This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Can boring be good?

Mediaculture: Reflections on the effect of media and culture on our faith

Perhaps the greatest sin in media today, according to many, is to be boring. If something doesn’t grab people’s attention quickly, they move on to the next image or, maybe, set of words.

We live in a fast-paced age in which many media demand our attention. We witness many people hunched over their smart phones checking a website or texting someone. We may sit at our computer or TV for a long while, but rarely are we watching or reading some piece of work for a sustained period of time.

This fast pace surrounds us and even affects our worship, perhaps one of the last vestiges of sustained attention. Even there preachers feel the pressure to make their sermons exciting (and short).

In a June 3 article in the New York Times called “In Defense of the Slow and Boring,” Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott, film reviewers for the Times, discuss what is or is not boring in film and why the so-called slow and boring may be important.

They are responding to an article in the May 1 edition of The New York Times Magazine by Dan Kois that offers a cheerful conformist’s take on what in certain circles is sometimes termed slow cinema and that he simply finds boring, the equivalent of eating his “cultural vegetables.”

Instead, he, like most moviegoers, is drawn to the junk food that generally fills our cinemas. Using those terms can sound elitist, but Dargis and Scott explore the idea of boring in greater depth.

For example, Dargis writes, The Hangover Part Two “is the kind of boring that makes money, partly because it’s the boring that many people like, want to like, insist on liking or are just used to, and partly because it’s the sort of aggressively packaged boring you can’t escape.” She finds it “grindingly repetitive” as it features “scene after similar scene of characters staring at one another stupidly, flailing about wildly and asking what happened.”

Slow, artistic films (and Dargis and Scott provide examples) may force viewers to think, and thinking is boring. They also may move us to reflect on our lives and where they’re headed, and we can’t have that.

Many movies work hard to entertain us so that we “won’t have the time and head space to think about how crummy, inane and familiar the movie looks, and how badly written, shoddily directed and indifferently acted it is,” Dargis writes.

There’s an anti-art bias, Scott writes, that reflects the fact that “film has always been a popular art form, a great democratic amusement accessible to everyone and proud of its lack of aristocratic pedigree.”

At the same time, we all need some vegetables on occasion. We can’t live on junk food, even if it tastes good.

I like to see movies for fun, just as I like the occasional spy novel or mystery, but I also feel enriched when I encounter a film or book that challenges my notions of how things should be or helps me face a different perspective.

As Christians, we’re called to prayer and to reflection, even to silence—all antithetical to our noisy, fast-paced age. Those disciplines, all part of worship, are often considered boring in our culture, yet these are part of what gives us life as we seek to follow Jesus.
Some movies, such as The Tree of Life (reviewed on this page), may leave us puzzled or annoyed, but we also encounter the mystery of God when we enter worship. Maybe part of our countercultural calling is to take part in boring activities and reflect on our lives as Christians.

Gordon Houser is associate editor of The Mennonite.

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