Main Banner
About Shep Database Shep Music Timeline Store ACS Excelsior Excelsior
Columns / Short Stories
Shep was always writing. . .
August 1963


Boredom as a Way of Life

I suspect that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about boredom, and what boredom means. A British writer recently made some comments about boredom as being one of the three major enemies of mankind in the 20th Century. However, I differ strongly with him on his conclusions regarding boredom. It's such a complex problem. Boredom, and the values of today, lend to some very very intriguing things. I can only see a kind of gigantic advancing wave of Dynamic Slobbism. Of a very special kind. Of a kind that does not look like Slobbism. It's the kind where eighteen million people will buy copies of Descartes and keep it for doorstops. "Where large numbers of people will buy LP records of Haydn just to make sure that their tweeters are working, and will only use it to demonstrate their stereo. It's the kind of thing that you see in the theatre today. Endless numbers of people go to the theatre, and buy tickets, but they do not give almost-anything-you-care-to-say-they-don't-give for the theater, and particularly what's being said in the theater. It's a very interesting kind of thing that we're working into. It's part and parcel of the peculiar sort of physical restlessness that is, I believe, the handmaiden to boredom itself. Now, is boredom physical, or is it mental? That's a good question. That's a very good question. Most people like to assume that boredom is mental. A lot of people will automatically say: "Well, if a guy's thinking, he's not bored." I don't know. I am very curious. I have never seen boredom approached as a physical problem. And almost all of our world is devoted to avoiding physicality at all costs. Paradoxically enough, some of the most bored people I've known are some of the most intellectual people I've known. Now that would seem to be a thing that could not happen, because we like to believe that if people learn a lot about poetry, if they learn a lot about music, if they learn much about English Literature, they will not be bored. Well, I must say that some of the most dynamically bored - and by "dynamically bored" I mean some of the most dangerously bored - people I've known, have been steeped in this sort of intellectualism. Now this is not an anti-intellectualism spiel I'm giving here. It's something entirely different. I believe that one of the prime misunderstood areas of boredom is the physical side. And I am not recommending physicality as a cure for boredom, but I say that these two are intertwined. In a very subtle way. Now artificial physicality, on the other hand, can be even more boring than artificial intellectuality. In short, I think some of the most bored people I've known are golfers. Now, why? I don't know why. Perhaps it's because their physical problem is an artificial problem. In other words, the sense of necessity is not there in a golf game. It is an artificial conflict. I think artificial conflicts are always in the end probably the most deadeningly boring things. Now it gets a little more involved. On the other hand, you like to feel that: "No, I'm not bored when I play golf." That is perhaps because you have other conflicts that are very real in your life. Golf itself is a divertisement and is nothing more. But the minute the world becomes centered around golf, look out. In short, when golf becomes the primary goal of a life, then there are problems. It's just like a guy who is a fisherman, and if you go fishing three weeks out of the year, it's a wildly exciting thing. But if somebody said to you: "From now on until the end of time, you can fish seven days a week, sixteen hours a day!" - by the end of the third day you are looking for somebody to kill. Interesting problem. On the other hand, I say that Beauty - and Art, too - is a divertissement. We like to believe it can become a total involvement. Forget it. Because there are evidences in past civilizations where it didn't work; among them, the Greeks. Where, if you become totally involved in Beauty, then Beauty becomes the most supreme boredom. Because there is no reason for Beauty any longer. I think Beauty is beautiful because it is a surcease. Beauty is beautiful because it is that one tiny taste of a superb herb in the middle of something that is otherwise sour and bitter. The minute that Beauty becomes the soup, you will look for the sour and bitter taste; they will become the Beauty. In short, a nation that is built around Beauty and soft and ease will look for the supreme ugliness, as it will then become the supreme Beauty. To carry it even further, War could become the supreme achievement of Beauty. _____________________________________________________________________ Editor's Note Jean Shepherd may be heard on WOR from 11:15 to midnight, Monday thru Friday. This is the first in a series of pieces taken verbatim from his non-scripted radio program, transcribed from the tape by Lee Brown. Shepherd, one of the early influences on the Realist, was impolitely interviewed in #20. _____________________________________________________________________ It's fascinating. To me, it is. I'm waiting to see, because I feel, closer and closer, more and more people are driven to things by the sheer boredom of non-things. I've known more and more Peace people who've become angrier and angrier because Peace has somehow continued. The other day, two thousand people began to club each other for Peace, in Trafalgar Square. But there was no war. Nobody had dropped an atom bomb, and nobody was about to drop an atom bomb. So - to me - they got very bored with non-War and began to hit each other on the head in the name of non-War. And I say this; that Peace will become more violent as War becomes less likely. Now, that sounds like a paradox. It is. I have a lot of friends, for example, very hard-hitting, angry, Liberal friends. Nothing irritated them more than to find that Kennedy was elected. They were the first people to be angry about Kennedy. Why? You want to know why? Because they weren't interested in winning at all; they were interested in fighting. That's very different, Some people are only happy when fighting for a Cause. They are unhappy when the Cause comes about. Now, that sounds like a paradox. Forget it. I know a famous cartoonist who spent six years writing angry anti-Nixon and anti-Ike cartoons, because he thought that Nixon was going to win. The minute Nixon lost, he became even angrier, and now he has been doing more and more, even angrier, anti-Kennedy cartoons. That's an interesting problem. Fascinating problem. I know a guy who went on a Freedom Ride and who was profoundly disappointed because they didn't burn his bus. Told me that. I know a guy who was on a Peace demonstration down in the Village one day when they were having an Air Raid drill. He was angry because the police didn't arrest him. He was a famous writer. He was really teed off, and said: "That shows how dishonest the fuzz is! That shows how rotten the fuzz really is!" He was mad because they didn't do anything. Because he would have been very happy to have written an angry editorial in the Voice about how they clubbed him. They didn't do anything. They just said: "Well, okay, you wanna stand by the bushes, all right. That's your problem." That really bugged him, because he wanted to prove that the police would not allow a peaceful man to stand by the bushes. What happened is that they did. So who's peaceful or not? I don't know. The thing that I'm driving at here is that as we approach what we call Paradise, the more boredom is going to he a problem. More and more as you watch television commercials you will see that the big theme is "Less work for Mama." Mama will find other work. Be careful. It's liable to be not exactly the sort of thing that Norman Vincent Peale has in mind when he's talking about Good Works. Oh yeah, this is an interesting problem that's developing. And more and more and more, within every industry, you know, the idea and the aim is to less responsibility. In short, the 35-hour week will give way to the 20-hour week eventually,-until finally the 5-hour week. Of course, what that means is no responsibility at all. If a guy's only needed 5 hours a week, he's not needed at all. Forget it. "Well, the more you are left to your own resources, the more you are left to no responsibility, the more you are prone to that most dynamic of all forces - boredom. Boredom is not a passive force. People like to think it is; it is not. And golf will not make the scene, I'm sorry. Watching TV will not make the scene. You can just watch so many hours of television. And don't think for one minute that you won't be bored. You know, that's an intriguing thing. Many people feel, and it's a wonderful thought ... we have so many wonderful ideas and ideals that in practice have no relationship to reality. In short, they do not work. One of the great examples of this is: "If given more time, people will become more interested in the things which they always would have been interested in had they been given time, Like Art." ] Well, I'd like to make some sad facts salient to you. One of them is this. If you are familiar with any of the Better Homes & Gardens type magazines, you will find you can look through hundreds and hundreds of copies, pictures of modern homes in the suburbs, and you will find rarely a book in evidence. Hardly ever do they discuss having bookshelves built. And if so, it's for knick-knacks. We like to think that there's more reading? Get it out of your skull. There's more book buying, in many ways. Like paperbacks. I wonder how many people read them? And how many people own them but have never read them? This is another thing. There is such a thing as buying. You know, buying is a positive action today that has no relationship to what is being bought. Shopping is a sport the way tennis used to be. A guy made an interesting point to me the other day. He says he remembers when his old lady, when his mother and his father, if they were going shopping, would take him to Macy's to buy a coat. You know, they were gonna buy a coat. Or: "We're gonna go to Gimbel's to buy a tablecloth today." But now, people will say: "I'm going shopping." That's all. Just "shopping." They don't know what they're going to buy, nor do they have any idea in mind. Shopping- has become a sport just the way tiddleywinks or tennis is. In fact, it has less point. People just spend hours shopping. This is another interesting type of boredom which has something to do with center of focus. Are you aware that boredom often doesn't look like boredom? Four hundred and fifty ladies on the 3rd floor of Gimbel's can be, if you watch carefully, absolute studies of boredom in motion. Where it looks like they're involved, but they're not involved at all. They're merely moving, which is a very different thing. It is hard to keep their attention focused on any one counter for more than 15 or 20 milliseconds, because none of the things have any real necessity, any real point for them. They don't, in short, need any of the things they're after. And so, this is another kind of boredom and it is a very dangerous kind. I believe that the growth of war movies in our presence, in our midst, and the great, great wave of them that has slowly become very important . . . in Russia, all over the world, war movies are now a big thing, particularly in Russia. Are you aware of that? Almost all of the big novels in the past 15 years in Russia have been written about wars. And, of course, we have now many TV shows about wars of one kind or another. It's because a war, you see, is the ultimate of boredom in motion, it's the ultimate of a dynamic point of view. There are good guys and there are bad guys. And furthermore, you are playing. Even if you're ten thousand miles from the front, you are given a part. We've got some great things ahead. Great things ahead. We are on the verge of something. And I don't know. We use such words as "automation," but these words really don't describe the revolution that we're part of. I think that a thousand years from now, if we survive as a race, people will look back to this period, right now, as one of the great pivotal points. When man became totally, useless. Particularly to himself. Completely useless. Hardly any man ever got a phone call from that day on that said: "We need you, Fred, and nobody else." And that was a great, great social revolution. And probably the beginning of the most violent period in all of man's history. All of history.

[ Courtesy: Steve Glazer - 11-25-2016 ]

In 1984, this story appeared in a compilation of prior Realist stories titled "The Best of The Realist: The 60's Most Outrageously Irreverent Magazine." However, Shep's story was apparently edited (by him?), so it is not exactly the same, especially in the second half. (However, even the very first sentence of the original is missing in the later version.) I am now attaching the cover pages of the compilation and the 2-page edited 1984 version of the original 1963 story. Note that on page 17 it says "Lee Brown" [sic] transcribed the story verbatim from the tape of Shepherd's unscripted show.

Copyright: 1964 The Realist

Links to Further Information:
• Original Story
• 1984 Re-print