We’re bored and that’s a big problem

Our boredom is making us focus on irrelevant things

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Shaina Mishkin/Daily Collegian

By Manas Pandit, Collegian Columnist

In the past two weeks, our pop culture discourse has been filled with cheating scandals. Adam Levine sending inappropriate texts to women despite being married took social media by storm. A few days later, Ned Fulmer, who is part of a group called the Try Guys (the fact I now know what this group is saddens me immensely) was revealed to have cheated on his wife. This simply poured fuel on the fire that Adam Levine’s high school freshman-like texting abilities started. Of course this also blew up on the internet, with people feeling some pretty strong emotions on the subject.

Why, though?

In the same news cycle that these events of paramount societal import were taking place, Iran was being turned upside down by brave women protesting for their freedom to have a choice in what they wear, the Russia-Ukraine conflict was worsening and there were new additions to our former president’s hefty catalogue of legal troubles. And yet we as a culture were glued to the celebrity ‘cheating’ drama — drama which is not really that rare if we’re being honest; famous men being unfaithful to their wives is a reality as old as the concept of marriage and has been ever present in cultural news.

The reason that such seemingly frivolous events grab our attention in the way they do is simple, actually: we’re bored.

Really, really bored. We have nothing going on at all. Or to be a little bit more on the nose about it, we do have a lot going on, as I mentioned earlier, in terms of political and legal events around the world and at home. But similar to how we as college students are entirely capable of feeling extremely bored the day before a test, procrastinating all day long and studying the absolute bare minimum, we as a culture are entirely capable of ignoring the drastic real world events going on in the background. We can feel bored while ignoring them, which leads our attention toward the mind-numbing day-to-day lives and missteps of celebrities.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with having a little fun at celebrities’ expense when events of this nature occur (the humor is obvious), the response online often tends to veer into the realm of dangerous para-social relationships, or the one-sided relationships fans form with public figures. People become mad at the person who transgressed (in this case Levine or Fulmer) as though they have personally been wronged by their actions. A look at the comments section on any of Ned Fulmer’s or the Try Guys’ videos confirms this analysis.

This behavior is just a symptom of our boredom, and is the core of the problem with our current cultural obsession with celebrity gossip. To find something of interest to discuss in the lives of famous people is not a problem, but to contort yourself into a pretzel over it and be more concerned with it over actual important events around the world is.

So what’s the solution? I’m under no delusion as to being able to solve the problem of para-social relationships and celebrity obsessions in one 650-word college newspaper column, but a few ideas do stand out.

The most important one would be part of any effective media literacy campaign: to make clear that media personalities are simply that, and not people we’re actually close to. This idea should be made obvious to us from a young age, since media habits and consumption tendencies can become entrenched after repeated exposure. Beyond that, a further emphasis needs to be placed on actually contending and grappling with the real-world political issues. Willfully ignoring these seems to be a big part of what causes a disproportionate amount of our attention to be paid to more trivial issues.

Ultimately though, I’d just like to point out that the Adam Levine and Ned Fulmer situations can be two things at once: springboards for humor and casual conversation, and symptoms of deeper issues with media consumption in society. What they are for any one person though, depends on how they approach them.

Manas Pandit can be reached at [email protected]