"I'm bored in the house and I'm in the house bored."
These immortal words from hip-hop artist Curtis Roach have served as the backdrop for many a TikTok video. Users take to the platform to show their own experiences of lockdown, from the routine to the boring. Perhaps Mr Roach had glimpsed findings from What’s Going On?, an ethnographic research project by Mother and Davies & McKerr tracking a community of 20 homes over 12 weeks to understand how they’re dealing with the biggest upheaval of normality since World War II.
"Today was pretty much the same as yesterday," Chantal, head of a young family in London, told us. She’d enjoyed a few video calls and (another) quiz with family and friends, but bad weather and a few household chores later meant her days were matching the sky outside: "Pretty dull."
Chantal isn’t alone. Each of our community members talked about a desire to be entertained. They want to laugh and to cry and to feel joy. They want emotion. Let down by traditional entertainment sources regurgitating "basic" shows and former favourites struggling with the transition from emotion-filled studios to stuttering Zoom calls (Have I Got News For You and Ant & Dec were applauded for their efforts, yet marked down for execution), people are searching for something – anything – to turn up the brightness dial on their day. To make them feel something. To make them remember something. To give them something to talk about.
Science backs this up. Studies show that when we do the same thing every day, not much is stored in our memory. It means that time feels like it’s hurtling by. This shapes our mood and enters a cycle, as it becomes our topic of conversation too – whether that’s virtually or from a safe two-metre distance. It’s no surprise that the number of social posts tagged with #groundhogday have quadrupled.
The culture vacuums are coming
Beyond the sheer repetitiveness of daily life, lockdown has created a shift in how we commemorate time. Calendars used to be filled with all the things we were doing, but now they’re markers of all the things we’re missing. Time is a slow procession of what hasn’t happened versus what has. Gaps left by events and moments that have entertained us for years now appear in our lives. And as we look to the summer, where events are bigger, more collective and therefore more absent, this feeling is only going to be amplified.
Cultural calendar vacuums are, of course, leaving us with not much to do; but, more than that, they’re leaving us with not much to say. What does identity look like for a music head who can no longer go to festivals in the summer? How do cinephiles get their kicks without the flicks? What do young people do without the currency and ritual of GCSEs and school-leaving? And what does the summer look like without the iconic sporting moments for fans all over the world?
This feeling was encapsulated by one of our millennial participants, Chris from Manchester: "I am starting to worry a little bit about what I’m going to do this summer. I’m already sick of box sets and there isn’t any sport to look forward to. What am I going to do to keep myself entertained?"
Boredom is not just about not having anything to do. It’s about questioning what you’re made of when all your usual status and cultural cues go out of the window.
Everything is entertainment
The truth is, much like nature (as Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park), entertainment always finds a way. When vacuums appear in supply, people will fill the void. Entertainment no longer sits siloed in time, channel or format handed to people to consume. It seeps into every ritual, moment and habit, mixing and blending genres, formats, channels and people in new and unpredictable ways. And if predictability has always been the death of entertainment, this new unpredictability is proving addictive.
What was once a conferencing tool is now a live game show that escalates on a weekly basis with celebrities dropping in to ask questions or host dinner parties.
What was once a chore is now a rave, as Bleach in Dalston has proved. As Vivienne, a millennial from London, said: "Who thought bleaching your hair could be so much fun! Join in with bleach parties, where you join a party atmosphere where it’s not the spirits you’re getting drunk on! See an array of rainbow colours whilst under the supervision of a professional. We’ll never need to go to the hair salon again!"
And what was once a game is now a festival, as Fortnite has shown. "I feel there’s no limits to what can happen or be done on an online/virtual event like this," according to Rohan, a millennial from Bristol.
The exponential growth in streaming platforms such as Twitch and the arrival of boomers on TikTok are sure-fire signs that the face of entertainment is changing significantly. There is no doubt nostalgia so far has been a source of comfort. But as people begin to look ahead, it seems they want to escape and that means they are looking for something different.
Chantel, a Generation X Londoner, said: "The big players have not stepped up to the plate. They have moved a few things to Zoom and that’s about it."
Combine these vacuums with an explosion in desire for new forms of entertainment and we see a rallying cry for brands. They must take this moment to regain their rightful place as the entertainer. To no longer be another mindless click in a stolen 10 minutes or a data-driven ad popping up in a late-night scrolling sesh. To fill the sizeable vacuums left in culture in people’s lives and their identities.
Sizeable vacuums need sizeable innovations to fill them. This is certainly not about replicating past entertainment within the constraints of Covid-19. (Socially distanced TV and ads just make people feel weirder.)
It’s about embracing the new world of creativity and creators far from the realms of terrestrial tradition. Clashing and colliding genres, formats and channels to create new forms that people can’t quite put their finger on.
Why? Because with a longer end in sight, people need a release valve out of the smaller worlds in which we now live. They need entertainment to shock them out of their shackled existence and imagination. Brands should see opportunity in entertainment that takes event form and the glorious rollercoaster that accompanies it: the build-up, the comedown, the memory and the permanent marker on identity.
This could be a great new era of invention for both brands and people. Brands need to help people escape planet Covid and enjoy something new together. The real question is: are you brave enough?
Matt Tanter is head of strategy and Scarlett Spence is strategy director at Mother. Tom Anderson is partner at research and insights company Davies & Mckerr