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5 Things You May Not Know About The Luddites

Luddites. Be honest. What comes to mind when you read that word? Backwards, parochial sillies from the Days of Yore who smashed up machinery because they couldn’t handle the inevitable march of progress? Or maybe you think of the modern application of the term, the sort of faux-lo-fi hippies who complain “Gosh, GPS means no-one reads maps any more” (Google Maps is a map, Phillip, it’s in the name), or “I don’t have a TV, too many screens are bad for you” (What’s that, Phillip, a laptop? On which you are watching Netflix? YOU, SIR, HAVE A TV). Well stand back, internet, for I’ve been making a live show about the Luddite Rebellion, and am here to take a sledgehammer of research to the knitting machinery of your preconceptions.

1) They liked, and used, technology.

The Luddites were predominately workers in the textile industry, specifically stocking makers who made goods on a device called a stocking frame. This machine was invented in the mid-1600s and was the same kind of machine as the ones they were destroying over the course of the Luddite Rebellion (around 1811-1817). So what the hell was all this punk-ass smashing of shit about? Well, as Eric Hobsbawm writes, the destruction of machinery actually happened a long time after, and before, the Luddite Rebellion:

“the Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire Luddites were using attacks upon machinery, whether new or old, as a means of coercing their employers into granting them concessions with regard to wages and other matters. This sort of wrecking was a traditional and established part of industrial conflict in the period of the domestic and manufacturing system, and the early stages of factory and mine. It was directed not only against machines, but also against raw material. finished goods and even the private property of employers, depending on what sort of damage these were most sensitive to.”

The Luddites were specifically targeting the assets of major industrialists, whatever they were. More Eric:

“The Lancashire machine-wreckers…distinguished clearly between spinning-jennies of twenty-four spindles or less, which they spared, and larger ones, suitable only for use in factories, which they destroyed.”

Their objection wasn’t to machines, but their use for mass production of shoddy goods, with the help of cheap labour, with the surplus value being hived off to a tiny business elite. Good thing that doesn’t happen any more, EH FOLKS?

2) They had a pretty great sense of humour (and branding)

The Luddites had a major advantage in that their leader, referred to as “General Ludd” or “King Ludd” was a fictional character, and thus he could never be captured or killed by the establishment. This didn’t stop numerous government agents and officials being completely convinced he was real, and investing phenomenal effort and energy in seeking his capture. The Luddites would stoke this paranoia as much as possible, writing letters to the authorities signed “Ned Ludd’s Office, Sherwood Forest”. The local militiamen, of which 12,000 were deployed at the peak of the rebellion, started having full-on hallucinations of his appearance. According to one account “a militiaman reported spotting the dreaded general with ‘a pike in his hand, like a serjeant’s halbert,’ and a face that was a ghostly unnatural white.” The Luddites also knew how to get the right image for the Instagram of the 1810s (which was… just looking at things), wearing black handkerchiefs over their faces like your favourite screamo-rappers and giant, matching sledgehammers named “Great Enoch” after the blacksmith who made them.

3) They liked to drag it up every once in a while

One raid in Stockport was led by two men in women’s clothing claiming to be “Ned Ludd’s Wives”. Nobody really knows why or what it meant. I just love sharing this fact.

4) Their cause was backed by Lord Byron

The bisexual, drug addled, bear-owning legend himself took part in a debate in the House of Lords over a bill to regulate the stocking trade so that shoddy goods wouldn’t flood the market place. Although he condemned the violence of the Luddites, he went on to a sweeping and impassioned condemnation of the economic and political conditions in the North of England that had caused it, claiming it to be worse than any territory under the Ottoman Empire that he’d recently visited. As he later described it: “I spoke very violent sentences with a sort of modest impudence, abused everything and everybody, put the Lord Chancellor very much out of humour, and if I may believe what I hear, have not lost any character in the experiment”. Just another day at the office for the B-man.

5) Their rebellion got quite close to civil war.

As the first restrictions on gun ownership and usage didn’t enter the British law books until the following decade, everyone and their mums were packing heat in the 1810s. The Luddites weren’t afraid to use them either: raids where merchants refused to give up their machines often broke out into gun fights. Over time, as soldiers flooded into the North, what started as (an admittedly extreme form of) collective workplace bargaining through direct action took on more and more of the shape of open revolt.  Discontent hit a high-water mark in the first half of 1812, when the prime minister was assassinated, two pitched battles happened near mills in Lancashire, and riots in big cities became almost weekly occurrences. The ensuing government crackdown was as reasonable as you’d expect from Lord Liverpool, the super chill guy who once said “France is our natural enemy ; she is more so as a republic than as a monarchy”. As well as making the breaking of stocking frames a capital offence (better not accidentally knock something over at work guys), Liverpool’s government passed the Six Acts, which removed the right to bail for people under arrest, outlawed public meetings of more than 50 people, banned anti-government writings and heavily taxed newspapers. The Six Acts were not fully repealed until 2008. So in a very real way, we still live in a world the Luddites created. Fortunately, though, we’ve resolved all the issues about automation, capitalism and state power combining to create poverty and chaos, so THAT’S ALL FINE.

Jack’s aforementioned live show opens at Exeter Phoenix on the 26th & 27th of September and the Civic, Barnsley on the 29th  of September. He will not be breaking any theatre lighting or sound equipment. Not deliberately, at least.

 

 

 

 

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6 Things To Remember When Dating An Artist Person

[Written in response to articles like this, this and this.]

  1. They are not normal.

It’s important to remember that artistic people are genetically different to us “normies”. They perceive the world in a fundamentally way, like people who have been in brain-damaging accidents, or dogs. If you don’t get quirky, eloquent and engaged response to questions like “what would you like for tea?”, there’s probably something wrong.

2. They need to be alone

GIVE YOUR ARTIST SOME SPACE. Leave them in a room. Lock the door to the room. Roll a slice of ham under the doorway periodically, but in a non-intrusive way. Delete their social media accounts and file a missing persons report with your local police.  This will really help them create, and they’ll love you for it.

3. They need to not be alone

Artists don’t communicate in the way we do. Don’t listen to the words that they’re saying, listen to the feelings beneath them. Artists are constantly volatile and passionate, and they always experience emotions on a more deep level than you, like Deanna Troi from Star Trek, or a dog. If they are not bringing these to the surface then something is wrong.

4. They’re meant to be unhappy

Allow your artist to throw expensive electrical goods across the room. Make sure you get laminate or tiled floors for the fortnightlyish occasions when they smear a mix of tears, acrylic paint and faeces around the place. Sobbing uncontrollably into the eviscerated cushions of your sofa is just a normal day in the office to an artist. Don’t attach medical labels to their esoteric and mystical creative process. Expect anniversary presents to include a dead fox from the garden, amateurishly taxidermized and wearing a mask of your face, or a drawing of God being sad on a stained Nando’s napkin.

5. They never, ever, EVER STOP

EVER. All artists want to do is work, and then talk about their work, and then work some more. They despise breaks and holidays because it gets them away from their job, which doesn’t really stress them out because it isn’t really a job. Make sure they’re checking their emails at 4am and giving business cards out at funerals.  Ask them about what they’re working on at the moment. If they say nothing or very little, FREAK OUT. Hit them with sticks. They are not being artisty enough. They don’t have a work life balance because their work is their life, like a Necromancer or a Superhero or a Police Dog.

6. They don’t understand grown-up stuff

All artists are massive children, so don’t expect them to comprehend basic adult tasks like scheduling events,  following rules and adding up money. After all, these are people who have voluntarily chosen a career that pays poverty wages, rather than something sensible. This is because they are intensely self-centred, and would rather draw attention to themselves than do jobs that make a social contribution, like Finance or Property Management. Allow them to move out of their extended adolescence in which they value human creativity more than the ability to gain home equity in their own time. They’ll get there. Remember that their charming child-brains are why you’ve taken them in, like a malnourished orphan chimney-sweep stranded in a snowdrift, or a dog. And with your love and support, they can blossom into a fully formed adult with a real job.

You can’t date Jack Dean, but if you come to one of his shows, download one of his albums or buy one of his books, he’ll do his darnedest to set you up with one of his most artisty artist colleagues.