Politics and Boredom

Politics and Boredom January 13, 2011

In my previous post, I tried to describe the “News” as a spectacle, an escape from reality. A few insightful commentators in that post pointed to the general obsession with the spectacular as something that seems to be deeply entrenched in our humanity. I think this is important to note, yet I do think there are degrees of difference that are not trivial. In other words, there are different degrees of spectacularity.

In the case of the current spectacle we are facing: I think the objectification of the event—and the persons of that event—is particularly and violently present. But I cannot deny how well it captures my imagination; it seems to demand a response from all the (un)important characters from the “News.” Some of the most unimportant ones, to be sure, are those of us who blog: us the writers at Vox-Nova. Me.

As a contributor here, I have tried to wonder why I write about spectacles and, to a broader degree, why politics is so effective at creating spectacles of all kinds—politics, it seems, can take just about anything and turn it into “News,” 24 hours a day. After some thought about this, I have come to this: in our (anti)culture, politics is a palliative cure for boredom.

I suspect the reason people read these things—including the commentary here at VN—is because they are bored. Now, you may object saying that you choose to read or write here for principled reasons. You may in fact have a busy life, full of things to do, and come here for reasons that seem unrelated to boredom. But, I ask (myself first and foremost): What is boredom but loneliness, alienation, lovelessness, and the desire for something to occupy the time in a way that puts those stark realities at a distance? What is boredom but not quite feeling at home in the place you are?

At the basic, descriptive level: I log into Vox-Nova, e-mail, and other websites because I am not doing anything else, literally. This is obvious, but it points to the descriptive fact that when we are here, we are not elsewhere. Depending on where “elsewhere” might be, we can begin to see how—and perhaps why—this place is not a place at all: it is an anti-place, a site of virtual reality that exempts us from the real. In other words, time spent online in a virtual reality seems to be particularly oriented towards the spectacle. No wonder we see such a proliferation of politics online.

But I also suspect that what many people (myself included) righteously call political “activism,” “ministry,” “advocacy,” scholarship,” and more is really just a way to kill time, literally—a way to escape the boredom of dwelling with others in real communities, real streets, real rooms, real daydreams, real conversations about real things. Real prayer.

I am sure that is this not the total truth. I suspect there is more in political commentary and discourse than the objectifying effects of the spectacle. But, if I am honest with myself, I also know that boredom is not irrelevant. I spend too much time escaping boredom online. (Am I doing it now? Is this a cathartic way to keep doing it without feeling responsible for it?)

Avoiding a phone-call to a talk to a friend or my extended family or even a stranger, perhaps you? Avoiding a cup of coffee and a random conversation with genuine questions about random things—certainly not the “News”?—Is this what I, what we, are really doing here?

As a thought experiment, imagine for a moment that the entire spectacle of politics is simply an attempt to escape the boredom of modern life: a life that has more to “do” than ever, but less to be. What would this (re)vision of politics mean? What effect would it have on how we see and interpret our daily lives and the spectacle of politics that saturates it?

And, finally, how many of these imaginary thoughts might actually be true?

I fear to say it and I have little idea of what to do about it but, at least for the moment, I must admit that the more I am here, writing about the “News”—albeit in sly, “intellectual” ways—the less I am elsewhere: with my family, my students, myself, a stranger, with God. And that “elsewhere” is much more important. But, despite its obvious import, value, and beauty: it is boring, ordinary, and real.

So I seek the idol, the spectacle instead. And the real, iconic God feels absent.

Embrace the absence, God is there!

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