- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2000

LONDON News that the American-run Dull Men's Club Web site has been inundated with foreign visitors will come as little surprise to the many women who have long suspected an international conspiracy of male dreariness.

Created by, and for, dull men, www.dullmen.com offers a haven where the pedantic and petty-minded can be themselves, free from the pressure to say something interesting.

The current topic of lukewarm debate on the site is airport carousels which conveyor belts move in a clockwise and which in a counterclockwise direction. Boston is clockwise, as are Istanbul and Manchester terminal three. Guam and Manchester two, on the other hand, run counterclockwise as you already know if you are one of the 100,000 daily visitors to the Dull Men's Club site.

Other Web pages include a month-by-month guide to dull activities; April is dedicated to folding maps properly, checking household batteries and Egg Salad Week. Like many men-only Internet sites, there is the inevitable provision of smut in this case, graphic pictures of parasitic fungi that attack flowering plants.

Unlike boring men who believe they are interesting, truly dull men are introverts who harbor no illusions about themselves and their dismally circumscribed lives. Any woman who is unsure if her man is genuinely dull, rather than merely reliable, can consult a useful checklist. Clues that there could be less to him than meets the eye might be books bearing titles such as "Vegetables of Byzantium" or a certain fastidiousness about wiping surfaces clean.

But while some men are born dull, others have dullness thrust upon them, usually at dinner parties.

John Morgan, author of "Debrett's New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners," hopes that cyberspace and the advent of sites such as Dullmen.com will ride to the rescue of hostesses.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with kindred spirits meeting on the Internet," he says. "At least these people know they are a social liability. This gives them the opportunity to communicate with each other."

Rumors that Pfizer, the maker of Viagra, wanted to advertise its anti-impotence drug on the site have proved untrue. Big business, however, already has recognized dull men's spending power.

The '90s saw a lucrative easy-listening revival, when the banal syncopations of Muzak somehow became the dernier cri of post-modern chic. On television, watching paint dry has been elevated to prime time, thanks to the voguish makeover of what was once the acknowledged refuge of dull men everywhere, home improvements.

The American leisure industry also has been cashing in, with the introduction of computing cruises. Thanks to Geekcruises.com, dull men now can combine computers with Caribbean sunshine. Once aboard, they can attend seminars such as Making File Conversions Fun.

Here in Britain, a marketing watershed was reached recently with the unapologetic launch of the coffee table book "Boring Postcards." Featuring panoramas such as The M1 motorway Service Area at Newport Pagnell (a city northwest of London) and A Bend on Porlock Hill, the book sold out within three weeks and is now in its third press run. Even its publisher admits to being perplexed.

"We expected it to do well, but for it to sell out in such a short space of time surprised us all," says Fiona Smith of Phaidon. "I think the gray cover and the one-line captions gave it a simplicity that really appealed to people. You could look at it as an exercise in sublime minimalism."

Back at Dullmen.com, consumerism also has taken hold. Women wanting to buy presents for those special dull men in their lives can click on to a gift list. Timetables of any sort always hit the spot, the site says reassuringly, but a video of corn growing or a molded plastic desk tidy also will add the perfect drab note to any celebration.

There is one caveat. The site warns: "Women are not dull. Women are exciting. We don't want them in our meeting rooms. The first thing they will do is rearrange the furniture."

With the coming of the Internet, the dull have been afforded a window on the world more alluring, even, than loitering on breezy railway platforms with spiral notebooks to collect locomotive numbers.

Moreover, their numbers are multiplying, as on-line shopping, banking and share-dealing keep us all glued to our screens. Can it really be long before dull becomes the new interesting?

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