There is a specter haunting capitalism. Boredom.
Once upon a time, we could condemn capitalism for its exploitation and inequality, while acknowledging it had one redeeming feature: it kept us entertained with a stream of new inventions and toys. Capitalism had sizzle. It had excitement. Alas, we now live in a world of tweaks and updates, where nothing called new is actually new.
No doubt we are deluged with the seemingly new, from operating systems to Hollywood stars. Yet, what we have here is a faux newness. The packaging is different, but nothing is really different, or, more accurately, nothing important is really different. New iPhones don’t cut it, do they? A few more bells and whistles, signifying neither sound nor fury. Ditto for most tech devices. Been there, done that. But let’s skip listing all of the boring recycled toys and cut to the chase. The beating heart of capitalism, the stock market, is itself horrifically boring: up-down, up-down, the sky is falling, up-down, up-down, greatest bull market ever, up-down, up-down, Elon Musk, up-down, up-down….? (Wait, I know what’s even more boring than the stock market: uber-capitalist billionaires going almost into space, almost sixty years after we actually went into space, then having the news media hype the story. Boredom on stilts.)
And then there is the same old, same old work/life dichotomy. Get up, eat, go to work, leave work, eat, watch TV or work some more, sleep, go back to work. That’s typically five out of seven days for those working. And then we try to cram some novel activities into the weekends, although odds are we would rather just rest, which makes us bored, and boring.
A creeping boredom, a non-negotiable ennui, has descended on the land. COVID, for all its horrors, provided an escape from the endless sameness of life in 21st century capitalist America. People were desperate to return to normal, forgetting just how boring normal had become.
Consider how much time we normally spend on escapist activities and dreams that allow us to pretend we are not in boring capitalist America. For example, there is the ever-increasing number of books, TV series, and movies center staging magic and heroes with superpowers, which remove them (and us, vicariously) from the humdrum. There is the endless chatter about planning for retirement, in which we eventually make our escape from the daily grind of boring work in capitalist America. Then there are the fantasies about salvation from the status quo via a political figure, for example, Trump, who has himself become all too boring with his politics-of-outrage shtick and his preoccupation with himself. Narcissists are so boring. So yesterday. (And my God, how boring are his kids?) But it’s not only Trump who is boring. Joe “Slo Mo” Biden may yet take the Oscar here.
We nearly went mad when we couldn’t shop in person during COVID, because shopping feels like it breaks up boredom. But it actually doesn’t. We keep having to go back for ever-greater fixes. Shop until you drop. And now we shop online. Also boring, if you think about it. Here we are close to the heart of the matter. You can only go so long believing that material goods, commodities, are going to provide the good life, the non-boring life. Once you realize that the capitalist game of providing “new” glittery things for us to buy, and the fact of owning them, isn’t going to make our lives interesting or worthwhile, the jig is up. We can look around and ask, what the hell is all of this production for, in which so many of us have to work at boring jobs in order to survive?
We are bored to tears. We keep trying to find ways to cope. Just keep busy. Just keep moving. Don’t think about it. Pretend we aren’t bored, because Americans aren’t supposed to get bored, not with all of our wealth and freedom. But we do, and we are. It’s time for capitalism to step up to the plate and accept responsibility for the boredom plague it has created.
Cartoon, Website: “Now Thats Merican”