The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s a brief exploration of the power of boredom. It’s something I’ve touched on a number of times and will likely do so again. While writing about boredom has helped me appreciate its impact, I feel like this video helps get the point across even more. Keep it in mind the next time the power goes out. Enjoy!
Tag Archives: boring
When we’re kids, we tend to exaggerate how tortuous a situation is. To us, the first day of school, a dentist appointment, or a 10-hour road trip in a car with a broken radio is its own circle of hell. As adults, we exaggerate too. There are times when being stuck in traffic or in a house with poor wi-fi is considered hell. Sure, there’s no fire and brimstone, but that doesn’t make the experience any less hellish.
The takeaway from that kind of exaggeration is that our concept of torture tends to be exceedingly relative. It’s one thing to be in constant pain, which is torture at its most pure. It’s quite another when it strains our psyche, our sanity, and our willingness to endure it.
I highlight this disparity because it’s important to consider in any discussions about Hell. By that, I don’t just mean the feelings we have when we’re sick, hung over, or working overtime on a weekend. I’m referring to the actual religious, philosophical, and literal concept of Hell that fuel our worst nightmares.
I get that this is not a very sexy topic. You could argue that it’s the least sexy topic anyone could discuss and probably win. However, there’s a reason why I’m bringing it up. It has less to do with religious connotations and more to do with the larger implications. To some extent, it may even alleviate some of those distressing sentiments surrounding hell.
That might be hoping for too much because few issues make people more uncomfortable than Hell. Even among the deeply devout, the idea that there’s this terrible place full of unending, unparalleled torture that people consciously experience second after second for eons on end is extremely distressing. By definition, it’s the ultimate form of torture that nobody can hope to escape, resist, or endure.
It’s for that very reason that a literal Hell is often seen as a problem among atheists and theists alike. The very idea of eternal torture doesn’t just clash with the idea of a loving deity. It also conflicts with every notion of justice. We are, after all, finite beings living in a finite world. How can any finite person do anything to warrant infinite torture?
The debate over the merits of infinite punishment for finite sins is one of those theological and ethical debates that has been going on for centuries. I’m not smart enough or spiritual enough to resolve it so I’m not going to try. Instead, I want to highlight a particular detail about the concept of hell and it’s a concept I have discussed more than most theologians.
That concept is boredom, a force that may be more powerful than any fiery sermon about hell. It has already led some to murder and I’ve argued that it could be a plague of the future. In contemplating and studying the power of boredom, though, I’ve noticed that it has a very peculiar effect when applied to the concept of Hell.
Simply put, boredom renders Hell, even the eternal variety, utterly ineffective and ultimately meaningless. That’s not to say eternal torture, or torture of that extent, is justified ethically. My point is that when you inject boredom into the equations of Hell, then all the tenants surrounding it break down.
To illustrate this point, think back to an experience in your life that you considered tortuous. Maybe it was an injury. Maybe it was a relationship. Maybe it was just a family reunion that you couldn’t wait to end. However bad it was, physically or mentally, there’s usually a point where you become numb to it.
It’s not just a function of our brains, which has actual mechanisms for adapting and adjusting to all sorts of torment. It’s a product of perception itself. Experience something so often for so long and it suddenly doesn’t become the aberration. It becomes the norm. When you think about the implications of that, then the concept of Hell breaks down.
Take, for instance, your current state of being. Assuming you’re not sick or in any significant discomfort, you don’t consider this state as painful. From your perspective, it’s a normal state of being and one with which you’ve become familiar over the course of your life.
Now, imagine for a moment, that everyone in the world sees your state and is aghast. They’re horrified that anyone could live, like you do. They see your current state as pure torture, one that they wouldn’t wish on anyone. You’re understandably confused, but can only do so much to grasp it because from your point of view, your condition is normal.
In a less theatrical example, consider those who live in what we might classify as extreme poverty. According to the World Bank, about 10.7 percent of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty. To these people, imagine what their concept of normal is. Torture to them is not being able to eat for days on end whereas torture for some is having to eat at McDonald’s five nights a week.
When it comes to suffering, eternal or otherwise, perception matters. You could argue it’s the only thing that matters. Someone who grew up rich and affluent may consider living in a mid-level apartment in Detroit torture whereas someone who grew up poor might see it as an upgrade. It all depends on how someone’s sense of normal develops.
When you add eternity to the mix, then things get somewhat paradoxical and boredom is at the heart of it. Imagine, if you can, that first moment when a hapless soul is condemned to Hell. Moments after they die, they descend into that horrible lake of fire that many religious texts and famous poets describe with such vivid detail.
Naturally, it’s torturous, plain and simple. Whatever kind of torment Hell offers, be it constant burning or being forced to watch “The Emoji Movie” for all eternity, is exceedingly painful to that poor soul. There’s no getting around that.
However, after a good long while though, such torment loses its impact. Remember, we’re dealing with eternity here. Time tends to obscure our frame of reference. It doesn’t matter how long we lived or how well we remember that life. After enough time, that whole experience will become a minor blip.
That’s a critical reference point because everything we think we know about pain, pleasure, and boredom are derived from those life experiences. Given that those experiences are finite while hell is infinite, it’s literally only a matter of time before Hell ceases to become a place of torment and just becomes our sense of normal.
Beyond normal, though, even the extremes of Hell that holy texts and poets describe lose their luster once boredom enters the picture. Do anything long enough and often enough and chances are, it’ll get boring to some extent. Why else would there be so many kinks and fetishes surrounding sex?
It’s true. Even I, an aspiring erotica/romance writer, don’t deny that sex can become boring. If something as inherently pleasurable as sex can become boring, then anything as pleasurable or painful could become boring as well. Given enough time, repetition, and inanity and it’s inevitable. Add eternity to the mix and, invariably, everything becomes boring.
It doesn’t matter if you’re burning in a lake of fire for trillions upon trillions of years. Eventually, it becomes so mundane that it ceases to become torture. At that point, Hell isn’t even a punishment anymore and it completely loses its purpose.
There are some forms of Hell that try to work around this. In the Fox TV show, “Lucifer,” the torment in hell technically isn’t eternal. In the show, Hell is a domain in which the damned are forced to relive the worst parts of their life over and over again. Even Lucifer himself endured that in one episode.
This isn’t eternal, though, because from the perspective of those being tortured, it isn’t an eternity. From their point of view, it’s just one really bad day. It doesn’t matter if the loop goes on for a trillion years. From their perspective, it’s still one day. If anything, the only one really suffering is Marcus “Cain” Pierce, who actually seeks death because, like Vandal Savage, an immortal life becomes unbearably boring after a few centuries.
That’s not just an irony. It highlights the underlying problem of applying eternity alongside boredom. After a certain amount of time, any experience, be it torture or euphoria, is going to lose its effect once boredom takes hold. In that sense, even Heaven loses its appeal because like pain, pleasure is not immune to the corrosive effects of boredom.
Now, some theologically minded people might still argue that an all-powerful deity would find some way to ensure boredom doesn’t undermine the punishment of Hell or the ecstasy of Heaven. However, doing so would require a total subversion of our mortal perceptions, which would in turn undermine the very experiences that are used to justify sending us to Heaven or Hell in the first place.
The fact that those perceptions are what we use to understand these places is the biggest flaw in the concept. Even an evil, vindictive deity would have to be exceedingly indifferent to standards of judgment and justice to even organize such a scheme.
The fact that so few holy texts or visions of Hell reference the power of boredom is a sign that there’s a disconnect between how the infinite effects the finite. It might also explain why visions of it have to be so terrifying to begin with. It even explains why Heaven has to be so appeal. In the context of eternity, the experience loses purpose eventually.
To some extent, we can take comfort in the idea that no matter how horrible Hell may be, if it even exists, boredom will eventually undermine those horrors. Granted, that means the pleasures of Heaven will be subject to the same effect, but it all evens out in the long run. Given enough time, we’re all subject to the same fate. It may seem grimly nihilistic for some, but I also think it’s comforting in how it binds us.
It also proves that, however powerful a deity may be, even the holiest of power pales in comparison to the might of boredom. Like erosion and entropy, boredom is the experience that overpowers us all eventually.
In talking so much about boredom, it can get kind of boring just dwelling on it so much. I don’t know if that counts as irony or a paradox, but I think it’s kind of poetic. The more we contemplate the impact boredom has on our lives and our society, the more we realize just how powerful it is and how quick we are to avoid talking about it.
We still don’t know the true impacts of crippling boredom on society because, for the moment, there are plenty of distractions, jobs, and obligations to keep people busy. Horrific stories like the murder of Christopher Lane, which was allegedly inspired by boredom, will continue to be rare and newsworthy, at least for the near future.
However, there may very well be future generations, including those that will emerge within our lifetime, that will have to deal with a growing glut of boredom. Between advances in biotechnology that will cure disease and the rise of automation, which may necessitate a universal basic income, this may be an issue that impacts us sooner than we think.
That brings me to Superman. Bear with me. I promise that’s not a non-sequiter. I’ve used comic book superheroes before to make my points, be they inspiration for one of my novels or examples of a sex-positive female character. I even cited comics when I singled out Vandal Savage as a villain forged by boredom. For the purposes of this post I need to cite him again, but Superman will be the primary focus.
Being the personification of our ideals and morals, the things that affect Superman also affect and I’m not just referring to kryptonite. If the epitome of our heroes and the icon of our most cherished values cannot handle a certain burden, then what hope do we have? That’s why when there’s a flaw with Superman, one of the most powerful characters in the DC Universe, we need to take notice.
In a sense, Superman and the immoral villain, Vandal Savage, are indirectly linked. They’re facing the same overwhelming burden and neither of them has found a way to effectively deal with it. The only difference is that Savage had a huge head start. Superman will catch up eventually and that’s where the true struggle resides.
Based on his current power set, which has been prone to change over the years, Superman is functionally immoral. So long as he replenishes his powers with the energy of a yellow sun, he’ll never age and he’ll never die. That puts him in the same boat as Vandal Savage, who never ages and can’t die. That also means that, at some point, he’ll have to deal with the burden of crippling boredom.
That’s a burden that DC Comics has never had him deal with. Like so many other oversights, such as how glasses can be an effective disguise, it’s one of those flaws that’s easier to just ignore. However, it has been confronted to some extent and the implications for Superman, the real world, and our love lives is pretty distressing.
Again, that’s not a non-sequiter. I brought up our love lives for a reason and it’s not just because I’m an aspiring erotica/romance writer, although that is part of it. While we might not be immortal, our lifespan is increasing. There are emerging technologies that may very well make us functionally immortal. That’s going to, by default, affect our love lives just as it will affect Superman.
Nearly everyone, including non-comic book fans, know the extent of Superman’s love life. They may not know about that time he made a porno tape with Big Barda, but they know that Superman’s primary love interest is Lois Lane. His romance with Lois is, by nearly every measure, the most iconic romance in the history of superhero comics.
While the romance has evolved a number of ways over time, the core themes remain the same. Lois Lane, being as human as they come, complements Superman in every meaningful way. She often acts as an emotional anchor of shorts, highlighting and strengthening the humanity within Superman. While she isn’t the primary source of Superman’s values, she is definitely a catalyst for strengthening them.
It’s a big part of what makes Superman so strong and so upstanding, with respect to his values. Lois Lane provides that sense of love and connection that reminds Superman that, despite being an alien, he has a strong sense of humanity. That is a humanity that Vandal Savage lost long ago.
While Superman’s romance with Lois Lane may be iconic, it still relies on one major flaw. Lois Lane, as beautiful, sexy, and charismatic as she might be, is still human. That means that at some point, she’s going to grow old and die. Superman may still love her all the same because he’s just that kind of person. However, she’s not immortal and he is. There’s just no way around that.
That’s not a primarily concern for him, though, because in the comics, Superman’s age is usually between 29 and 33 years old. There are some comics that explore an older version of him, but the bulk of his mythos is structured around him being the age of a typical man. That means, by default, the story can only cover a tiny sliver of Superman’s love life with Lois.
That has major implications because if Superman is functionally immortal, then he will outlive Lois Lane and that emotional anchor that helps him be the hero he is disappears. What will that do to him? Can he still be Superman without it?
Vandal Savage’s descent into madness sets a dangerous precedent. It’s entirely possible that Savage had someone like Lois Lane in his life at some point. The man has been alive for 50,000 years old. The sheer breadth of his lifespan makes that entirely possible.
Unfortunately, or tragically in some respect, that love died because everyone around Savage dies. It’s not because he kills them. He just outlives them. Being immortal, getting attached to anybody means enduring heartbreak and loss.
Even if someone he loves dies peacefully in their sleep, he still feels that loss. People in general, when they lose loved ones, feel emotional pain no matter what the circumstances. I had a relative live into her late 90s and die peacefully. When I went to her funeral, there were still people with tears in their eyes.
Imagine how many times Vandal Savage has endured that over his 50,000 year lifetime. Is it any wonder that he lost his humanity and has such a lower regard for human life? For him, forming human attachments of any kind just guarantees more pain. Whether you’re a human or a worm, you do whatever it takes to avoid that kind of pain.
That brings me back to Superman. He’s only lived a fraction of the life of Vandal Savage. However, he’s in a far worse position because while Savage may be a genius, he doesn’t have anything close to the power set that Superman possesses.
Superman is not just immortal and smart. He possesses the kind of speed, strength, and agility that allows him to do anything, go anywhere, and master every skill. Whereas someone like Savage may take centuries to master something, Superman can do it in seconds. That means he’ll run out of things to do even faster than Savage. It will not take 50,000 years for Superman to be overcome by crippling boredom.
Someone like Lois Lane might be able to keep Superman human, at least in his young age. However, there are many occasions in the comics where Lois Lane’s death leads to Superman becoming distant, detached, and despondent. While their love may be strong, the influence is at the mercy of time.
That’s not to say Superman will inevitably become like Vandal Savage. Granted, there are stories where Superman goes completely insane and becomes the kind of super-powered tyrant that North Korean dictators aspire to be. There are others where he ages gracefully and helps make the world a better place. In a sense, Superman’s potential reflects the uncertainty that such boredom will incur on immortals.
That’s an important concept to grasp because, as we humans live longer, healthier lives, we’ll have to contend with some of Superman’s burdens. Some people may be able to live centuries and maintain a strong sense of humanity. Others may end up like Vandal Savage and see humanity as a bunch of perishable meat bags.
This has huge implications for both our love lives, as well as the attachments we make. If we start living long, near-immortal lives, why even form romantic attachments? Why bother when time is just going to destroy it in the long run? Will we abandon those passions because it only leads to more pain? Will a world of functional immortals be completely devoid of love?
It’s impossible to say for sure and that’s what’s so disturbing about it. If someone as good and pure as Superman struggles to deal with the impact of crippling boredom, then what hope do we have?
Greetings, and wubalubadubdub! If you have no idea what I just said and worry that I’ve suffered some kind of traumatic head injury, then calm down. It’s nothing like that. If you happen to know what that word means, then congratulations. Your life is inherently richer because you’ve watched a show called “Rick and Morty.”
For those of you who think “South Park” is too polite, “Rick and Morty” is right up your alley. It’s crude, lewd, callous, crass, vulgar, obscene, and pretty much every other word you would use to upset a typical PTA meeting. It’s also one of the most hilarious, insightful, smart, and wildly entertaining shows on TV right now. Unless you find shows like “Family Guy” too harsh, a show like “Rick and Morty” will appeal to you.
Why do I bring this show up? I usually don’t do post just to lavishly praise a particular TV show or movie without making a larger point. While I may make exceptions to movies like “Wonder Woman,” I usually try to tie it into a larger discussion. This time is no different. At some point, I was going to use “Rick and Morty” in a discussion. It was only ever a matter of time and topic.
In this case, the topic is both relevant and revealing. It once again ties into my ongoing exploration of boredom, an inescapable facet of modern life and a potential plague of the future. I cited DC Comics character Vandal Savage as a super-villain who is defined by boredom. He’s even said outright that boredom is what motivates him.
As compelling as Savage’s case might be, Rick Sanchez would probably still roll his eyes and call it stupid. He would also probably find a way to kill Savage, spit on his corpse, and do it all while exceedingly drunk. That’s the kind of man he is. He’s not a hero by even the greatest stretch. He’s also not a villain either, although he has been known to carry himself like a sociopath at times. He is, at his core, an anti-hero.
I’ve talked about anti-heroes before and how they’re neither heroes nor villains. They exist on a different spectrum of sorts, from tragic characters like the Incredible Hulk to truly brutal souls like the Punisher. In respect to this spectrum, Rick Sanchez exists on a nebulous, yet extreme end.
He rarely goes out of his way to save the world or do good. He also regularly traumatizes his friends, family, and his cohort, Morty Smith. His dimension-hopping, universe-spanning exploits often put everyone around him in danger. He’ll also show little reservation about participating in various acts of debauchery, violence, and general douche-baggery.
There’s no such thing as a typical episode of “Rick and Morty” in the sense that it follows a formula. In a sense, it defines itself by essentially taking the formula of traditional adult animation and shitting all over it.
As a general rule, though, an episode of “Rick and Morty” usually revolves around Rick getting his side-kick/grandson, Morty, caught up in something crazy. Morty, being young and innocent, tries to help him out and do the right thing. More often than not, though, Morty’s idealism gets crushed and/or backfires horribly. Rick, being a genius inventor, usually finds a way to fix everything and he does it while rarely being sober.
Why he does what he does, getting Morty caught up in his antics in the first place, is what makes him relevant to the discussion about boredom. Throughout the first two seasons of the show, there are various teases about what truly motivates Rick Sanchez. At times, it seems like he really loves his family. At other times, though, he gives the impression that they’re just a means to an end.
At every turn of his antics, regardless of context or motivation, Rick and the plot of nearly every episode tends to trivialize everything. Think of any cherished tradition, be it family, religion, culture, love, or friendship. To Rick Sanchez, it’s all pointless crap. It’s only important because people make stupid excuses to justify it. These are some of his soul-crushing quotes, which he often says in the presence of loved ones, no less.
“What people call love is just a chemical reaction that compels people to breed.”
“Listen, I’m not the nicest guy in the universe, because I’m the smartest, and being nice is something stupid people do to hedge their bets.”
“Don’t break an arm jerking yourself off.”
This is where the boredom aspect comes in. In addition to being a high-functioning drunk who has a very crass view of the world, he’s extremely smart. He’s a genius who is at or above the likes of Vandal Savage.
He creates portals to other dimensions with the same ease of changing the channel on a TV. He creates inter-stellar spaceships in a garage, complete with a super-intelligent AI that will obey orders in disturbingly literal ways. He’s so smart that he actually outsmarted an entire army of alternate-reality versions of himself. It’s even more messed up than it sounds.
Keep in mind, he does all of this while often being intoxicated. He almost always has a metal flask of hard liquor in his pocket. He’ll gladly gorge on harder drugs, even if it inspires his own dance. The fact he can do so much of this while being such a drunk is a testament to the sheer breadth of his genius.
Like Vandal Savage, though, genius does come at a cost. Having such a high intelligence means you tend to get bored easily and are constantly in need of new challenges. Rick Sanchez is so smart that there’s pretty much nothing he can’t do.
With his gadgets, he could become the world’s richest man. With his understanding of reality, he could win every Nobel Prize and get every major university to name a building after him. He could do all of this without breaking a sweat, but therein lies the problem.
Rick could do all these things, but it wouldn’t be a challenge. It would be too easy and provide a fleeting distraction at best. It would also get bureaucratic and tedious too, which only bores Rick even more. It’s why he can outsmart the devil himself, get bored, and burn down a building all in the same episode. I swear there’s no part of that last sentence that’s made up.
In trivializing anything and everything that other people hold dear, Rick Sanchez often brings up boredom. He even looks bored, as well as drunk, when talking about it. Whenever Morty asks him about some terrible, traumatic, morally reprehensible issue, be it doing business with a hitman or the purge, his response is always dispassionate and crass.
Like Vandal Savage, Rick is often frustrated by how easy things come. He’s so smart, even while drunk, that nobody can really challenge him. No matter what he does, his gadgets and his utter lack of regard for ethical considerations ensure he wins easily. He rarely experiences the thrill of overcoming a challenge, which is part of why he’s so dispassionate and crass.
Unlike Vandal Savage, though, Rick’s exploits also have him traveling across the universe and into different dimensions. This does more than highlight just how smart and resourceful Rick is. It effectively affirms just how trivial his actions and existence is in the grand scheme of things.
In one particular episode, his exploits with Morty lead to the complete and utter destruction of the world. Rick’s solution is as crass as it is anti-heroic. He just takes Morty to another universe where they both died and take their place. He even digs his own grave. He does all of this and then goes back to drinking beer and watching TV while Morty is horrifically traumatized.
In a sense, this understanding that nothing he does matters makes the boredom even worse. It means that even if Rick finds something meaningful to do, it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things because there are literally infinite universes where the same thing was done in any number of ways. Whether he succeeds or fails doesn’t matter. Nothing he does matters.
Despite all this, Rick doesn’t become a full-fledged villain like Vandal Savage. He probably could conquer the world if he wanted. He already defeated an intergalactic empire of insect humanoids with relative ease. Again, not a word of that last sentence is made up. Unlike Savage, though, he doesn’t do that. He’d get bored with that too and understand that it doesn’t matter in the long run.
That doesn’t stop him from protecting Morty and the rest of his family. When they’re in trouble, he usually goes out of his way to help them. At times, he seems to do it out of sheer boredom, but he still does it. It’s not very heroic, but it’s not at all villainous.
It would be a stretch to say that Rick Sanchez is entirely driven by crippling boredom. The show is somewhat erratic in the things that drive rick. The first episode of the third season indicated that Rick is almost entirely driven by his love of a discontinued promotional dipping sauce from the late 90s. I swear I’m not making any of that up. I know I keep saying that, but it really is worth saying.
On paper, Rick Sanchez and Vandal Savage don’t have much in common. However, one trait they do share is that they are distinctly human. They have human weaknesses and human drives. They are very much at the mercy of human limits, both mentally and physically. That’s why boredom effects them so profoundly.
That’s also why they are both cautionary tales about the power of boredom. Rick Sanchez, through both boredom and extreme nihilism, is plagued and frustrated by boredom. It keeps him from using his genius to achieve a meaningful good. It also keeps him drunk, miserable, and constantly in trouble with killer insect people.
While Rick Sanchez is by no means a role model, he still manages to do a lot with his brilliance and he can do it while drunk. He may be a callous, dispassionate anti-hero, but he gets the job done and he does it in a way that’s wonderfully entertaining. For that, he deserves respect, although he’d probably say respect is an idiot thing.