Classical Music — and other forms of "high" culture — are frequently shown as being incredibly dull. Apparently, everyone who enjoys it is really just incredibly pretentious and is just pretending to enjoy it. The honest, working-class heroes like rock and roll or kickin' country music... and typically the stuffy classical fans wind up dancing to it by the end as well.
There's some class consciousness embedded in this: lower-class tastes are more "honest" and genuine, while upper-class tastes are false and pretentious. There are sometimes gender issues involved as well since it's often guys who find classical music dull. It also gets used as a young vs. old signifier, with kids loving loud rock while their elders prefer classical (even though most 70-year-olds nowadays probably grew up on first-wave rock and roll).
Before the advent of rock and roll in the 1950s, this trope used jazz and swing as the populist counterparts to "stuffy" classical music thereby making it at least Older Than Television. As Time Marches On, jazz itself has begun to get this treatment (especially old-time jazz and swing), as it becomes associated with older generations and with conservatism. It doesn't help that a lot of vintage enthusiasts lump traditional jazz and swing with classical music, enforcing this trope. First wave rock and roll itself sometimes gets a small degree of this treatment, seen as slow and outdated, while, like with jazz and classical, its (often older) fans opine that it's "real music".
This trope is probably tied to historical reasons. Before the advent of recording technology, there were only two kinds of music - "folk" music (which was essentially the music of the masses) and "organized" music, which is now termed as "classical". The latter necessitated the use of high-value materials and expensive venues, inviting an audience of only a cultured few - to top that off, most people in those days moneyed enough to afford musical lessons were of the upper class (the middle class was less common back then). Recordings allowed "popular" music to evolve - which is essentially a modified form of folk music - and became a way for music to be accessible to a much wider audience. In a way, Popular music could be seen as a rebellion against the more "exclusive" Classical music.
Related to True Art Is Boring and/or True Art Is Incomprehensible. Contrast Orchestral Bombing. Can sometimes transpire when characters are At the Opera Tonight. Of course, this can anger real-life fans of Classical Music, who consider it to be a Shallow Parody.
- Used countless times to indicate that someone is high-class and usually pompous, which is then suddenly replaced with electric guitars when the product or a spokesperson for the product appears. An example is for Nerf water guns depicting a man in a French cafe asking a waiter for more water, summoning a group of kids running by with said water guns and said sudden change in music.
- In the Pepsi "Shady Acres" commercial, deliverymen are bringing Pepsi to a retirement home, as all the residents are wildly dancing to disco music. The men also deliver Coke to a college fraternity; the frat brothers are playing a boring bingo game as a string arrangement of "Charmaine" plays in the background.
- In a commercial for Silly String, an adult party is clearly portrayed as boring as classical music plays. When they bring in the advertised product, the music turns upbeat as everyone has fun.
- In this 1988 ad for Battleship, two men are attending an opera with their wives, but ignore it to play the game in the meantime. One of the men even shouts out "You sank my battleship!" loud enough for the singers to hear him and stop.
- In this Hallmark commercial cross-promoting Barbie of Swan Lake, as soon as the dance teacher Miss Hildy leaves, one little girl changes the music from the classical ballet soundtrack to classic 80s hits, and the previously bored students all begin to laugh and dance wildly.
- In The Secret Life of Pets, Leonard the poodle is seen sitting obediently listening to Vivaldi music while his owner leaves the house; as soon as the door closes he switches the music player to Heavy Metal. This was seen in all the trailers.
- Downplayed in The Aristocats when at the beginning, high-class Madame Bonfamille and Georges Hautecourt engage in opera dancing, and at the end, they end up dancing and enjoying an upbeat jazz band played by cats.
- Barbie movies:
- Barbie: Princess Charm School: The dance class in couple starts with classical music, but Delancy suddenly makes Blair trip. In order to cover it, Prince Nicholas, Blair's partner, suddenly switches the moves for a much more modern dance. Everybody (but Delancy) soon imitates him, and strangely the background music changes accordingly, becoming a techno version of the tune. One of the princes even starts to do breakdance.
- Barbie Star Light Adventure: Barbie and Prince Leo, at the ball, compare the classical music background (Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker) to a lullaby. Barbie still tries to find rhythm in the tune, and soon, she does modern dancing instead of waltz, infuriating the king.
- In the movie Caddyshack, the band is playing a classical tune one night at the country club. Wild-and-crazy (and filthy rich) Al Czervik shows up and throws a bunch of money at the band while asking them to liven it up. The band instantly breaks into "Boogie Wonderland".
- In Citizen Kane, the audience that attends the premiere of the opera Kane commissioned for his wife Susan are seen growing more bored by the minute. One man entertains himself by tearing his program into strips and is eventually seen asleep. Since this is likely the type of audience who would go to the opera on a regular basis, it suggests the lack of quality of this particular work, made just for the sake of making a rich man's wife a star.
- Played with in An Education: it's worldlier, wealthier Helen who finds classical music completely boring as opposed to middle-class suburban Jenny, who loves it, but this contrast sets Helen up as the more uncultured Dumb Blonde and Jenny as the sensible Brainy Brunette.
- Titanic (1997) had the stuffy Upper-Class Twit environment filled with slow chamber music, while the lower decks had people merrily dancing to jaunty popular tunes. Played with in that the classical music keeps playing as the boat sinks as an invocation of Classic Music Is Calming.
- The sequel to the French version of Three Men and a Baby has a scene where half the characters go to an incredibly dull cello recital while the other group is led by a Cool Old Lady to a nightclub with modern music.
- A Princess for Christmas: Ashton once teaches Jules how to dance the waltz on the tune of the "Waltz of the flowers". Jules gets bored of it, gives a cooler look to Ashton by ruffling his hair, switching to a more modern tune, and teaches Ashton how to dance on it until Arabella walks in and shut it off.
- Dave Barry had a column comparing different genres of music. Classical music was the kind written by dead German guys and requires seventy people to hum properly.
- Animorphs. Marco seems to think this, as he manages to fake interest in it just enough to get a pretty (classical music fan)girl to go on a date with him (he explains it as picking up a few things from his dad's CD collection). He falls asleep during the concert.
- In Maskerade, most of the people at the opera are only there because it's the done thing, rather than because they enjoy the performance. One upwardly-mobile middle-class patron makes the mistake of taking his mother, who doesn't care what the done thing is and would rather be at the music hall.
- In Snuff, Sam Vimes, who also grew up going to music halls, characterises classical music as "You couldn't hum it, and at no point did anybody shout 'Whoops, have a banana!'" Although it's somewhat averted in that even he can recognise that Tears of the Mushroom's harp recital is something special.
- In Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, while a couple of the main characters are at the opera, they go to the men's room. The younger men each do a line of coke to get them through the evening; an older man reveals that the "hearing aid" he has plugged into his ear is actually the earpiece of a transistor radio, and he's listening to the baseball game.
- On Cheers, Diane convinces Sam and a few of the bar regulars to go to an opera. When the opera is finished, everyone is asleep, even Diane.
- In Home Improvement Jill enjoys Opera but Tim and her sons find it boring at best. The only time Tim likes it is when he gives their stereo "more power!"
- In one episode of The King of Queens, Doug and Carrie are visiting a violin concert, and even though they don't enjoy it that much, they decide to sit it through. In the end, Carrie exhaustedly remarks how long that concert was.
- In Series 2 of Look Around You, the music episode has a fake Q&A going along the lines of "Q. What is the definition of 'boring music'? A. Classical music."
- Victor Borge's guest appearance on The Muppet Show had a scene where Fozzie asks to listen to Victor play. Victor warns Fozzie that he may find the music boring as he starts to play the Moonlight Sonata and sure enough Fozzie quickly falls asleep. Victor keeps playing and next the bust of Beethoven on the piano falls asleep then finally Victor himself falls asleep while playing.
- In an episode of Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, Moze is in a music appreciation class that many use as an excuse to nap. Later subverted when Moze comes to appreciate the more bombastic and lively pieces to help her in a volleyball game when some of Mozart's pieces get stuck in her head.
- An episode of The Partridge Family had the clan at a classical performance. None of the kids were enjoying the experience.
- In an episode of Jeeves and Wooster, Tuppy Glossop gets engaged to an opera singer and goes to hear her perform. He cheers enthusiastically at the end of the first scene and gets up to leave only to learn to his dismay that there are still four more acts. It isn't long before he's nodding off.
- Slings & Arrows is a subversion: in the first episode, we see people falling asleep in the audience of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Minister of Culture is listening to a hockey game on an earpiece, and even Oliver, watching from a monitor backstage, is disgusted (and also tunes in to the hockey game). However, Geoffrey's productions later in the series make it clear that Shakespeare is not inherently boring - the problem is not bringing enough passion and originality to the process.
- As part of P.D.Q. Bach, Peter Schickele laments how easy it is for concert-goers to fall into a confused stupor in "New Horizons in Music Appreciation." Combining the necessity of programme notes for the long compositions with the dim lighting in concert halls makes this inevitable. His proposal? Calling the concert like a baseball game, as he demonstrates with Beethoven's 5th.
- Older Than Steam. Joseph Haydn supposedly wrote a joke (an unexpected fortissimo) into his "Surprise" Symphony to awaken the audience.
- Chuck Berry's rock song "Roll Over, Beethoven" (also famously covered by The Beatles, Electric Light Orchestra, and Jerry Lee Lewis) gleefully opines that classical composers like Beethoven and Tchaikovsky would roll in their graves if they heard The New Rock & Roll.
- Def Leppard lampshades this in "Let's Get Rocked." The narrator balks at his girlfriend's musical choices, which include the likes of "Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven," which makes him "wanna scream."
- In a Peanuts strip circa 1960, Lucy asked Schroeder to listen to Snoopy play polkas, schottisches, and waltzes on his accordion.
Lucy: See? That's real music! That's the sort of music that people like! Not that ol' Beethoven stuff!
- In a Calvin and Hobbes strip, Calvin revises this opinion when he learns that the instrumentation for Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture includes artillery.
Hobbes: It's "The 1812 Overture."
Calvin: I kinda like it. Interesting percussion section.
Hobbes: Those are cannons.
Calvin: And they perform this in crowded concert halls?? Gee, I thought classical music was boring!
- In Cabin Pressure, the episode "Newcastle" reveals that Carolyn's opinion of opera is "It does two things badly. If I want a story, I go to see a play. If I want to hear music, I go to a concert." (And Arthur then points out that she's never gone to a concert either.) Subverted in "Zurich" which reveals that, when Herc finally dragged her to one, she was transfixed ... while maintaining an attitude of annoyed boredom whenever she realised he was watching her.
- In Epic Rap Battles of History, Justin Bieber was pitted against Ludwig van Beethoven, and one of Justin's arguments was this trope.
Cuz my voice is incredible
And your music is terrible
Who even listens to Classical anywa-haaaaay?
- The Nostalgia Critic plays Mozart or Vivaldi music in the background when acting an Upper-Class Twit persona.
- This trope is invoked and then subverted in an episode of Arthur when D.W. gets Yo Yo Ma to come to the library to play cello. Arthur and his friends are sure it's going to be boring. Francine has invited her uncle, jazz musician Joshua Redman, for the same day. The kids hope that the two will get into a fight. An Imagine Spot has them in a wrestling ring; Ma pulls out his cello and puts Redman to sleep. But on the day of the meeting it actually goes well, both get along and Redman expresses his enjoyment of classical music.
- The Simpsons:
- In "Bart the Genius", because Bart was declared a genius by the school psychologist, Marge takes the whole family to the opera; where both Homer and Bart become extremely bored at it and make loud noises during the performance.
- In "The Seven-Beer Snitch", in order to try and look more "cultured", Mayor Quimby allows the construction of an opera house. The opening night is Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, full house...and every single Springfieldian leaves after the first four notes are played, with them saying that it was the most "interesting" part of the symphony. Then, everyone stampedes their way out, including the orchestra, when Marge tells them the next piece is an atonal medley by Philip Glass. Quimby gets mad enough at the number of resources that the house's construction required, and everybody else letting it go to waste, that he mournfully calls them "dumb rednecks", after which Mr. Burns buys the property and converts it into a prison.
- In Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling, chief heel Rowdy Roddy Piper likes classical music, in contrast to Hulk Hogan's preference for... well, you know.
- In the Superman Theatrical Cartoons short, Showdown, Lois and Clark are asked by the editor of Daily Planet to cover a story on the opera. During the opera, Clark is shown to be fast asleep, only waking up when Lois gets in a fight with a thief, who's stealing jewelry from the audience.
- In Aqua Teen Hunger Force Meatwad is playing his new rap CD from MC Pee Pants, which is driving Frylock crazy. Frylock tries to get him to listen to some CDs by some "real gangsters, from the 17th century", which Meatwad tentatively accepts. Of course, as soon as Frylock leaves the room, Meatwad goes back to playing the rap CD.
- Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi: The episode "Opera Yumi" has Yumi's old singing coach Madame Blubbery, a stuffy woman who wanted to make Yumi an opera prodigy, cajole (and eventually hypnotize) Yumi into performing opera. The performance is depicted as being very dry and boring, with Kaz several other audience members actually falling asleep. After Yumi accidentally snaps herself out of her trance with a high note, the girls turn the show into an impromptu J-pop concert, which gets the audience much more excited.
- Frank Zappa, despite being a classical composer himself, held the opinion that he felt that most classical music before the 20th century was boring to him. He adored 20th-century composers such as Edgard Varèse, Igor Stravinsky, Béla Bartók, Charles Ives, Anton Webern, and Olivier Messiaen because their work was more personal, adventurous, and less monotone. He went into more detail in his autobiography The Real Frank Zappa Book where he explained that most classical music from previous centuries was written to please some King, Duke, or Abbott who forced composers to make everything sound according to their wishes. In that regard, it's not much different from mainstream pop music nowadays, only with record producers forbidding artists to make songs that clash with their conventional tastes. Recent research has proven, however, that Zappa did often listen to pre-20th-century composers like Johann Sebastian Bach, Henry Purcell, and Richard Wagner too, and was more knowledgeable about their music than he showed to the outside world. And he did record an album of Electronic Music performances of music written by his 18th-century Baroque namesake Francesco Zappa.
- Liberace, despite being trained as a classical concert pianist, became best known for what he referred to as "classical music with the boring parts left out"; he would take classical compositions and rework them to fit his flamboyant playing style, much to the anger of critics.
- This trope is one of TwoSet Violin's pet peeves; they hate how mainstream media, especially talent shows, usually hold this perception and try to "modernize" classical music, and they work hard to show that classical music can be just as enjoyable as pop music.
- Countless electronic musicians, like Wendy Carlos (Switched-On Bach), have made Electronic Music renditions of iconic classical music pieces that pep up the music by giving it spacy and futuristic sounds. As a result, many people who normally would never listen to classical music have bought these albums because they felt it sounded much more exciting and better. Truth be told, several have eventually learned to appreciate classical music thanks to these electronic versions.
- This trope is averted with many, many film scores using classical music. This goes at least as far back as 2001: A Space Odyssey and definitely after Star Wars: A New Hope in which John Williams' classical score soundtrack (using the leitmotif technique of Richard Wagner) became a top seller on the music charts. Since then, Williams and many of his contemporaries like Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer have become mainstays in popular culture for their classical film scores. On the other hand, though, many purist fans are quick to insist that modern film scores aren't technically classical music note , just orchestral music. To be fair to both sides, it's obvious that modern film composers draw a lot of stylistic inspiration from classical models, so if you like John Williams you'll love Ludwig van Beethoven.
- Also averted by many, many western cartoons. Works like What's Opera, Doc?, The Band Concert, The Cat Concerto, and others would not nearly be as hilarious without classical music, either as the source of gags or as Standard Snippets. Also, Mickey Mousing (making the actions in cartoons follow those in the musical score) often uses classical music.
- A comedic comeback to the assertion that this trope is true is to remind the complainer that if he falls asleep during the "1812 Overture" he'll certainly be awoken by the cannon fire indicated in the score — sixteen times.