In a recent post I mentioned that one of the sports journalists on ESPN referred to Russell Wilson, the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, as “boring.” He is a quiet, unpretentious young man who has pretty much kept his mouth shut and stayed out of trouble. That’s the problem. The talking head on ESPN preferred players like Richard Sherman who give the journalists something to write about. Writing about folks like Wilson might put the reader to sleep. Or something.
There is a certain element of truth in this comment, of course. But much of that is a result of the fact that the journalists seek out the sensational stories and leave the others alone. And that’s what we have become used to: it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy. We prefer the “exciting” stories and find anything that isn’t about violence, sex, and general mayhem “boring.” As the special effects people take over the making of movies, the movies themselves are excessively violent and horrifying, dulling our sensibilities and requiring no imagination whatever. In order not to be bored many of us now require smash-mouth images — on the TV and movie screen and in our books and papers. Sensationalism sells.
I have always thought that the word “boring” describes the mental state of the person using the word. One usually hears it from the mouths of those who have run out of diversions. It’s not so much that the situation, the book, or the person being discussed is boring; it’s more a matter of the person making the judgment. They can’t think of anything to do and have nothing going on between their ears. A person who is alive to what is going on around him or her will not be bored no matter where they happen to be or who or what they are reading about.
But I will grant that writing about the Russell Wilsons of the world might be less than scintillating to the one who worries only about selling his stories to a jaded audience. After all, Dante whizzed through his Inferno and found writing about Paradise very taxing. And if Dante found Paradise hard to write about one can perhaps pardon the journalist who doesn’t want to write about Russell Wilson. Perhaps. On the other hand, it would appear that the real test of a good writer is his or her ability to make the boring exciting. After all, Dante did finish writing about Paradise and it was a stunning achievement.
Along these lines, Daniel Defoe explains the difficulties of writing about the “reformed” and “penitent” Moll Flanders, as contrasted with the “wicked” woman of the first parts of the novel by that name:
“It is suggested that there cannot be the same life, the same brightness and beauty, in relating the penitent part as in the criminal part. If there is any truth in that suggestion, I must be allowed to say, ’tis because there is not the same taste and relish in the reading; and indeed it is too true that the difference lies not in the real worth of the subject so much as in the gust and palate of the reader.”
Defoe almost certainly has his tongue planted firmly in his cheek in this Author’s Preface to his novel. But he makes a good point. We are hoist by our own petard. Wouldn’t it be better for us all if the writers occasionally wrote about the “boring” folks who do remarkable things, even heroic things, in a quiet and unassuming way? Should we insist, like the journalists themselves, that life’s only interesting when awful things happen? As Defoe suggests, that says more about us than it does about our world which is full of beauty and goodness if we only know where to look. Or are we, in fact, too busy looking for the sensational and the exciting because our sensibilities have become deadened by the journalists, movies, and games that keep pushing our faces into the pages or images of the scum of the earth?