Spring Heeled Jack vs Harold “Stretch” Joseph

Victorian Britain saw rapid industrialization and and the widespread adoption of automation that brought down the cost of many goods that were previously beyond the reach of ordinary workers.

As the wealth of the country grew, entertainment became a growing proportion of people’s spending. New printing technology made novels and cheap serial papers accessible and popular.

The serials sold for one penny and the more dramatic the story, the better they sold. Because of this they became known as Penny Dreadfuls. The tales were often re-treads of myths and existing Gothic thrillers.

One serial was titled “Spring Heeled Jack” and concerned the attacks of the urban legend of the same name. Jack attacked innocent girls and was thought to be the devil himself.

The Penny Dreadful’s were looked down upon by polite society and thought of as a corrupting influence.

The Penny Dreadfuls were at their peak from the 1830’s to the 1890’s after which they were superseded by “story papers” such as Union Jack which were cheaper at a half penny and concentrated on boys own adventure type tales from the British Empire.

The lure of the Dreadfuls never fully went away though. Some called the story papers Half Penny Dreadfuls and these eventually mutated into comics, which in turn heavily influenced the style and story lines of the computer games industry when it developed.

Video games in their current incarnation as action adventure games are a distant descendant of the Penny Dreadfuls. The Victorians had the dangers of 19th century London. We have San Andreas as the setting of Grand Theft Auto.

They had Spring Heeled Jack and we have Harold “Stretch” Joseph.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the view of popular culture as a corrupting influence. The clothes and the story lines change, but the attitudes and reactions remain surprisingly consistent.

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Originally published at lazyguide.org on February 19, 2017.

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