Archive for August 2nd, 2010

“Boring Article Contest” excites controversy

Monday, August 2nd, 2010
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Years ago Michael Kinsley, now at the Atlantic, held a contest for the most boring headline.  The winner was from The New York Times: “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.”

The New York Times is apparently the source of endless ennui.  Its writing has inspired him to extend the thought into a new contest, this time saluting the most boring article — he announces the competition here.  He nominated this offering from the Gray Lady, which he described:

“It was about a man who used to take long walks around the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, until he died last week. That’s it. That’s the story. In Silver Lake, he was wittily known as ‘the Walking Man.’ (You see, it’s because he walked all the time).”

Kinsley continues:

“Was he a homeless man who walked because he tragically had no place to go? No, he was a family doctor named Marc Abrams. Was he an eccentric recluse who lived in squalor and scared the neighborhood children? No, he lived in a house with a hot tub next to the reservoir with his wife, Cindy. Cindy worked with him in his practice. Did he walk every day, rain or shine? No, only ‘near-daily.’ Did he reject all conversational overtures due to the intensity of his need to keep walking, walking, walking? No, a local restaurant owner used to ‘walk half a block with him’ and ‘strike up a conversation.’ People along his route knew him from ‘years of drive-by small talk.’ So what inner demons possessed him and caused him to take long walks nearly every day? The Times reporter asked neighbors. ‘He walked, he told them, to keep fit.’ Of all things.”

Then Kinsley threw down the gauntlet:  “Can you top this?”  One reader responded:  “You just did.”  Although some thought Kinsley’s account itself was the most boring article they’d read in awhile, the ensuing controversy was anything but dull.  It was a pile-on.

You see, not everyone found the Walking Man boring, especially not people from Silver Lake, who seem to read the Atlantic Wire in droves.  Apparently the Walking Man was about to be prosecuted before his mysterious death, and hundreds walked in his honor.  Said Kerr-mudgeon:

“This doctor was investigated by law enforcement and medical practice bodies for prescribing thousands of pills to hundreds of addicts without so much as a cursory physical examination. The newspaper articles started with one about a young man who died of a prescription drug overdose after he visited the ‘walking man’ doctor in his office one evening, got another prescription, then died. Apparently the authorities were closing in.”

Others attacked Kinsley as a snotty New Yorker, who didn’t appreciate that a man who actually walked in Los Angeles was a noteworthy man-bites-dog story.

Others had nominations of their own:  One nominated an article from Oslo, another recommended his own writing for the honor. But the overwhelming number of nominated articles seem to be from the New York Times — one reader suggested looking to its Home section’s stories about people’s houses for suitable candidates. Wegpasadena, a Socal denizen who joined the spirit of the contest, wrote: “Years and years ago a writer named E.J. Kahn wrote a four-part series on wheat for The New Yorker. I think that sets the record, still, for a boring article.”

I liked these:

“I think anything by Andy Rooney would be in contention, but this one is among his gems:  ‘Andy Rooney: Few people appreciate good writing‘ –where he spends in excess of 550 words warbling about grammarians Strunk and White and how he had lunch with them once.

A sample: ‘Writing is difficult, and one of the problems is there are no dependable critics. Hardly anyone tells me that what I’ve written is terrible, even though what I write must be terrible sometimes.’

More often than not Andy, more often than not.”

And this one:

“This was sent to me by a friend under the email title “most boring article ever?”:  ‘Strangers on a Train‘ in the NYT. Nothing happens, and not in an interesting way.”

One reader seconded the nomination:
“You’ve found a cracker here. May top the Walking Man. It’s possibly the dullest reflection I have ever been subjected to.The good news is that the writer is working on a memoir. I can hardly wait to read through the time she went shopping and couldn’t find any chicken; the time she went for a walk and ended up with a blister; the time she was sure someone was in the backyard but it turned out to be a squirrel; and so on ad nauseum.”

Others voted for Kinsley’s original choice. John wrote: “I just read the article, and was fascinated by it. It is a Seinfeld-like marvel of journalism. My favorite sentence was: ‘You saw the brutality of concrete against his body.’ I definitely plan to take a long walk in Dr. Abrams’ memory today.”  Kyle Ledbetter replied: “Yeah, that was an awesome line.  ‘He walked, he told them, to stay fit.’ — Notice the attribution. Adds hint of uncertainty.”

But my favorite is this one, from herebutforfortune, recommending an Associated Press foreign news release in the Guardian, entitled, “South bakes, humidity feels like a 100 plus degrees“:

“According to the article, temperatures in the South have been ranging from the high nineties to over a 100, hence it feels like it. The explanation given is, ‘It’s summer.’ Several inhabitants verify feeling hot. One woman said she almost passed out while playing tennis in the sun. The National Weather Service advises people ‘to stay out of the sun, drink lots of fluids, and get some air conditioning’.  Further heat is forecast for Friday, yet the report is dated Saturday.”

You can twitter your own nominations to:   #mostboringarticleever with a headline and link.  But do take a moment to log in your entries here.  Clearly, we  love to read them.