newspapers and inflammatory media

This week, Charlie Brooker made an excellent deconstruction of the role of the media in spreading panic - Newswipe - ties in to what I'm thinking about at the moment.

I've been working on the Swing riots, the wave of arson and machine breaking that swept across the country in 1830-1. What is apparent is that not all protests and agitation had completely rational causes: in fact, rumour, emotion, panic, fear and many other 'irrational' forces shaped the way people acted.

What interests me in particular is the role of the press in spreading rumours, causing panic, and shaping perceptions of what 'Captain Swing' should be. They used, to excuse the pun, inflammatory language, and created the idea of Swing in the panicked minds of inhabitants of places that did not experience the Swing riots. Arson and incendiarism was a regular expression of everyday tensions throughout the eighteenth century, but once Swing captured the imaginations of landowners and magistrates, it became a meme that stuck. Any incident of incendiarism became tarred with the sticky brush of Swing, whether or not it had any relation to the Swing riots. Newspapers were particularly involved in stoking up these rumours.

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