I am an avid podcast listener. I have a number of subscriptions of my phone and separate set of subscriptions on my running iPod. They run the gamut of genres, from true crime (Casefile) to comedy (The Flop House) to sports (Garbage Time with Katie Nolan). But I was thinking this week about the podcasts I don’t listen to that everyone else seems to love–any of the This American Life type podcasts, other podcasts kind that do long form storytelling, or which examine tiny details of popular culture, etc. And I don’t listen to them because I find them boring. Like, really boring. But why? I couldn’t really articulate it, so I’ve been pondering the qualities of “boring.”
First and foremost: what is boring to one person is compelling to another person, I realize. To quote the great legal podcasting mind Judge John Hodgman, “people like what they like.” So I am not interested in parsing why I do or don’t like something, but specifically why I find certain podcast genres boring.
To start, I think I gravitate toward the less-produced variety of podcasts. Not exclusively, by any means, but I tend to most enjoy podcasts that are small chats amongst two to four people, or which follow a more conversational model. This type of podcast can often involve the hosts or guests chasing tangents unrelate to their main topic, but I typically enjoy that–it feels organic, like any conversation I might have in my life. Tangents can also bring a lot of humor to a discussion, especially if the topic at hand is more serious. The most obvious reason, perhaps, that tangents don’t bother me is that they are unpredictable, and can enliven a podcast for me, i.e., make it less boring. Of course, there are many people who find any sort of tangent in a conversation or interview to be intensely annoying. For those listeners, the tangent is a distraction and a time suck, something they never signed up for when they downloaded this episode.
I also think I choose podcasts based on personality of the hosts or creators more so than the topic or mission of the podcast. Therefore, the podcast is already more interesting because I find the people presenting it inherently compelling. That is not the case for a podcast such as This American Life, which tells a variety of stories from a variety of people. (I also don’t find Ira Glass particularly compelling. I’m sure he’s a nice human.) And while I realize that the entire point of TAL is to tell these stories, what it means for me is that the podcast is boring, because I don’t feel that pre-existing connection to the story tellers. I also don’t generally care for the long form storytelling model of podcasting, as it does not lend itself to the way I listen to podcasts, which is typically while I do chores or other physically-focused tasks. So that might explain why I don’t like these kinds of podcasts.
But, I mentioned at the top of the post that I enjoy Casefile, which is both long form storytelling and deliberately lacking in “personality.” The host is “anonymous” and does not intrude with too much commentary into the criminal cases they investigate. (What I most appreciate about Casefile are its commitment to research and primary sources, as well as its respectful treatment of victims, especially sex workers.)
So what’s the essential quality of “boring,” anyway? I guess I’m not entirely sure, but it definitely has something to do with both genre and user experience, not unlike other kinds of texts. Non fiction books might be boring if you’re a person who already reads a lot of long form journalism and just needs something to pass the time on a subway commute. This topic strays into reader-response criticism; perhaps a podcast doesn’t really have meaning until it also has a listener, who is an active participant creating the text/podcast itself. Hopefully, this brief analysis will make me feel a bit better about the types of podcasts I find interesting. But what about you, reader: what do you find boring? What podcasts leave you snoozing?