually protecting the bottom of your feet, or "celebrity-approved workout gear" -- I send straight to the trash without reading past the subject line. But every once in awhile I get a gem that makes me glad to be on all these mailing lists.
 
Today, that gem was as follows:
ANNUAL BORING CONFERENCE ANNOUNCES LINE-UP
 
Those of a nervous disposition should consider themselves warned under section 49, paragraph 2 of the Health and Safety Act
 
London, England, May 28, 2014: The Boring Conference, the annual event devoted to an agonised acceptance of the mundane, will take place this Saturday, May 31st, at Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL. The event will start at 10am.
 
James Ward, conference organiser, said: “Many will of course recognize May 31st as the culmination of Week of Solidarity With The People of Non-Self-Governing Territories. I had hoped to avoid this unfortunate clash but I expect that some will feel that they’ve had their fill of non-self governing events by the end of the week and will attend nonetheless.”
 
Topics covered this year will include:
Domestic Ink Jet Printers c.1999
Episodes of British game show 'You Bet'
German Film Titles
Ice Cream Van chimes
Pothole Gardening
How to Cook elaborate meals with the equipment found in hotel bedrooms
Similarities between 198 of the world's National Anthems 
Comic Sans
 
Layout of the hall will be the classic 'Balmoral' arrangement: two blocks of seats, arranged in rows, with an aisle down the centre.
 
A limited number of spaces will be available for media. These will be allocated on a first come, first served basis, unless, of course, a better subsequent offer is made.
 
- Enough -
 
Note: the inventor of Comic Sans will deliver the presentation on Comic Sans.
 
My first thought was to wonder if my already tenuous grasp on reality had finally slipped and I was now living in a fantasy world of my own creation, because this is very much the kind of thing I invent in my mind in idle moments. And that may well be the case, except according to The Guardian -- which is a real newspaper, right? -- this is a true thing that exists. Finally, a conference for the rest of us with nothing better to do.
 
Billed as "a one-day celebration of the mundane, the ordinary, the obvious and the overlooked", the conference, now in its fourth year, aims to address subjects that – in the words of founder James Ward – may "often be considered trivial and pointless, but when you look at them more closely, they reveal themselves to be actually deeply fascinating".
 
[...]
 
Previous highlights include a talk about electric hand dryers by "a man so fascinated by them that he had installed a Dyson Airblade in his house", and a speaker who "rollerbladed round the hall while reading from a book about the relative weights and densities of different kinds of metal". Ward is particularly excited this year by the prospect of a boring presentation entitled Eggs, and another about Eric Clapton's bookshelf.
 
This might not be in keeping with the spirit of the event but the truth is, I find all of this extremely exciting. I love hearing about other people’s passions, especially when they’re strange and unexpected. Reading about this conference gave me the same sense of heart-thumping joy and wonder as I felt when I walked into the Museum of Jurassic Technology for the first time -- an unreal and totally authentic feeling of awe. It is a falling in love with people who are unabashedly into their own thing, and who want to share it with you without apology.
 
I like lots of things that are considered boring. Most of my favorite places in the world are museums. I love binge-watching Antiques Roadshow and Ken Burns documentaries. I collect hundred-year-old postcards and reread their strange messages, little snippets in an unknown relationship between two strangers, and am mesmerized. I have an ever-growing library of pre-1970 diet cookbooks. I spend untold hours every day googling things like “how is cinnabar lacquer made” or “what is the difference between an aquatint and an etching” or “pictures of the Boston Public Library McKim building under construction.” I am fascinated by watching my tea steep, even though I’ve seen it happen a zillion times. It’s even better when you add milk and it goes all swirly for a moment. My daily working soundtrack is typically comprised of classical music playlists on Spotify, or bland 1980s pop.
 
In short, these are my people.
 
Unfortunately, xoJane probably doesn’t have the budget to send me to London this Saturday, in spite of the exceptionally boring coverage I would certainly supply. 
 
But it did get we wondering, in context with that possibly-fake normcore trend in which hip kids are wearing the dullest half-zip fleece and stonewashed bootcut denim they can find: Is boring the new cool? First, they came for the mock turtlenecks, and I said nothing? 
 
As if the universe wanted to give me more reason to wonder, this Saturday I was at an antiques auction in Malden, Massachusetts, which is not a town you would expect to have an antiques auction in it, but it is secretly one of the best possible places you could be on a Saturday morning -- at least if you’re boring, like me. 
 
On this particular Saturday, about halfway through the multi-hour event, a pack of four mid-20s hipster dudes came in and -- I’m totally serious -- starting bidding on old typewriters. One of them was wearing a fedora. The hipster, not the typewriter. 
 
Initially, I thought, Hey, it’s nice to see other people under 50 participating in here! Also they were all very nice. 
 
But then I thought, wait, what if antiques auctions become cool? What if everyone starts buying the weird ephemera I want and I can’t find it anymore? WHAT IF TEA-STEEPING GETS A TUMBLR?
 
I can’t honestly conjure up any real concern over this. I’m more amused by it than disturbed, and I’d be thrilled if the US got its own version of The Boring Conference because I would probably both attend AND present. I’m just glad so-called boring stuff is getting its due. Being interesting to everyone all the time is exhausting. 
 
I mean, I guess it is. I’ve never actually tried it.