Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Boring Institute, R.I.P.

By Alan Caruba

It was this week in 1984, just prior to the famed Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, that it occurred to me that it looked the same, year after year. There’s nothing wrong in that. A parade is a parade, although it must be said that those in recent years seem all about merchandizing something or other.

I was practicing the magic arts of public relations back then and was well aware that the print and broadcast media were always susceptible to some utterly ludicrous claim. Their other passion is lists. This is why, at the beginning of every New Year or end of one, we are all assailed by lists of the Ten Best or Ten Worst.

I am possessed of a mind that endlessly entertains me. I make myself laugh. I don’t know if others do this, but I find my thoughts either astonishingly profound or amusingly idiotic. Either way, I am always surprised.

So, in 1984, I sat down to dash off a news release, but one has to have a “place” from which to dispatch news. I invented The Boring Institute® on the spot and proceeded to “announce” that experts at the Institute, after considerable research and analysis, had concluded that there was, in truth, no Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade occurring in New York! The whole thing was a huge hoax and everyone in the city knew it.

What people outside of New York were watching was a videotape of a previous parade, perhaps from a decade earlier! Moreover, I pronounced the whole thing a great bore.

If one is of a certain age—say older than five or at the most ten years of age, one knows that, in truth, the parade does look much the same each year and the enchantment of its balloons, the marching bands, and the elaborate floats begins to wear thin. By the time Santa Claus arrives, the question inevitably arises, if he is in the parade, why isn’t he at the North Pole?

For my part, I was simply amusing myself by satirizing the elements of any news release, postulating an imaginary “Institute”, filled with “experts”, and offering an absurd conclusion.

Little did I know I was setting off on an adventure that would last almost two decades. During that time, the Institute gained considerable fame putting out annual lists of the most boring films of the year, predicting which new television shows would be a bore, and, most famously, a list of the year’s most boring celebrities.

Though it may seem hard to believe, at the height of the Institute’s fame, I averaged a thousand radio interviews a year, all clustered around the various events, and even did some television appearances. I talked with radio hosts from Australia to England, New Zealand to Germany, and everywhere in America.

The ubiquity of American culture initially surprised me, but it was clear that it dominated the world. Everyone knew our celebrities, knew our films and television shows, knew an awful lot about America, and they wanted me to explain its mysteries and charms to them.

The real lesson, however, that I drew from the experience was the extraordinary role that boredom plays in everyone’s lives. It is a precursor to depression and suicide. It leads many into crime, often just for the excitement it offers. It leads married people to cheat on their spouse. It can be a root cause of divorce. In short, boredom is trouble, trouble, trouble!

After 9/11, I reckoned that putting out the annual lists was inappropriate to the times. Without any fanfare, I put The Boring Institute® on hiatus. I am reminded of it whenever the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is pending.

I won’t watch it or if I do I keep the sound on mute in order to avoid listening to the inane prattle of the television hosts who should, as an act of mercy, be dragged from their perch overlooking the parade and sequestered in Macy’s basement until the parade ends.

I had a lot of fun with The Boring Institute® but I think it will remain on hiatus and possibly moribund. The truth? After a while all that chattering on radio or the occasional five minutes of television fame became boring.

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