The REALLY depressing thing about Blue Monday...

Comic Dean Burnett on the PR myth that takes science out of the equation

They say all publicity is good publicity. Comics tell me this more than most. This statement is a lie. Just ask Gary Glitter.

In case you weren't aware of it, today, January 18, is Blue Monday, the ‘most depressing day of the year’. Or to put it another way, it really isn't, but a professional codswallop merchant worked it out using ‘actual math’ a few years ago, and the media have regurgitated it ever since around this time, like some awful hairball of shit with the faint whiff of science.

Forgive the overly-descriptive language, but it's become something of a personal issue of mine.

For the last two years, due to my dual role in the worlds of science and comedy, local media people have come to me asking for an 'explanation' as to why it's the most depressing day and what people can do about it.

The first time was a puff piece for a local paper, where they asked me to explain how it works and what people can do to cheer themselves up. My detailed explanation about why it isn't was cut in favour of me saying ‘just go out’ in a variety of ways, coupled with ‘cheerful’ pictures of me looking like I’d just stepped off the Sunshine Coach for a play in the puddles. Given that we spent hours down Cardiff Bay with me dressed eccentrically, looking for the ‘ideal’ (i.e. most embarrassing) shot, this led to a brief rumour that I was the next Doctor Who. I’m not.

Seeing as I was endeavouring to pursue a career as a proper scientist, this picture was doubly humiliating. They apologised and offered me free publicity whenever I next had a gig coming up. I accepted their offer, and they publicised my next gig using the same picture, at which point I decided to leave it.

The following year, a regional news team approached me with the same idea. I thought this would be a good way to make amends and clarify my position, and decided that I'd do it. They also said they’d record me doing my set at the nearby Glee Club and include bits of it in the feature, which would have provided useful material for a showreel. It actually ended up as a ten second clip on the evening news, of me saying 'cheer up' again and telling painful jokes while the journalist interviewed me on my couch, in a position which could only be described as homoerotic. The Glee club was closed for the day, so they ended up recording me doing a brief set in the less well-renowned venue of my front room. The local media seem obsessed with making me look mentally disturbed.

Not sure if anyone else will be approached in your areas by media types with similar intentions, but here's a couple of things worth knowing (if you don't already) if they do come a knocking.

  • The equation behind the most depressing day of the year was invented by Dr Cliff Arnill and was paid to do so by a travel company in order to encourage people to take winter breaks, as Guardian columnist Dr Ben Goldacre exposed. He gets paid every time the equation is mentioned in the media, so even criticising it will benefit him.

  • The unmathematical equation, as you can probably tell if you look it up, is based completely on guesswork and bizarre logic, so is of no use at all. I am also told there is much research to completely contradict the idea that winter is ‘more depressing’ in general. But in its defence, the equation does look all Sciencey.

I say all this just to share the benefits of my painful experience. I felt it was good that the mainstream media took an interest in an aspect of ‘science’, but my feeble efforts to correct their misconceptions were completely ignored. If you are scientist of any sort and are asked to ‘comment’ on this non-story wherever you are, I'd advise you leave it alone

The media will keep flogging this never-was-alive-to-begin-with horse whatever we do, no doubt, but we don't have to donate our credibility to it too.

Published: 18 Jan 2010

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