Academic journal article New Formations

'#BOREDWITHMEG': Gendered Boredom and Networked Media

Academic journal article New Formations

'#BOREDWITHMEG': Gendered Boredom and Networked Media

Article excerpt

Boredom has come to occupy a central, and yet vexed position within twenty-first century cultural life. In the popular culture of networked entertainment, sites such as Bored Panda, Boreburn and Boredom Therapy have consolidated boredom as the ultimate enemy of Internet 'fun'. Positioning boredom as a global epidemic that may strike anyone, anywhere, at any moment, these sites promise to dissolve boredom in an endless stream of 'funny gifs, videos, and pics'; (1) and by providing access to 'must-read viral content'. (2) Boredom Therapy, for example, adopts a cod-philanthropic register to inform its readers that the 'media startup' organisation was founded 'with the goal of fighting boredom worldwide' by engaging the public with 'incredibly shareable content' and 'inspiring and extraordinary stories from around the world'. (3) In a similar vein, the popular microblogging and social networking site Tumblr entices potential users to sign up to their service, with the bold promise that, as a subscriber, 'You'll never be bored again'. (4)

Like many other forms of entertainment media in the twenty-first century, these sites discursively construct boredom as an unwanted experience that can be chased away through networked modes of communication. And yet, this promise--that boredom can effectively be banished once and for all through our media streams--is routinely contradicted by the sheer volume of boredom-related hashtags that recur on a daily basis across these same networking platforms. Indeed, hashtags such as #bored asf, #snapchatmeimbored, #boredomkills or #boredomstrikes are now firmly-entrenched within the affective vocabulary of Internet cultures. In its recent guise as a popular hashtag, #boredom indexes the more or less ubiquitous--and yet often obscured--condition of collective lethargy, flat affectivity, and stalled anticipation that we routinely experience, express and seek to displace through our engagements with networked media.

In the twenty-first century, digital technologies--and the capitalist structures and drives with which they are increasingly enmeshed--have come to play a vital role in mediating affective experience, including the experience of being bored. This article will consider how boredom is routinely monitored, modulated and produced in a digital network culture, by focusing on the extremely popular 'What to do When You're Bored' sub-genre of YouTube videos, which are produced by young female YouTubers for an audience of mainly teenage girls. Framing the experience of boredom as both an everyday reality of adolescent life and as a lurking affective danger, these videos model a range of activities that are intended to alleviate or to chase away incipient feelings of boredom. Situating itself in relation to the fields of boredom studies, critical attention studies and feminist media studies, the article reads these videos as performing a variety of affective labour that is increasingly required of gendered subjects in the so-called 'attention economy' of twenty-first century media. (5) As I will argue, platforms such as YouTube construct users above all as boredom managers--agents who are responsible for, and capable of coordinating, the affective texture of their own experience as it unfolds in real time. And yet, as I will suggest, this discursive construction of boredom overlooks the significant role that such media play, not only in producing and intensifying new cultural forms of tedium, but also in capturing and modulating the subject's affective experience before she becomes aware of it. Reflecting on the blatant gendering of affect in these YouTube tutorials through the figure of the teenage girl, I go on to ask why this work of boredom management should fall so resoundingly to young women to perform. Why has the figure of the teenage girl been rendered so excessively visible in these YouTube tutorials as an ideal conduit for the monitoring and self-management of boredom? …

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