Damaged vending machines. “No change” messages on broken ATMs. Pepsi ads sponsoring diabetes research. These images may have little in common, yet transmit a widely shared yet subtle sensation — they’re the unsettling reminders of a dark and strange twist in the reality we find ourselves in today. And unfortunately folks, it’s also a pretty bleak one.
Let me present to you the ‘Boring Dystopia’ subreddit, an online community dedicated to “chronicling how Advanced Capitalist Society is not only dystopic, but also incredibly boring.” In case you’ve never heard of it, the term was coined by the late British academic and cultural theorist Mark Fisher. It refers to the feeling of unease in the form of mildly coercive signs that flourish in a late-stage capitalist society.
We at Bored Panda scoured the online group and handpicked some of the most vivid examples that illustrate there’s something not quite right with this world. Continue scrolling and be sure to share your thoughts with us in the comment section below. And after you’re done reading this piece, take a look at our earlier compilations full of dystopian madness right here, here, and here.
To learn more about boring dystopia, we reached out to Macon Holt, Ph.D., a researcher at Copenhagen Business School and author of Pop Music and Hip Ennui: A Sonic Fiction of Capitalist Realism. He told Bored Panda this phrase is related to Mark Fisher’s critical term capitalist realism, “which he used to describe the pervasive belief that capitalism is the only viable form of the political, social and cultural organization following the end of the cold war.”
It may be difficult to wrap your head around the term “boring dystopia” but once you get the hang of it, chances are, you’ll start seeing it everywhere. “[It] is more about the aesthetic experience of living in capitalist realism at a point in time when the system appears ever more unsustainable (ecologically, [politically]and in terms of increasing inequality and decreasing standards of living) but in which no other way to organize society has emerged,” Holt explained.
Although most of us grew up imagining a dystopian future full of terrifying end-times scenes, brutal police states, and decadent rulers, it is more likely to consist of mundane and unappealing scenarios. Holt mentioned exciting movies like Blade Runner or The Matrix from the ’80s and ’90s that offered depictions of going out with a bang. “But as the years in which those images came around, none of the dreams or nightmares came true,” he said.
“Instead, space travel is becoming the hobby of billionaires while they ignore the ecological crises could perhaps help with, AI and robots seem either to be surveilling us while they vacuum or when we click on a link, and the VR worlds of the metaverse are just ways to charge us more rent for spaces that we can’t actually occupy.”
Typically, the most evident samples of boring dystopia are senseless ads and ordinary images of broken machinery. When asked about other examples of this experience, Hold mentioned we can find it in bureaucracy, “like the terms of a rental contract that forbid tenants to use cooking oil on the stove, so a landlord can keep the deposit if a single drop is found on the extractor fan hood.”
“NFTs are perhaps a good example of boring dystopia,” he continued.” “If a sci-fi writer were to dream up a situation in which people paid the money they had earned doing actual work for a certificate of verification that they own a . jpeg of a bored ape, their editor would probably say the world the story depicted would be too depressing to publish.”
He also noted that outlets such as Bored Panda draw attention to the conditions of contemporary boring dystopia in its name and try to break up the monotony of the everyday. “In boring dystopia, people are often anxious about work, housing and the future of the planet, and there’s very little to alleviate this. As Mark Fisher put it ‘No one is bored, everything is boring.'”
Boring dystopia tells us that while capitalism is often labeled as the most efficient economic system out there, it is not necessarily geared toward human flourishing. “Depending on who you ask, it can be argued that in some particular corners of the world at a certain point in history when there was a relative strong welfare state and high tax regime, capitalism was part of what brought a good number of people out of poverty.”
However, other people will point to the historical and contemporary violence, the destruction of the environment, and the inequality and exploitation required to make such “market dynamism” possible. According to Holt, capitalism has only ever been efficient at producing more capital. But “capital doesn’t care who holds it. How it is made, what it is spent on or invested in and who gets to decide these things have always been political questions. And the answers to these questions have been, largely, deferred to the market for a long time, which has produced a world of increasing inequality, anti-democratic power structures, ecological ruin and boredom,” he told us.
For some, pictures pointing out our dull dystopian reality could be a source of entertainment. For others, they may create a daunting sense of a lost future. Speaking of the latter one, Holt said that the material things that make people feel that way (skyrocketing housing prices, student-loan debts, insane medical bills — the list goes on) stem from actions at various levels of society. “It is just what happens when the interests of people with power alignment,” he added. “Boring dystopia is the experience of our faith in the future having been betrayed. There is not a quick fix. Instead, to quote Donna Haraway, we have to “stay with the trouble” if we want to commit to a future we can flourish in.”
“One piece of advice that is really easy for coming to terms with and starting to imagine a way out of boring dystopia would be to read Fisher’s Capitalist Realism: Is there no Alternative? It is an incredibly accessible piece of critical theory and is only about 86 pages long. It is a great jumping-off point for finding out more. Read it with friends and talk about it after. .