- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2000

America is bored. Now that the year-2000 mania is passe, the 2000 elections are predictable and no wars are being fought this summer on CNN, America is dozing off.

Some are turning to the mundane and the predictable to get their kicks. Watching reality-based Webcam sites or tuning into CBS' "Survivor" episodes for blow-by-blow accounts of what other folks are doing.

And help is on the way. The Boring Institute in Maplewood, N.J., lists what is absolutely unentertaining in the media and how to beat boredom on a Web site and monthly newsletter.

"The Sims," a video game, allows players to play God through the everyday lives of people they create.

A new magazine, the Journal of Mundane Behavior, dissects ho-hum activities, such as shaving or writing an application letter.

Scott Schaffer, founder and managing editor of the journal, and co-editor Myron Orleans say their journey down Mundane Lane began with a magazine article in the March 1998 issue of Sociological Theory, which jokingly suggested there should be a journal of mundane behavior devoted to conformity.

Why not, Mr. Schaffer and Mr. Orleans asked each other. As colleagues at the sociology department at California State University at Fullerton, both immediately began work on their own journal.

The finished product was first published on the World Wide Web in February. Since then, www.mundanebehavior.org has received more than 100,000 hits.

The journal contains articles devoted to tedious experiences, such as searching for a book in the library and Japanese elevator behavior. Mr. Schaffer described the contents of the on-line journal as "the kinds of things other people, when they come to this culture, are fascinated by."

He said interest in the mundane has emerged with the culture's ability to relax now that the world has survived everything from the Cold War to year 2000.

"It has a lot to do with the sense that we can stop and take a breath," he said. "We have to figure out where we are and move on from there."

The journal has three different readership groups: Academics in the fields of social science and the humanities; normalization specialists people who help people readjust to society, such as mental health specialists or correctional officers; and those who for a variety of reasons are not able to live a normal life.

"We didn't expect these last readers," Mr. Schaffer said. "These people have told us that the journal allows them to be vicariously normal by letting them know what it's like to be normal."

Study of the mundane "doesn't get as much press," he adds. "It's not seen as sexy, groundbreaking or earth-shattering." His journal brings together different disciplines to discuss the issues of mundaneness.

"We put them in dialogue with the general public. That makes us different from standard academic journals," he said.

The Boring Institute was founded in 1984 by public relations counselor Alan Caruba. Its Web site, www.boringinstitute.com, displays lists of boring movies, TV shows and a monthly "Boring Report" to the tune of 90,000 to 100,000 hits per month.

"It started as a spoof of all the end-of-the-year lists. I just thought I would make fun of them," Mr. Caruba said.

Leading the pack for this year's most boring candidates is the British royal family, specifically Prince William, 18. "All the hype surrounding the young prince will stem from the media's frantic desire to keep you interested in this very boring family," Mr. Caruba wrote.

First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton took last year's top honors as most boring celebrity "a perfect example of someone who cannot take a hint to go away." Other 1999 honorees included radio talk-show host Don Imus; politicians Al Gore, Bill Bradley, Jesse Ventura and Steve Forbes; magazine editor Tina Brown; the late child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey; year 2000; and women's soccer.

The most boring films included "Eyes Wide Shut," "The Blair Witch Project" and "Bowfinger."

Heading up the 1998 list was President Clinton, followed by former White House intern Monica Lewinsky and then-independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, who "makes the wrath of God seem tame," the Web site reads.

As for Mr. Caruba, "I think I know more about boredom than anyone else in the country," he said.

Mr. Caruba has set aside July as Anti-Boredom Month to call attention to boredom's "darker side," which he says leads to a host of social problems, including depression. He also has a guide called "Beating Boredom" that he sells to anyone looking for help.

Advice in the book includes developing a reading habit, picking up a hobby or two, and getting out of the house to join a group or organization. "For the other seven, you'll have to buy the guide," he said with a chuckle.

He praises the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America and athletic leagues for keeping children from becoming bored.

"Youth activity is an essential for any society," Mr. Caruba said. "Any society that neglects this is setting itself up for a lot of trouble.

"We tend to rely too heavily on mass media, particularly television, to keep us amused," he said. "Television literally asks you to do one thing sit and watch. It encourages us not to use the full capacity of our intellect."

Boredom is not an exclusively American phenomenon, he adds, noting extremely bored people in Russia and Great Britain have asked for help.

Because he finds the 2000 elections to be stupefyingly dull, Mr. Caruba is the Boring Party candidate for president. Aided by a "political inaction committee," his main motivations for higher office are riding in Air Force One and harassing Congress.

And if Vice President Al Gore gets elected? "I think Americans have to seriously consider the fact that there will be a rise in the suicide rate because we will be bored to death," he said.

Many things can be boring, but "The Sims" apparently is not one of them. The game has been the best-selling PC game, at 30,000 sold per week, since it arrived in stores in February.

"The Sims" started as a game about building houses, but houses are not fun without personalities to inhabit them, said Patrick Buechner, marketing director at Maxis, the Walnut Creek, Calif., company behind "The Sims." The end result is a video game about the everyday lives of characters created by the player.

The goal is to create the happiest families in the neighborhood. The game is designed so that the player can dictate every decision of the characters, or just sit back and watch how they interact with one another.

"It's very unique. There's no other game like this," he said. "It appeals to the subject matter everyone is an expert at life."

Mr. Buechner said that people are interested in the game due to the tendency to observe people in ordinary situations.

"Domestic life can be fun," he said. "Reality is interesting to people today."

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