What Makes a Viral go Viral? The strange case of the Essex (Phantom) Lion…

Earlier this year I posted a piece on Virality called What Makes a Video Viral go Viral? It set out one of the ideas forwarded in the book concerning the spreading of phantoms. I borrowed some of this idea from an account Gustave Le Bon provides in The Crowd about a group of sailors misconstruing a branch and leaves for a distressed crew on another vessel they were approaching. In Virality Le Bon’s idea of a collective hallucination is given a decidedly Tarde/Deleuzian spin. I am pleased to see a wonderful example of the phantoms of contagion appearing in the north east reaches of my own county, Essex, here in the UK. The so-called Essex Lion, spotted and photographed near the seaside resort of Clacton is a collective hallucination exemplar. Glimpsed at first by a group of “terrified” tourists, who run for their lives shouting “it’s a fucking lion,” the phantom quickly spread to local and national media. Experts from the local zoo and police were mobilized. Stories of abandoned circus lions were rife.

There are now many funny and somewhat discourteous (to Essex people with big hair, that is) spoofs of the Essex Lion on the web.

Anyone interested in this example of phantom contagion should follow up on some of the national news stories associated with the Essex Lion.

Essex lion hunt brings bank holiday delirium to Clacton-on-Sea

Reported sighting sets off frenzied search amid torrent of rumours and doctored pics before police call off the chase

Essex ‘lion’ joins list of phantom British beasts

About Virality

Tony D. Sampson is Reader in Digital Culture and Communications at the University of East London. He has a PhD in social-cultural-digital contagion theory from the Sociology Department at the University of Essex. He is a former art student who re-entered higher education in the UK as a mature student in the mid-1990s after a long stint as a gigging musician. His career in education has moved through various disciplines and departments, including a maths and computing faculty, sociology department and school of digital media and design His publications include The Spam Book, coedited with Jussi Parikka (Hampton Press, 2009), Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture (University of Minnesota Press, 2016) and Affect and Social Media (Rowman and Littlefield, July 2018). He is organizer and host of the Affect and Social Media conferences in the UK. As a co-founder and co-director of the public engagement initiatives, Club Critical Theory (CCT) and the Cultural Engine Research Group (CERG), Sampson has developed a number of funded research projects and public events that aim to bring impactful critical theories into the community and local political sphere to approach a series of local challenges. These activities have included large conferences co-organized with local authorities looking at a range of policies relating to the revitalization of the Essex costal region, developments in the cultural industries as well as a series of community focused events on food cultures and policy, collaborations with arts groups and informal lectures/workshops in pubs and community centres. Director of the EmotionUX Lab at UEL. He occasionally blogs at: https://viralcontagion.wordpress.com/ Full academic profile: https://www.uel.ac.uk/Staff/s/tony-sampson
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