THE BBC used the key word “Swampy” in their Radio 4 report on Today of eco protest on new road works in the south of England near Hastings. But they didn’t explain the reference.
I’m afraid Today too often seems to assume everyone is the same age as its “star” presenter John Humphrys (70 this year) and shares the same cultural references as its team. They are not and do not.
The item reminded my of my MA dissertation of 2001 (Myth as News: Jungian Archetypes in Press Stories).
So, for those who don’t know Swampy, I republish two of my chapters (go straight to Chapter 5 if you’re not interested in the Jungian stuff).
I have deleted the page numbers cited (but they are available in the full thesis) and the republished section needs an edit which I will do when I get a chance. Here it is:
THE Green man archetype is one of the most profound and ancient, woven into the roots of our cultural beginnings. It represents mankind’s connection with nature, with all its capricious implications.
I have mentioned that he is Robin Hood and Peter Pan. He is also Puck, Robin Goodfellow, Jack in the Green, Hermes, Loki (the Norse god of mischief and fire), Tom Bombadil in JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, mischievous wood sprites of folklore the world over, the Native American chief
Even Tarzan the jungle creation of Edgar Rice Burroughs is an incarnation of this animal-loving, plant-swinging sprite. Here is how Tolkien’s readers are introduced to Bombadil:
“He had a blue coat and a long brown beard; his eyes were blue and bright, and his face was red as a ripe apple…In his hands he carried on a large tree as on a tray a small pile of white water-lilies.”
The Green Man is the mischievous spirit of life where the rational ‘justice’ of humanity melds into the undeniable but often cruel and amoral ‘rightness’ of the natural world.
William Anderson describes qualities of the archetype thus:
The emotions he expresses transcend the form (of stone or carved images) and their vitality is equally powerful when transmitted through the dance or the dramatic rituals of folk custom and in the rhythms and melodies of poetry and song. We do not only look at his leaves and blades of grass; we hear them singing and speaking to us; we touch and smell and taste his vegetation and his fruits.
Anderson adds the Green Man is:
“ …the archetype of our oneness with the earth…the guardian and revealer of mysteries.”
And Kingsley Amis writes
“The Green Man signifies irrepressible life. He is an image from the depths of prehistory.”
The pagan Green Man remains celebrated in Christian churches. His face, with branches emerging from its mouth, is carved even in CHURCHES like that in the Suffolk village of Woolpit and the Wiltshire village of Sutton Benger. Here are of some of the other characteristics, accessories, settings and ‘dramatis personae’ that accompany incarnations of the archetype:
STEALING from the ‘right’ people in the manner of Robin Hood,
MISCHIEF combined with joy and paradoxical good intent. As Anderson excellently puts it “the joker in the ambush”.
TIMELY appearance when the world needs it. As Anderson explains:
In Jung’s theory of compensation, an archetype will reappear in a new form to redress imbalances in society to redress imbalances in society when it is needed.
EMPATHY with plants, animals and the Earth itself.
A ‘LOST BAND’ of people or children
TREE or EARTH home
In the way that Dale Mathers has indicated, archetypes often overlap. Mathers says that the Green Man type often overlaps with the Trickster, another elemental figure who is often an eleven go-between for gods and humans.
Green Man and Trickster go together because they are chthonic images, in other words of the earth.
Jean Shinoda Bollen describes Trickster as
“…an archetype known the world over, characterized by cleverness, cunning and ability to change his shape or form. The Trickster is known as Coyote to the Native American Indian. To the Eskimo, he is Raven; to the Japanese the wily Badger. He is inventive and takes what he wants by trickery or theft. Often he is admired rather than condemned for his cleverness, depending on what he steals and from whom.”
Anderson claims the Green Man also overlaps with yet another different, but related, archetype: the Fool.
“ The Green Man evades precise identifications. There is another archetypal figure, however with whom he shares many resemblances. This is the Fool…At a deeper level the Green Man shares with the Fool the qualities of unexpectedness, of unconventional wisdom, of the joker.”
The Fool shares the Green Man’s mischievous joie de vivre and elemental ambiguous wisdom. As Shakespeare’s Kent says of Fool:
“This is not altogether fool my lord”
“Lovable rogue” is the cliché often used by newspapers to describe this archetype when he appears as a bit player in a court case. And his paradoxical wisdom is celebrated in the contemporary financial advice website on the internet called The Motley Fool (www.fool.com).
‘Timely retribution’ is a key feature of the Green Man’s narrative. Robin Hood ‘appeared’ in Sherwood Forest with his lost band of ‘merry men’ at a time when he was most needed. And he did ‘good’ by being unlawful. This mischievous, paradoxical justice is an important part of the archetype’s story. When the order of the universe produces the wrong result then ‘disorder’ in the form of the Fool steps on to the stage to redress the balance. Sometimes mischief can be a whisker from evil, as in the case of the Norse ‘god of fire and evil’ or ‘god of mischief’ Loki. Elemental forces are at work here, as with all archetypes, not neatly moral human motivation.
DANIEL Hooper, 24, grew up in a middle-class home in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. He became known to the British public as Swampy and lasted as press phenomenon for less than two years from February 1997 to autumn 1998. Despite this brevity, what makes him so important in this study of archetypes in the press was how quickly, easily and indelibly he became imprinted on British minds, particularly that constituency of ‘Middle England’ so successfully catered for by the Daily Mail and their sister weekend newspaper, the Mail on Sunday.
This is evidence by the fact that, long after Daniel Hooper’s own personal story has faded into oblivion, his ‘nom de guerre’ remains an instant touchstone for headline writers. As journalist Roger Wood notes:
(Journalists) use a person from the past to describe in one word what a story’s all about. If, for example, you said “in a Churchillian way” you instantly save yourself a small book. Just like “Swampy-style protest”.
A key journalistic word like ‘Swampy’ is like the theme song or signature phrase of a film, or line of a song, or number from a musical that resonate in the public consciousness (and unconsciousness) long after the vehicle has disappeared into obscurity. Think of Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma’am and Make My Day. Note The Guardian Page One ‘come-on’ published a year after Swampy’s last headline press appearance. It said: Meet The Schoolgirl Swampy and it referred to a young ecological activist called Christiana Tugwell, who was in fact nothing to do with Daniel Hooper.
But Swampy is now the archetypal eco-warrior as far as Britain is concerned. So any article in this area will refer to the name if it wants to resonate with the mainstream newspaper-reading public.
So the Swampy story resonated far beyond the personal struggles of young Daniel Hooper (whose real name would be known by hardly anyone outside his family). It did so, not because his colourful name itself was so catchy or memorable, but because the character and tribulations of Swampy tapped into an enduring myth or archetype. Specifically the Green Man I examined in the previous chapter, intermingled with Puer Aeternus and the Trickster .
Britain as a nation first encountered Swampy in small newspaper articles in February 1997 such as the one headlined: Roads protesters plan their next site of action. It referred to a protester called Muppet Dave, who spent seven days underground at Fairmile near Honiton, Devon, complaining about a major road improvement scheme on the A30. The report continued:
He anticipated that fellow tunnel-builders Swampy and Ian Williamson would also be fighting the road-widening scheme in Guildford, Surrey, and the proposed extension of Manchester airport. Swampy, the last protester to emerge from the tunnels on Thursday night, appeared under his real name, Daniel Hooper, at Exeter magistrates’ court yesterday, charged with obstructing the under-sheriff of Devon. Mr Hooper, 23, of Hazlemere, Buckinghamshire, was granted conditional bail, but was immediately rearrested under a non-bail warrant issued by Newbury magistrates.
From the very start of his public story, Swampy is associated with the mythical setting of subterranean tunnels. Swampy immediately caught the attention of Middle England. The face of Daniel Hooper was, and is, not familiar to many. Rather it was the image, the myth, that caught their imagination. It is worth noting that his appearance in the public arena came at a time when ecological issues, such as road-building, were still making headlines. This chimes with the ‘timeliness’ of the Green man archetype, noted by Anderson, above.
Reporting on Swampy’s activities, the very next day, employed key words of myth and legends. In the following excerpt from a Sunday Times report, headlined Out Of Their Greenwood Trees:
“The greenwood, a defining characteristic of the English idyll since Saxon times was, according to Simon Schama, the historian, always more than an imaginary utopia…Is this the context in which we should view the activities last week of the Devon tunnellers and their foe, the undersheriff of Devon? Are Animal [another associate], Muppet Dave and Swampy – who sound like sidekicks of the great Robin Hood – inheritors of an ancient tradition?…Today’s eco-protesters are both bandits and heroes
By the end of that month, the red-top tabloids were sprinkling the new Swampy myth with their own vocabulary, often echoing the animal connections referred to above in the list of Green Man attributes. In the best tabloid tradition., the Daily Mirror’s use of a single word mole conjures up a telling vision. Their brief report on February 27 began “Swampy the human mole was holed up last night for a new campaign.”
Swampy and his pals were part of the ‘grunge’ culture of the Eighties. Mathers notes:
“Trickstery figures are connected with shit. (Swampy’s chums) as you can see wear dirty clothes, dirty shoes, grungy colours, matted hair, to look as much like the earth as possible. That’s very Green Man in the earthy, muddy sense. ”
Joseph Campbell points out the creative force of grunge or shit:
“…out of rot comes life. I have seen wonderful redwood trees with great huge stumps from enormous trees that were cut down decades ago. Out of them are coming these bright new little children who are part of the same plant.”
At least one of Swampy’s spiritual forebears was traced by the Independent which also employed the same animal metaphor to invoke the archetype. Writing of Victorian ecologist Joseph Williamson, it said:
“A tobacco baron with a bizarre fetish for tunnelling, he spent 35 years hollowing out immense underground caverns and earning the nickname of The Mole of Edge Hill.”
Physical descriptions of archetype manifestations like Swampy provide more accurate clues to their archetype than facts about the historical person concerned. Just look at Swampy’s vegetable head adornment in the picture – and Peter Pan’s feather. Note how the following reports detail Swampy’s ‘accessories’ during a court appearance. Some of the description invokes the ‘motley’ hue of the Fool, noted earlier.
“He arrived at Exmouth Magistrates’ Court dressed in green wellington boots, mud-spattered blue trousers and a grimy black and yellow jacket.”
“Hooper…arrived at court in green wellingtons, mud-spattered trousers and grimy jacket.”
“He arrived at Exmouth Magistrates’ Court wearing wellington boots, mud-spattered blue trousers and a grimy jacket”
It is instructive to compare the colourful detail to the description Tolkien gives in a rhyme on introducing us to his Green Man manifestation Tom Bombadil:
“Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow;
Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow”
Interestingly, the Times report of Swampy’s court appearance continues with this telling paragraph invoking the Fool, a pair of canine familiars and even the Pied Piper of Hamelin, a Continental cousin who shares the Trickster archetype. His name ‘pied’, means marked or spotted in two or more different colours, as in motley meaning the particoloured attire of a jester
Before the case, the protesters brought a carnival atmosphere to the court’s entrance hall. One was dressed as a jester and another played a recorder. Vegan snacks were distributed and two dogs played around the protesters’ feet.
An observer who has not worked on a newspaper might be inclined to dismiss these details as mere items of observation that would be included as a matter of course. This is not so.
The pressures of space on all newspapers, especially British tabloids like the Daily Mail, mean that every phrase of description or quote has to ‘earn’ its space in the newspaper. The sub-editor who re-writes and/or edits the copy will only leave in a word or words if they serve a function. The sub-editors who left in these hints of an earth-covered jesterish figure knew instinctively and unconsciously the figure they had to paint for the reader to invoke the Green Man archetype.
Law-breaker and mud-spattered nuisance, Swampy should be a target of fear and loathing of every parent with rebellious teenage children. Yet the Green Man is always morally ambivalent. Indeed he is amoral, so atavistic as to be beyond morality. He is do-gooder AND outlaw as in Robin Hood, the mischievous but lovable sprite Robin Goodfellow or the anarchic Bombadil. Even the Norse ‘god of evil’ Loki is usually more a god of mischief. Thus the anarchic eco-warrior Swampy still managed to find his way into the affections of the middle classes and their ‘house magazine’ the Daily Mail. Many of the reports about him could barely disguise their admiration and downright affection for this modern sprite. The Sunday Mirror, a full-blooded redtop not noted for sloppy sentimentalism went as far as to say
The brave burrower – real name Daniel Hooper – captured the nation’s hearts as the eco-warrior who fought the A30 bypass in Devon.
This Mirror piece also describes a ‘hair-raising 30-foot abseil descent’ into Swampy’s tunnels. And this rope journey recalls pantomime Peter Pans swinging above the stage on harnesses and Puck’s boast to:
“put a girdle round about the earth
In forty minutes.”
Writing in the Sunday Mirror’s sister paper The Mirror Emily Wilson continues unconsciously to weave the mythic thread by joining Swampy on his rope lift to subterranea. She looks up at the Green Man’s other home, the trees, and notes:
High above us in the treetops another group are swinging from ropes, constructing a tree house.
She writes tellingly in the same piece:
“Swampy spends his time above ground with his faithful dog Vandana.”
Eleven words which, but for their context in a tightly-subbed redtop, might appear almost humdrum. Their inclusion gives the archetype an animal familiar, always a clue, in literature and painting, to his or her presence. Tabloids would not be tabloids if they did not find their new discovery a love interest. But, from the first time the reader meets her the “mysterious Merry” aged 23 is given a mythical aura.
Swampy’s archetype was finally separated from Hooper’s person in this account, again from the Independent:
The court officials looked perturbed. Sixty protesters were clamouring at the door like the cohorts of Spartacus, ready to suffer for their cause. “I’m Daniel Hooper,” yelled one. “I’m Daniel Hooper,” called others in a crescendo round Manchester High Court.
Here, surely, despite its comic overtone, is a feeling of the Green God touching all these eager young idealists. One could imagine Robin Hood’s Merry Men or Peter Pan’s Lost Boys giving the same reaction in a similar predicament.
Hooper’s career seemed to end only a year after the British public first met him. Mirror readers were told almost curtly:
Eco warrior Swampy has given up digging anti-road tunnels to do voluntary work. Swampy, 24, real name Daniel Hooper, from Newbury, Berks, has cut his dreadlocks and wants to be called Dan.
The mood is almost mournful. We can see Robin Goodfellow slipping off the figure of Daniel Hooper and seeking a new incarnation, perhaps in another series of news stories. Daniel briefly reappears in stories about his baby ‘Son of Swampy’ by another girlfriend Jennifer Harvey. There was domestic strife and a court case. But the story was no longer of the archetype, but of human beings with severe domestic problems.
Swampy the archetype however reappears again and again whenever the Green Man wants to make his presence felt in a story. I mentioned earlier the case of the Schoolgirl Swampy. But even as late as February 2000 The Observer writes in the ‘standfirst’ (brief, explanatory separate summary placed at the start of the story) of a full-page ecological piece:
Swampy is all very well, my dears, but the new eco-warriors wouldn’t dream of going underground. Instead, like Lady Berkely and her upper-class chums, they would rather air their concerns with a well-aimed chocolate éclair and a spin doctor.
In a medium obsessed with recognisability, no attempt is made here to remind the readers who Swampy was. There is no need. It would be like describing Robin Hood, Peter Pan or Tarzan. Journalists sum it up simply:
Swampy is great copy
Below I analyse in detail the language used in a story about Swampy published in The Mirror. Here is the passage, broken into short numbered sections for ease of analysis:
1. (headline) Living on Burrowed Time
2. Twenty feet beneath the forest, Swampy the human mole beds down for the night.
3. His bedroom is a coffin-shaped chamber carved by hand from the rock-hard clay.
4. It’s damp and it’s dirty and there’s barely room to turn over in his sleeping bag, let alone sit up. When he blows out his candle, it’s dark as a grave.
5. This is Swampy’s new home, a maze-like warren of tunnels and chambers built deep underground.
6. The only way into his burrow us through a tiny hole cut into a sheer cliff – reached only by a hair-raising 30ft abseil descent.
7. Swampy became a household name when he was the last to emerge from the 30ft deep tunnels dug by protestors (sic) to (sic) the A30 bypass campaign in Devon.
8. Today the tunneller – real name Daniel Hooper – has a new battleground.
9. From his front door he has panoramic views of the River Bollin, winding its way through an unspoilt valley.
10. But Britain’s best-loved eco-warrior doesn’t spend much time admiring the scenery.
1. The headline is a simple pun on the phrase ‘borrowed time’. This a typical wordplay for a British redtop newspaper like The Mirror. The word ‘burrowed’ immediately places the subject in one of his archetypal homes…underground.
2. The intro begins, unusually for a popular tabloid, with an inverted sentence: the description (20ft…) comes before the action (beds down). Journalists, particularly news sub-editors and reporters on popular tabloids, are taught to put the main clause first and subsidiary information later. The reversal is meaningful. It gives the location of the myth prime position. In many ways the subterranean, root-complex location of the Green Man is the archetype’s most important aspect, and twenty feet beneath immediately places the subject underground. The forest is the green epitome of the archetypal setting. This clause is the signifier for the Green Man myth. It signals to the reader the mythic narrative that is about to begin. On the face of it the human mole is a simple metaphor, a populist and colourful way of describing Swampy’s activity. But the animal association gives the reader another signal of his mythic role.
3. The Green Man is a symbol of resurrection. The word chamber, rather than room, signifies a birthing womb. It evokes Dracula’s daily (nightly) rebirth from his coffin-bed. Hence coffin-shaped chamber signals rebirth to the reader. Carved by hand signifies archetypal craft activity. Human activity impacting on natural material is a profoundly mythic situation. Rock-hard clay puts us back in the rebirthing grave.
4. This paragraph is an example of mixing together of the personal and apersonal “in extremely rapid succession” which Barthes describes in his Structural Analysis of Narratives.
His sleeping bag…personal
He blows out…personal
By doing this the concepts signified by the impersonal objects imprint themselves on the person who is the subject of the piece and imbue him even more with the archetypal projection. One can almost hear the poetic, lyrical, sing-song opening nine words of the paragraph sung aloud by subterranean Tolkienesque dwarfs. Damp evokes the elemental environment of water and dirty evokes mud and dirt – important connections for the archetype. With dark as the grave the rebirth motif is consolidated.
5. Maze-like warren signifies animals (warren), the archetype’s natural allies, and myth (maze).
6. Cut into a sheer cliff reflects human activity impacting on natural material again. Hair-raising evokes the risk-taking excitement so often associated with manifestations of this archetype (Robin Hood, Peter Pan),30ft hammers home the depth. Peter Pan, Tarzan and even Robin Hood are all quasi-abseilers in their own environments. The practice employs an archetypal mixture of air, flight, gree-vines. Again the archetype is confirmed.
7. Again depth is repeated, to illustrate its importance. The seemingly unnecessary repetition could be mistaken for soppy sub-editing.
8. The last par finally reveals the archetype’s “real name”. This says much about the power of the Swampy label. Usually a newspaper would give the name Daniel Hooper much earlier in the story. In this case the journalists involved sense it would detract from the myth. Even at this point the subject of the sentence is not Daniel but the tunneller emphasising the function of the archetype.
9. Panoramic views…winding…unspoilt… valley…are all word choices which signify a utopian Eden-like garden, where the Green man first appeared.
10. The article gives the anarchic Swampy the surprisingly approving label of Britain’s best-loved eco-warrior. This bears testament to the archetype’s moral ambivalence.