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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

I long for the August silly season, so I can rejuvenate myself

It’s the only time of the year when I can take a much-needed breather from the frenetic pace of news

August, or the 'silly season' for news, is a often a welcome respite from the hard and political news cycle.
August, or the 'silly season' for news, is a often a welcome respite from the hard and political news cycle.

It’s the end of July. At this time, we’d usually start writing about the upcoming silly season. But this year, political and social life seem far from light.

While people go away during the summer, and the pace of life, particularly in the Middle East, slows, our news outlets won’t be covering those “non-stories” that once dominated several days during a slow August – especially in the days before the 24-four-hour news cycle, when journalists and producers were left with little to fill their column inches and airtime.

This is how the silly season came to be. And we loved to mock it.

Favourite stories included those of errant or death-wish animals. In 2009, London apparently suffered a plague of killer chipmunks. Who knows if this was a reaction to the squirrels in 2005 that got themselves addicted to cocaine after digging up the hidden stashes of local drug dealers.

In 1973, the UK’s then leader of the opposition, Harold Wilson, slipped off his dinghy and fell into a lake. And in 2005, Madonna helped fill the pages by falling off a horse. Don’t forget that in 1997, Prince William made headlines when he turned up to a party wearing wraparound sunglasses.

It’s an international phenomenon too. In 1993, the German tabloid Bild wound up the British by claiming that Germany was going to buy Majorca. And the following year it agitated its readers by claiming that the island would no longer sell German beer. In China, a 1994 news story predicted the end of the world due to a spat between the country’s leaders. The story encouraged Chinese men to eat trotters provided by their mothers-in-law to guarantee eternal salvation. The local food markets saw an upswing in sales.

We mocked the silly season, revelled in its glorious and inane ridiculousness. We pffft and tutted our disdain at killer squirrels and stars that could be joined up to form the faces of celebrities. It served a purpose: a holiday from the news, and a much-needed rest from the political cycle.

Just think about last year. Britons voted unexpectedly in favour of Brexit. Then, the country saw a leadership battle for the prime minister’s office. The UK was split over EU negotiations and it had a snap election with a shocking result. In the United States, a comedy election campaign featuring a reality TV star turned into a nightmare soap opera with larger-than-life characters from a Dynasty-style family at the helm of global politics. And closer to home, in the Middle East, things feel, well, very close.

And if what we read in the newspaper isn’t intense enough, you can turn to social media and engage in heated debate, get trolled and experience outrage fatigue.

Even if we wanted to impose a silly season, news events simply don’t let us.

Of course, it simply may be that the silly season no longer exists as a single monolithic whole. Instead, it has embedded itself into our daily lives. That’s why we wake up in the mornings to check the latest news updates only to find ourselves reading about 10 different ways in which desert sand can be used to create a minimalist scandi-style home or taking a quiz to find out which character we would be from the TV series, House of Cards.

Considering the intensity of hard news all year round, that may not be a bad thing. A brief interlude of inanity each day is probably just what the doctor ordered. As humans, we’re not designed to operate with our dials always turned up to “emergency”.

I long for the silly season. I want to take a breather from the frenetic pace of news. I need to recover and recharge my batteries in a world where my emotional energy is increasingly drained.

I just want a pause button. I want the silly season back.