Brian Monteith: The Silly Season’s now such a serious business

Big Ben falls silent and a nation mourns ' apparently. Picture: Getty
Big Ben falls silent and a nation mourns ' apparently. Picture: Getty
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We are coming towards the end of what is known as the Silly Season, but this year’s has been especially different from all the rest. This year the Silly Season has been dominated and driven by social media, by the creation and spreading of stories on the two main social media forums, Facebook and Twitter.

This may or may not be a good thing, it is probably too early to make a judgement call, but it is certainly different from what happened before.

In the past the newsrooms of broadcasters and large influential papers would be becalmed in late July through August as the annual holidays took over peoples’ lives.

With politicians away from their parliaments, not baying for each others’ blood, not making laws for good or ill, or taking us into wars or opening bridges and shutting coal mines, there would be a scarcity of news. As a result, stories that in normal circumstances would not see the light of day or receive much airtime or column inches would suddenly find themselves splashed over front pages or be the lead item on the Ten O’Clock News.

This week’s story of Big Ben bellowing its last hourly “bong” for four years, as it is dismantled for much needed repairs, is one such an example.

This was not a big story at all – unless you were in the Westminster bubble and there was nothing else to report – so it was elevated into one of the big stories of the week. An MP cried tears in public, the Prime Minister had tweeted complaining, but time still passed and the Thames still flowed. Some tried (in vain) to make out it was a symbol of the UK’s coming demise as we approach Brexit (get a life) while others were inspired to compose poetry or make jokes.

Had this been any other time of year this event would have been relegated to the end of News at Ten “funny” that is meant to bring a smile to our face after all the disasters that are befalling us have first been relayed to us – or be tucked in underneath a story about growing NHS waiting times, carnage on our roads or a food scare on the deleterious effects of Peruvian coffee on male virility. You know, the sort of stories that really do impact on people. Instead, as the definition of the news agenda is taken away from news editors and is created by the masses using Twitter and Facebook the priorities are shifting. Firstly, the Silly Season is not necessarily silly any more; it is far more serious than that! Gone is the preoccupation with seaside, sun and sand stories, or dogs riding go-karts and cats playing pianos. Now politics has a holiday no more as it is shoved down our throats 24/7 all 365 days a year by earnest ideologues with blisters on their thumbs from pumping out their often ill-informed and naïve views via mobile phones.

Secondly, as social media makes the news cycle more international, so the Silly Season begins to evaporate altogether. We are in for constant bad news, constant campaigning and constant holier-than-thou lecturing from those that want to tell us what to do, what to think and how to behave.

This year instead of the Silly Season we have been deluged with demonstrations in the United States where statues are pulled down and accusations are made over who is the most obnoxious or violent, the extreme right or extreme left?

Social media is, within the parameters of what Facebook and Twitter do not censor, neutral; what you get is what people are saying or seeing – and while a lot of it is very silly, sadly that’s because they are being serious.